Outdoor companies build ties to Scouts through historic Jamboree

Working to build strong relationships with the Boy Scouts of America, Wenonah and Delorme participated in this year’s massive Jamboree in Virginia that celebrated the BSA’s 100th anniversary and drew more than 50,000 people.
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Many outdoor industry companies can trace their roots to the Boy Scouts, but as SNEWS reported in our summer issue, the relationship between the industry and the Scouts has weakened over time. (Click here to access the SNEWS summer issue online and read the story “The Disappearing Partnership.”) We received a great amount of feedback from the piece and learned about two outdoor manufacturers -- Wenonah and Delorme -- that also have been working to build stronger ties with the Scouts.

In July, the Boy Scouts of America (www.scouting.org) celebrated its 100th anniversary with a massive Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, drawing 55,000 people, including Scouts, Scout leaders and staff, and Wenonah and Delorme provided products and training support for the event.

“You see 35,000 kids camping and 8,000 to 10,000 adults, and it’s just a great experience,” Mike Cichanowski, founder and owner of Wenonah Canoe and Current Designs, told SNEWS.

Cichanowski said he provided the Jamboree 80 Champlain boats -- an 18-foot Kevlar boat that can seat three people -- as well as about 60 kayaks, and Scouts at the Jamboree were able to use them to learn boating skills and work on achieving merit badges. Granted, the Champlain is a fairly high-end boat relative to what many Scouts typically use, but Cichanowski said he wanted the kids to experience using a more technical product, and Wenonah staff members were on hand to teach the kids how to properly use and care for the boats. “It’s like a 10-speed graphite road bike -- if you respect it and treat it right, it will last you forever, and the kids were eager to learn,” he said.

Following the Jamboree, Wenonah (www.wenonah.com) shipped the boats -- which carry a special 100th Anniversary Scout logo -- to the Charles L. Sommers canoe base in Ely, Minn., which serves as a high adventure camp for the Boy Scout. “We’ve gone beyond the normal amount of effort, but I think it’s worth it to give the kids an experience on a higher-end product,” said Cichanowski.

Prior to the Jamboree, Wenonah has supplied boats to the Ely canoe base, and the company has had close ties to the Scouts since it was founded. This is largely because Cichanowski has been involved with Scouting since he was young, and his Scouting experiences actually led him to start a paddlesports business.

“My business is here because of the Scouts,” he said. “I have three brothers, and all four of us were Eagle Scouts, and that’s how I got introduced to canoeing. I went to the Sommers canoe base when I was probably 16. When I was in a Scout group, I made my first wood boat and sold it.”

Cichanowski is not only an Eagle Scout, but he has also received the Distinguished Eagle Scout award, which has only been given to about 2,000 people. It recognizes people who have used what they learned in the Scouts to make significant contributions to their community in their professional life. Another recipient of the award is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who spoke at this year’s Jamboree.

Cichanowski is an ardent supporter of the idea that leaders in the outdoor industry should be doing more to partner with the Scouts, and he is now trying to rally support for a new sea kayaking merit badge. He said such projects are important avenues toward inspiring the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

“There are more than two million active Boy Scouts, and these kids will be the next generation of guides and business owners, and they’ll help get other kids outside,” he said. “Our industry needs to embrace this group more -- I’m a hundred percent convinced of that.”

Delorme pitches in to promote geocaching

While Cichanowski is hoping to launch a new sea kayaking merit badge, Delorme (www.delorme.com) devoted resources to this year’s Jamboree to promote a geocaching merit badge that was introduced this year. (Click here to see details about the new merit badge.)

“There was a geocaching activity at the previous Jamboree, and it was well received, and the enthusiasm led the people planning this year’s Jamboree to include it as a merit badge,” Chip Noble, Delorme’s product and design manager, told SNEWS.

Noble said that Delorme not only provided 300 GPS units for the Jamboree, but he and other company staff members served as instructors for Scouts, who could complete tasks required for the geocaching badge during the event. Noble said 350 Scouts participated in the merit badge classes during the Jamboree.

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“It was great to see the level of enthusiasm, because when we went there we weren’t sure how much knowledge about geocaching there would be, with it being the first year of the merit badge,” said Noble. “A lot of them already had experience geocaching, so they were excited to see the merit badge offered. Many people came by and were interested in figuring out how to bring geocaching into their troops once they got home from the Jamboree. The light went on for some people that it’s a good outdoor activity.”

Noble pointed out that Delorme had actually worked with the Boy Scouts prior to the Jamboree. “We have a long history with the Scouts,” he said. “I know that for past Jamborees we’ve donated our Topo software, and we’ve been active supporting Scouts in our state.” He said the company keeps close ties with the Scouts partly because the company owner, David Delorme, and his family have been involved with Scouting for many years. Also, several company personnel, including Noble and members of the designs and IT departments, have been active in Scouting.

Of course, the relationship also makes sense from a business standpoint. “The folks who are involved in Scouting are some of our best customers when they grow up,” said Noble. And the company is conscious of finding ways to promote the idea of getting kids outdoors and away from their game consoles in their homes.

Noble said the company’s participation in the Jamboree is going to serve as a springboard for future involvement with the Scouts. The GPS units Delorme provided will be sent to Boy Scout camps, such as Philmont in New Mexico, so kids can use them for geocaching activities. And Noble said the company had such a good experience at the Jamboree that he is already looking at opportunities to participate in the 2013 Jamboree.

“It was a very rewarding experience for us. Delorme got more out of it than we put into it,” said Noble. “One thing I reported back to the management team was the level of the appreciation from the Scouts and from the people running the event. They put great effort into making sure we knew our involvement was appreciated, and that certainly set the tone for future involvement.”

Scouts in the outdoor industry

Since we published our cover story on the Boy Scouts this summer, we’ve heard about several people in the industry who are involved in Scouting. Here are just a few of the Eagle Scouts among us:

Wayne Gregory, founder, Gregory Mountain Products

Mike Cichanowski, founder and owner of Wenonah Canoe and Current Designs

Eric Simonson, director, International Mountain Guides

Greg Garrigues, vice president, Pacific Outdoor Equipment

Steve Piragis, owner, Piragis Northwoods Co.

John Mead, president, Adventure 16

Shawn Hostetter, vice president of sales, Katadyn North America

Skip Yowell, co-founder, JanSport

Brian Kelleghan, owner, Bison Designs

Frank Meyer, co-founder, Adventure Medical Kits

--Marcus Woolf

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