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Philmont Scout Ranch closes its backcountry

SANTA FE – Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron announced Thursday that it is closing its backcountry for the rest of the summer due to wildfires in the area.

“After careful consideration of the situation and available options, the difficult but prudent decision has been made that the Philmont backcountry will remain closed for treks and individual programs for the remainder of the 2018 summer season,” states a message on the ranch’s website.

The closure will not affect fall programs. Philmont’s camping headquarters and base camp area, training center, the National Scouting Museum and the Kit Carson Museum at Rayado will also remain open.

The lightning-caused Morris Creek Fire appears to be behind the closure. It is the second wildfire to burn on the more-than-140,000-acre ranch this year. The Ute Park Fire, which started May 31 and is now listed as 97 percent contained, burned nearly 37,000 acres, including 26,000 acres of ranch property. The Morris Creek Fire has burned 1,604 acres.

Three other wildfires – the Cottonwood, Sardinas Canyon and Emily fires – have also burned in northern New Mexico south and east of Taos since June 1, together consuming 42,000 acres. Three of the fires have been deemed lightning caused. The cause of the Ute Park Fire is unknown and the Sardinas Canyon was determined to be human caused.

“Our ranch managers, volunteer leaders and national staff have monitored the situation since the Ute Park Fire began and attempted to plan alternate trek routes and procedures required by Philmont to manage backcountry emergencies,” the messages states. “Because of the Morris (Moras) Creek Fire, these alternate trek routes have now been eliminated. The safety of our youth participants, volunteers and staff is the priority at Philmont Scout Ranch and for the Boy Scouts of America.”

More than 20,000 scouts take 7- to 12-day treks ranging in distance from about 50 to 100 miles through the backcountry each year. The ranch said it was working on providing refund checks to those scouts who had already signed up for treks this year.

Many of those who will miss out this year posted their disappointment, but understanding, on Philmont’s Facebook page Thursday.

“Although I know a contingent of young men who will be saddened by the decision; it is the right decision. Thank you for your courage in making a decision that is in the best interest of all those that staff and participate in programs, and/or to those that respond to emergent situations,” one typical post read.

In 2015, a flash flood that swept through a camp site took the life of one 13-year-old scout.