Every summer for more than 75 years, Boy Scouts have flocked to northern New Mexico for a taste of adventure hiking and camping at the Philmont Scout Ranch.
The sprawling property lies four miles south of the Colfax County town of Cimarron, whose population hovers around 1,000. Ongoing operation of the huge ranch plus the annual influx of thousands of teens and seasonal staffers pumps a lot of money into the tiny towns in this rural part of the state. It means jobs, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, taxes, grocery shopping and transportation services.
Although Philmont Comptroller Steve Nelson did not answer the Journal’s question about the ranch’s annual operating budget, local business owners and elected officials say the impact is significant.
“If it would not be for Philmont, Cimarron would be a ghost town,” said Cimarron Mayor Judy LeDoux.
Nearby Raton feels the Scout effect, too. Colfax County Commission Chair Bill Sauble estimates around 8,000 Scouts and family members arrive in the town each summer on the Southwest Chief Amtrak train. While they’re waiting for transportation from the train station to the ranch they hit the local supermarkets, eateries and other businesses.
Nelson said the ranch also buys hardware, lumber and auto parts from suppliers in Raton.
“The Scout Ranch is vital to the county economy. In summer, in Raton there’s literally Scouts everywhere,” Sauble said.
Drawn back to NM
The Philmont experience also motivated former Scouts like two-term Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and University of New Mexico Hospitals CEO Steve McKernan to pursue careers in New Mexico.
“Philmont is one of the main reasons I’m in New Mexico at all,” said Berry, an Eagle Scout. Raised in Nebraska, Berry attended Philmont in 1977 and was so inspired by his time there that he accepted an athletic scholarship to attend UNM over other schools that made offers.
McKernan, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was a Scout at Philmont then returned to work there during summer college breaks in the 1970s. On days off, he said, staffers would go into Cimarron, Taos, Red River and Raton for fun.
He recalled Philmont offering staffers tickets to see “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Santa Fe Opera.
“It was most memorable. I’d never been exposed to opera,” said McKernan. He has been at UNMH for 36 years and he and his wife are still opera regulars in Santa Fe.
Land grant history
According to the Philmont website, the ranch lies on what was once part of land granted to Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda by the Mexican government in 1841. Beaubien’s son-in-law, Lucien Maxwell, eventually acquired the property and renamed it the Maxwell Land Grant. The land was sold over the ensuing decades to different companies.
In the 1920s, Oklahoma oilman Waite Phillips gradually bought around 300,000 acres of it for a ranch that he named Philmont, from his name and the Spanish word “monte” for mountain. He also built a Mediterranean-style home for his family at the ranch that he called the Villa Philmonte.
In 1938, with plans to move to California, Phillips donated about 36,000 acres of his land to the Boy Scouts of America for a wilderness camp, which was called Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp. It drew 189 Scouts in 1939, its first season. Three years later, he donated an additional 91,000 acres plus livestock and the Villa Philmonte to the Boy Scouts.
The first season as Philmont Scout Ranch was in 1942 with 275 Scouts. This year, Nelson expects 22,700 Scouts to come and hike the backcountry. In addition, the Philmont Training Center, which was established on the property in the 1950s, holds dozens of weeklong Scouting-related conferences that draw about 4,500 participants and accompanying family members.
The Villa Philmonte is now a museum and is open for tours spring, summer and fall. The ranch also holds winter backpacking and camping programs.
Philmont has continued to expand. In 1963, National Council of the Boy Scouts of America board member businessman Norton Clapp donated 10,000 acres around Mount Baldy for use at Philmont.
In 2014, the Boy Scouts of America’s Executive Board approved the purchase of the roughly 2,700-acre neighboring Cimarroncita Ranch Camp, which was a well-known girls and boys summer camp from the early 1930s to 1995 and later an educational retreat center. The additions brought the total ranch area up to about 140,000 acres.
Supporting all these activities requires a lot of people.
“It seems like Philmont employs half the people in Cimarron,” said Village Councilor Anita LeDoux, no relation to the mayor, who owns The Kit restaurant in Cimarron.
Nelson said Philmont has 81 full-time employees who are involved in maintenance, ranching, farming, food service, museum operation, retail sales and management. The ranch also hires more than 1,100 seasonal employees.
“They come from all 50 states, with several from our local communities of Cimarron, Miami, Springer and Raton,” Nelson said.
Scout troops headed to Philmont often stay overnight in local hotels. Sue Weldin, co-owner of the Cimarron Inn & RV Park, said a big chunk of their bookings come from Scout groups and they are already taking reservations for next year.
Sharon Smith, owner of a local brunch and dinner spot called The Porch, estimates about 70 percent of her summer business is Philmont-related.
“In winter we lay low but when Philmont is in session we just work all the time,” Smith said.
St. James Hotel, which dates to the 1870s when Cimarron had a reputation as a rowdy wild west town – the bar ceiling still has bullet holes in it – sees its share of Philmont trade, too.
“Oh my gosh. It’s major,” said St. James office manager Sandy Sitzberger. Scouts and their families keep the hotel rooms, restaurant and bar busy from early June to late August. Year-round employees and those participating in winter programs drop in, too.
“When it’s colder than heck out there they come in and enjoy the ambiance here, and the bar,” Sitzberger said.
The economic impact of the ranch extends to other parts of New Mexico, too. Nelson said Philmont uses Albuquerque-based Shamrock Foods as its food supplier.
Tim Dowling, owner of Main Event Transportation, estimates his company reaps $250,000 in revenue busing about 2,500 Scouts and several hundred staffers from the Albuquerque International Sunport to Philmont and back each summer.
“It’s a good revenue generator all around. Most people don’t have any idea how big the Philmont operation is,” said Dowling.