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Elmira Scouts turn to the great outdoors

An organization associated with the great outdoors since its inception more than a century ago, Scouting is embracing that heritage as it copes with the coronavirus situation. That’s certainly the case with the 1st Elmira Scouts, who’ve been meeting out of doors since returning from a hiatus from in-person gatherings.

Group Commissioner Phillippe Bertrand has seen a number of changes since becoming involved with Scouts Canada in 2005, but nothing like the shifts brought on by COVID-19.

“At the moment we are not allowed to camp, which is quite a challenge for 1st Elmira because we’re a group that likes to camp a lot,” said Bertrand, noting the Elmira groups from Beavers to Venturers typically camp on at least a monthly basis. “Previously we would have even the youngest going out either doing a one-night sleep over, or a two-night weekend camp at least once a month.”

When the pandemic put a halt to the usual extracurricular activities, the group began doing virtual meetings and having virtual camping trips to fill the void until conditions improved. That safe return is now in effect, with meetings being held outside only. In doing so, the organization is following all of the established precautions, with leaders wearing masks and Scouts wearing masks when physical distancing isn’t a possibility. Hand sanitizer is always at the ready.

Not all of the leaders and participants returned after the break, with concerns about the pandemic considered the prime suspect. However, there have been some new additions courtesy of Scouts Canada’s free trial, which began on September 1 and will run until December 31.

Faced with a novel situation, the Elmira Scouts’ leaders and participants have been coming up with some creative alternatives to the usual programs, said Bertrand. 

“We’ve done a large number of quite imaginative adventures,” he said, pointing to the likes of an urban scavenger hunt where youth take photos of spots in town, a wildflower hunt, and making six-foot-long walking sticks for hikes to ensure social distancing is kept.

The goal is to avoid risks while offering some level of programming.

“Scouts Canada doesn’t want to be on the bleeding edge, we don’t want to push the boundaries. We want to make sure that we have a safe and risk-based approach to handling returning to meeting in person,” he explained.

A mild autumn helped with the outdoorsy focus. With the weather starting to change and winter on the horizon, fires and overhead tarps may be added into the mix. And there may be more virtual meetings in the offing. No matter what, the Scouting motto of “be prepared” will be front and center as the group adjusts to the changing situation.

“It will be a challenge, there’s no doubt. We are trying to keep imaginative,” said Bertrand. “If we have shelters, they’re going to have to be open-sided shelters that will maybe keep precipitation off our heads.”

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