MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – No snow…no problem. Whether it snows or not, there will be a Klondike Derby and, on Saturday the derby took place, with not even a snowflake to be seen, much less a snowbank.
Dozens of teams pulled, pushed and, in some cases, carried sleds throughout The Loop area of the reservation. At each stop on their map, they were judged for specific skills – pitching a tent, making a fire, cooking, boiling water, throwing an ax and a number of other skills. There is a set course, with specific tasks to be done at each town the troop visits. Time counts, as does Scout spirit, attention to detail and safety. Use an ax carelessly and you will be seen and a point taken away.
Check-in started early in the morning and, if you were late, there were penalty points. Each penalty point subtracts from the number of ‘gold nuggets’ your team will win.
Wooden sleds, which must weigh at least 100 pounds at the start, are weighed and all required equipment is checked – literally, checked off, on a list. When each sled returns, it has to weigh at least 75 pounds, and each item on the list is checked off a second time. There’s no dropping pots and pans, blankets or such off to lose some weight from the sled.
The team with the most nuggets earned will win.
Scouts primarily from the Watchung Hills Division of the Patriot’s Path Council took part in the annual Klondike Derby at the Watchung Reservation on Saturday. It wasn’t easy to catch every group, but groups from Berkeley Heights, Mountainside, Westfield, Scotch Plains/Fanwood, Millington and Stirling in Long Hill Township, North Plainfield, Warren and Watchung were spotted. Basking Ridge and Sparta also sent teams, as did Elizabeth, which sent one patrol, which had a conflict with the assigned date.
While most of the adult leaders enjoyed the warmer weather and lack of snow, everyone agreed that for the boys and for them, a reasonable amount of snow made for a better experience. The operative word here is “reasonable.” Old hands at the derby told tales of sub-zero temperatures, howling winds and snowflakes. They were grateful for Saturday’s good weather and didn’t mind the occasional run-in with mud one bit.
Members of Troop 56 of Long Hill finished the course relatively early. Asked which they preferred, no snow or snow, and they all agreed, “Snow. It’ makes the sleds go faster.” The Klondike Derby is a “prep for an Adirondack trip” the troop will take in February, one of the Scouts said.
Jeff Healey, one of the leaders from Mountainside, was waiting for another sled to arrive at the ax throwing site. Asked how the day was going, he said, “Fantastic … There’s chili, hot dogs, throwing axes. It’s a great day.”
There will be another Klondike Derby on Feb. 3, for the Raritan Valley District, which includes Plainfield, and yet a third one on Feb. 10, for troops from the Munsee District, which includes troops from Clark, Cranford, Elizabeth, Hillside, Kenilworth, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park, Springfield, Union and Winfield Park.
When the Derby is going on, the reservation is still open to the public and there were lots of people taking advantage of the good weather to use the playground and walk around The Loop and on trails on Saturday. It’s also an opportunity to see Scouts in action.