There and back again: A trail from boyhood to manhood

By Kevin O’Brien

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“Silver on the Sage, starlit skies above, aspen covered hills, country that I love…”, thus the stage was set for one of the greatest adventures in a young man’s life. These few words, from the opening line of the Philmont Hymn, say it all. In Scouts, attending Philmont National Scout Ranch is considered the pinnacle of experiences in Scouting. For a Scout, it is like going to the Olympic Games.


Philmont began in 1938 as the Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp, and was later renamed, Philmont National Scout Ranch. It covers 140,000 acres of rugged mountain wilderness in the Sangre De Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains in northwestern New Mexico. Worth noting – the only documented Tyrannosaurus rex footprint in the world is found on the property of Philmont- it was discovered within the camp’s boundaries in 1993 and was formally identified and recognized in 1994.

These are the things dreams are made of, and for 8 young men of French Camp’s local BSA Troop 109, this dream became a reality this recent summer. Thanks to the generosity of faithful friends and the fund-raising efforts of the participants, the crew recently embarked on a memorable adventure to the Philmont National Scout Ranch.

The crew consisted of eight FCA students. They were led by Crew Chief Julian Kay, Wilderness Guide Ian Carmichael and spiritual leadership by Chaplain’s Assistant Cody McGary. The crew was rounded out by scouts Eli Arrowood, Bradley McCoy, Eric McKinney, Toby Perkins, Anderson Ulerich, and adult leadership, Steve Arrowood, Michael McCoy, Stephen Ulerich and Scoutmaster Kevin O’Brien. They embarked on this epic journey on July 13, 2019 and headed west for two weeks.

The trip was divided into the Pre-Trip and the Hike which consisted of a 42-mile hike over 7 days and elevation changes from 6000 feet to 11,000 feet. The pre-trip was designed to allow the young men the opportunity to acclimate to the difference in altitude between French Camp, MS (Elevation 441 feet) and Cimarron, NM (Elevation 6,500 feet), and then on to their final destination, the surrounding mountains which exceed 12,000 feet in height. The first few stops included camping in Oklahoma, Amarillo, TX and a visit to the Cadillac Ranch. This stop had the added adventure of dinner at the Big Texan Steak House where one of the scouts attempted the 72-ounce steak challenge with all the trimmings.


Their final stop before heading to Philmont, was a few days in Colorado Springs for altitude adjustment and sightseeing. The boys began with a horseback ride though the Garden of the Gods, a red rock sandstone formation created during a geological upheaval along a natural fault line which occurred before recorded history. We got the pleasure of reuniting with Troop 109 Alumni, Eagle Scout, and FCA Graduate (2011), James Senyard who resides in Colorado Springs and joined us for the adventure. This was followed the next day by a visit to the United States Air Force Academy. On average, ten percent of the cadets of the Air Force Academy are Eagle Scouts.
Another side adventure for the crew was whitewater rafting and zip-lining on the Royal Gorge, followed by a train ride up the same gorge a few days later. And last, but not least in this pre trip agenda, was a tour to the top of Pike’s Peak (Elevation 14,440 feet). After a busy week in Colorado Springs our crew headed to Cimarron for The Hike!


It takes planning and training before you can hike 42 miles with 40 lbs. pack on your back. They did work-up hikes to prepare themselves, which included a twenty-mile round trip hike to Jeff Busby  and a 15-mile Hike at Savage Gulf National Park, outside of Chattanooga TN, all with the intention of preparing for the big hike at Philmont. They also planned hikes and worked out independently to get into shape.
Once at Philmont, the hiking started, with the young men taking control of the orienteering and meals. Crew Chief Julian Kay guided the group to our first campsite at the base of Arrowhead Mountain and acclimated to the weight on our backs at this altitude. One of the first things the guys had to learn was how to secure our food and “smellables” each night in a bear bag since we were in bear country. Each day of hiking was accompanied by reminders from Ian Carmichael of our civic duty to keep the areas we hiked and camped in pristine condition and unmarked for generations to come. Additionally, our Chaplain’s Aide, Cody McGary led devotions of thankfulness each day to remind us about the gift of God’s creation that we were getting the privilege to enjoy.
Each night found us in a canopy of trees surrounded by a sea of stars as we camped in God’s outdoor cathedral. Each day gave us new opportunities to witness God’s creation up close and personal. Every new day tested our endurance and ability to work as a team relying on God to see us through the difficult hikes.

Our Campsites included Cimarroncito (Elevation 8156 feet) where we participated in Rock Climbing (and cribbage), Cypher’s Mine (Elevation 9367 feet; circa 1936) and introduced the crew to primitive mining techniques and blacksmithing. We then went to Black Mountain Camp (Elevation 10,889 feet; circa 1866), a post civil war encampment teaching black powder rifle shooting and the art of espionage while recovering important papers! Hiking up Black Mountain was one of our biggest challenges. The trails up the mountain were 30-40-degree grades and the switchbacks were so numerous that we thought we’d never reach the top. When we finally hiked down from Black Mountain to the Tooth of Time (Elevation 9003 feet) we breathed a sigh of relief as we camped our last night on the trail at Tooth of Time Ridge. From there it was a leisure hike back into the base camp on the following Friday.


Looking back over the two-week adventure, I watched boys who doubted their ability to hike any further dig deep and find the strength to persevere. No one endures hiking this trail without being changed. We returned to French Camp better men. The troop walked away with a tremendous feeling of gratefulness for what we had been given. We experienced God’s creation in a whole new way and were able to see the awesomeness of His power as the storms swept across the plains below us as we hiked the ridgeline of the mountains. We experienced a hailstorm at 11,000 feet and forged rivers as we made our way along our chartered path. We had the pleasure of witnessing long horn sheep, deer and wild turkeys running through our campsites as we prepared our evening meals. We left French Camp as 12 individuals and we returned as a tight-knit band of brothers! This trip created memories we will never forget.

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Big New Plans for Council House Café

The Council House Café is a popular spot on the Natchez Trace Parkway for many travelers and local residents.  Its reputation for delicious sandwiches and soups is known and enjoyed by people from all over the world.  “I’m sure George Richey of Carrollton, MS who donated the logs back in 1967 never imagined the impact his gift was going to make,” says Lance Ragsdale, Vice President of Development at French Camp Academy.

For the past year a plan has steadily been shaping this historic space to become bigger and better.  The original building that we know as the Council House Café will remain the same and become available for group events.  The new space will be connected to the Huffman Log Cabin Gift Shop providing an expanded dining room space accented by a large indoor fireplace.  A large deck with an outdoor fireplace will also be a new space for guests to enjoy a meal under the shady oak tree.  Along with the dining areas, an expanded menu is also in the works.  The new commercial grade kitchen will provide our café staff opportunity to create tasty new items on the menu to complement most of the old favorites.

Expect the new Council House Café to be ready by Labor Day 2019.  And if you want to learn more about the French Camp Historic Village, please log on to www.frenchcamphistoricvillage.com.

Mid South Star Gaze and Astronomy Conference

Rainwater Observatory is gearing up for its annual Midsouth Stargaze and Astronomy Conference April 3-6, 2019. This event attracts amateur and professional astronomers from around the country. It is held under one of the few remaining dark skies in the southeastern United States and just off the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway near the village of French Camp, Mississippi. Join us this year for fun, fellowship, observing and fascinating presentations by professional astronomers and others such as galaxy researcher, Dr. William Keel from the University of Alabama, astrophotographer-retired “Hurricane Hunter” Jon Talbot and much more!

 

Daytime activities include solar viewing, fascinating presentations and workshops by professional research astronomers, and good food with a healthy dose of tall tales. Nights will be spent viewing the heavens through a variety of telescopes, space photography, eating, visiting, and watching the sunrise.

This year we have a special opportunity as Jon Talbot will present an astrophotography workshop on Thursday April 4, 2019 from 10:00am-4:00pm with a break for lunch. This workshop will cover the fundamentals of taking raw data and making a color image out of it using PixInsight.

 

We have a large camping area with a pavilion, picnic tables, amphitheater, men’s and women’s showers and bathrooms, WIFI access, all new electrical outlets on the hill and camp area, 14 bed air-conditioned bunk house, four new grills and five campfire pit areas with surround seating as well as other camping areas around the observatory hill. There is a Bed and Breakfast, Council House Cafe, Lodge, Memphis Guest House and other additional lodging located within a mile of the observatory. Register soon to ensure your choice of lodging.

W-O-R-K-I-N-G it out at French Camp Academy

For many “W-O-R-K” is not a word to be embraced.  Some do anything they can to avoid it.  Others go to other extremes and exhaust themselves to enjoy the better things in life.  Others, out of necessity and circumstances, work several jobs just to put food on the table.  It can produce life-altering stress and physical issues.

 

Work wasn’t meant to be a chore in the beginning.  You know the story.  God gave Adam and Eve some land. The soil was perfect! The fruit from their labor was satisfying.  Work was good, and life had meaning!  And then it happened!  Sin entered the workplace.  Weeds shot up.  Life got complicated quickly.

 

Genesis 3:17-18…after the First Couple took a bite from the forbidden fruit, God told them some really bad news. In short, He said the ground is cursed because of you. You will struggle to make a living. And all your life you will struggle to make a living from it.  It will grow thorns and thistles for you.

 

Ouch!  Work today isn’t what God planned for us, is it?  But God gives LOTS of grace and wants us to work out a proper perspective of work.  Most French Camp Academy young people who come out of a culture demanding us to make bucket piles of money fast.  And the message is clear: YOU come first.  Look out for number ONE.

 

French Camp strives to teach a different model of viewing work, because we believe a perspective shaped by God’s Word can transform a life and generations to follow.

 

  • Every afternoon Monday–Friday and Saturday mornings young people 7th –12th grades are assigned to work coordinators. If you visit our campus during those hours throughout the week, you will notice young people accomplishing and learning different tasks.  Photography, weed eating, retail, writing thank you notes to FCA supporters, cleaning offices, answering telephones, operating a back-hoe, and a host of other activities provide opportunities for adults to teach young people life skills and develop habits of working every day.

 

  • As FCA students enter their Junior year of their academic program, French Camp’s Life Coaching program kicks into high gear. Students learn about their unique God-given strengths, their passions in life, natural abilities, personality characteristics, and life experiences.  Monthly mentoring meetings and classroom instructions help students shape a life purpose catapulting them into the future by laying out a track they can run on for life after high school.

 

Sound biblical teaching supports all of our work we do with young people ensuring that a Christ-focused world view shapes their lives.  The work program at FCA is designed to point our students into career paths, teach them a Christian work ethic, develop skills and enhance talents, and ultimately serve others as they follow their God-given calling in life.

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Five Nights of Prayer

Would you make time to pray for us in October?  The first 5 nights in October we are encouraging our ministry partners to stand with us in fervent prayer for the following:

Night One:             FCA students have multiple needs based on life situations. Pray for perseverance as they each address challenges, reach for new life goals, and take guided steps that will change the trajectory of their lives.

a-girls-in-church-1Night Two:            Pray for FCA House parents who work daily with the ones in their care.  Eleven sets of parents from all around the country are called to meet the emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs of young people.

Night Three:          FCA Family Ministry kicked-off last year by providing life-changing retreats, counseling, and resources for families of our young people.  Pray that God would use this targeted ministry to re-adjust marriages and families.

Night Four:            The FCA Life Coaching program pairs staff with students Boy prayinglooking to start the next phase of their lives.  These students need career direction, a clear understanding of their gifts and abilities, and someone to walk through goals to get them across the finish line and set-up for the next phase of their lives. Pray for over 60 adults who are serving as Life Coaches and the senior students being mentored by them.

Night Five:            Counseling plays a major role in our program to children and teenagers.  Some need a little, others need a lot, and a few none at all.  Pray that our counselors will have discernment and godly wisdom as they lead our youngsters through the bumps and bruises of their lives and allow healing to begin.

Harvest Festival 2018

What better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than a good old-fashioned fall Harvest Festival! October 13, 2018 marks the 67th annual Harvest Festival sponsored by the French Camp Community Club. The fundraiser benefits the local churches as well as FCA.

2018 HarvestFest publicity

The main attraction is the Auction where you can bid on handmade items— arts, crafts, quilts, squirrel feeders, furniture, picture frames, and more. Shop the Country Store for jellies and jams, sweet treats, and other homemade and handmade goodies. The Historical District will be filled with traditional arts and crafts demonstrations. Enjoy watching the sorghum mill before buying some to take home. Children will delight in horseback and buggy rides and lots of good food will be available.

Pictured below are just a few auction items that have already been delivered. Keep watching out Facebook page, French Camp Academy One Fine Place, as new items arrive!

 

Bring your entire family and come join us for this fun day!

Doubling Our Blessings

DSC_1566Courtney Collins has come full circle; from once being a member of a student work crew to now leading her own work crew as Manager of Double Blessings Thrift Store. As a former student, Courtney enjoyed being part of a Christian community so when she married her husband Craig, who serves as the pianist at French Camp Baptist Church, it was only natural to inquire about positions available to her on campus.

Even though it has been challenging for her to step into an adult role at FCA, Courtney has made several innovative improvements at Double Blessings including a new computer system, operating an eBay store for donated items, and social media advertising. Recently she coordinated with Kosciusko Walmart to receive a donation of round clothing racks and three days of volunteer labor. While the makeover isn’t complete, store items are organized and visible making shopping pleasant.

Courtney isn’t the only one adjusting to a new role. Cindy Cox was Courtney’s dorm parent while she was a student and is now her supervisor at Double Blessings. “She’s grown in her decision-making ability and she’s growing daily in her walk with the Lord”, Cindy said fondly.

Working alongside a work crew allows our staff the opportunity to spend time connecting with students on a personal level. Recently Courtney was asked by a student to attend a mother daughter event as a mentor. She has a unique connection with the students to be able to talk with them about their current struggles and they know she’s been in their shoes.

Courtney glows when talking about the work crew. “The best part of my day is when the work crew comes in each afternoon. Getting to know the kids and learning them as individuals is very rewarding. The Lord has provided me an opportunity to become a role model for students.”