There are 11 essentials of winter camping at the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Boyhaven in Middle Grove: Pack extra food and clothing; make sure a map, compass, matches, firestarter, knife, flashlight and batteries are among your possessions; wear appropriate rain gear; and carry a first aid kit.
But most of all, make sure 92-year-old Ted Brown is there to lend his ear and expertise when it comes to braving sub-zero temperatures overnight in the woods.
The former organizer of the Klondike Derby and key founder of the Twin River Council’s OKPIK Winter Camping School was recognized for his years of service to the Boy Scouts with the dedication of Boyhaven’s “lower-level” campsite in his name. Dozens of friends and fellow Scout leaders gathered at the edge of the 29-acre site Sunday as they celebrated Brown’s enduring legacy in the woods he has camped in for more than four decades
“It will be a permanent testimonial that a great man once moved through these trees,” said Bart Chabot, a former scoutmaster and fellow member of the OKPIK staff, as he unveiled the carving.
Brown, a former General Electric engineer from Schenectady, became involved with the Twin River Council when he enrolled his son in Troop 7
during the 1960s. He was integral in organizing the first Klondike Derby and Deep Freeze, an annual two-day winter camping event at Boyhaven that draws more than 400 Boy Scouts from around the region to compete in various cold weather survival skills.
In 1979, a bitter cold descended upon the derby, prompting many of the Boy Scout troops gathered at Boyhaven to abandon the second day of the competition. Brown was among a contingent of three troops that continued camping in tents throughout the weekend despite overnight temperatures dipping to -10 degrees on the first night and -30 degrees on the second.
“We said ‘ … we came here to do some camping,’ ” Brown recalled telling the departing scoutmasters.
The frosty weekend prompted Brown to write “Thirty Below Is a Piece of Cake,” a definitive reference guide chronicling everything he had learned about winter survival skills. Two years later, Brown gathered with six other winter campers and developed a training program at Boyhaven to relay the skills they had learned to other scoutmasters.
By 1983, the group had named their annual camping school “OKPIK” after the Inuit term for snow owl. The two-day program is now nearly three decades old and draws winter enthusiasts from around the region to hone their survival abilities in the cold.
“Ted basically put it together and it’s still going strong,” said George Sogoian, who helps teach the program. “He’s got my whole troop camping with confidence.”
Despite Brown’s age, scoutmasters continue to regard him as an authoritative source when asking questions about winter camping. If he can’t provide an answer from memory, he always knows where to find the right book in his personal library.
“He knows every book and he knows where they are,” Chabot said. “It humbles me to have known him for so long.”
Brown, who continues to teach at OKPIK each winter, was humble about his own contributions to Boyhaven. Instead, he thanked the scoutmasters who continue to properly mold the decision-making abilities of so many boys.
“This country needs young men who can size up a situation that is new to them and make the right decision,” Brown told the group. “We train them here to make these decisions.”
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