• Venturing Crew 1429 of Elmore, Ohio, visited Murphy, or “Philmont South,” this week. Posing for the traditional Philmont photo are (back from left) Joseph Emerine, Eli Gerkensmeyer, Maddie Repka, Spencer Pendleton, Kirsten Sargent, Kathy Poplin, Kevin Sargent, (front from left) Allan Magsig, Peter Magsig, John Gerkensmeyer and O.D. the dog.
  • Keith Ownbey pours concrete as Jonathan Hardin and Peewee Davis wait to smooth it out. The Fraternal Order of the Police donated funds to make this project happen.

SCOUTING AROUND: Murphy becomes 'Philmont South' for Scouts

    Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M., is the largest Boy Scouts of America High Adventure Base. About 23,000 Scouts in the organization’s Boy Scout and Venturing programs make the journey each summer to experience hiking and camping in the Southwestern mountains.
    “Philmont is a very special place for boys and girls to go out there and see,” Kevin Sargent said. “For me, it was going to be special because I would be taking my daughter out there.”
    His daughter, Kirsten, is president of Venturing Crew 1429 in Elmore, Ohio. Venturing is a co-ed program for ages 14-21 which emphasizes adventure, leadership, personal growth and service.
    The crew spent two years planning their two-week trip Philmont, from raising funds to practicing hikes. The elder Sargent and his wife, Kathy Poplin, were even going to travel from Murphy to Ohio to help chaperone the crew to and at Philmont with two other adult leaders.
    Unfortunately, a fire started burning on the ranch property on May 31, and on June 4, Philmont staff decided to cancel programs through July 14. The crew was scheduled to start their stay at Philmont on June 16.
    “It was crushing,” said John Gerkensmeyer, lead advisor for the Crew 1429’s trip to Philmont. “I knew the fire had started, but I was hoping they at least would still run the program.”
    More than 26,000 of the ranch’s 140,177 acres were burning as of Saturday. Kirsten Sargent said she was upset when she got the text that their trip to Philmont was canceled.
    “I would have been the second girl in my family to go,” she said. Her grandmother, Daphne Sargent of Andrews, went as one of the first girls at Philmont as a member in the organization’s Explorer program. Her father is an Eagle Scout who has been to Philmont twice.
    Philmont did make offers to units for alternatives but there were scheduling conflicts,  like work for the adults and boot camp for two of the boys.
    Sargent and leaders already had been discussing that the Murphy area is comparable to Philmont, and he welcomed the Venturers to stay at his house instead and enjoy the adventures the area offers.
    “It’s not Philmont, but it’s the next-best thing,” Kirsten said.
    In fact, Sargent named it “Philmont South.” Every day had activities planned, but it was little more relaxed and provided more personal attention than the Philmont Scout Ranch. Instead of traveling by train to New Mexico, the six kids and two adults from Ohio traveled 10 hours by car to Murphy, arriving Friday night.
    On Saturday, the crew went mountain biking. Sunday was spent white water rafting on the Ocoee River. The crew was visited a shooting range on Monday, then started a four-day hike Tuesday.
    Joseph Emerine, the crew leader for the trip and one of the Eagle Scouts in the crew, had been to Philmont before and was looking forward to seeing the mountains again. He thought the Murphy mountains would be equally as challenging to hike, although he said there is more vegetation here.
    “I’m still happy with it,” he said. “It’s definitely a great experience to go to Philmont. I just hope we can all get there eventually.”

Wheelchair swing installed at park
    Murphy assistant police chief Dustin Smith knows what it’s like to see a child go to a park and watch kids do things he can’t. His son, Braiden, uses a wheelchair.
    “As a parent, you want them to be able to do the same things other kids do,” Smith said.
    Thanks to funding from Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 65, of which he is president, Braiden and other kids who use wheelchairs can swing at Konehete Park in Murphy just like the other kids. The swing, which allows a wheelchair to be rolled on and locked in, was installed Thursday.
    Smith said he had seen posts on social media about handicap swings and thought one was needed in Murphy. When he asked Cherokee County Parks & Recreation Director Phillip Davis about installing one, Davis informed him that the county already had such a swing. Davis said he had seen a child in a wheelchair at the park watching other kids playing, and got the idea for the county to purchase the swing as part of the playground refurbishing last year.
    The swing was installed, but when Davis saw children improperly playing on it he took it down for liability issues. He had signs made, placed the swing in the playground again, but noticed that without concrete, a child in a wheelchair was not going to easily access the swing, so he took it down again. He planned to install it with concrete in July.
    However, the FOP stepped in and raised the $330 needed for the concrete by taking up donations. The county paid for the labor.
    “It’s absolutely wonderful that somebody would want to step up and put money into the park,” Davis said.
    The organization plans to continue fundraising so Andrews can have a handicap swing in their park, too. Some schools, like Hiwassee Dam, already have an accessible swing to accommodate students. Smith said he knows of at least four children in Cherokee County who use a wheelchair.
    “It would be nice to have one every community,” he said.
    Just a swing costs about $3,200, and installation for the Konehete project was about $700. Anyone wishing to help can contact FOP Lodge 65 at the Murphy Police Department, 93 Peachtree St., or by calling 837-2214.
    Davis said while he has no official plans, he would like to add more handicapped-accessible equipment to local parks in the future.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.