A Minute with Mark: Scouting in Skagway

by | Sep 19, 2018

The value of Scouting is OUTING. There is no way around this simple truth. When a boy gets out into the world—on an adventure—he experiences GROWTH, real growth that doesn’t necessarily happen sitting in a classroom.

The most successful units go on outings every month. This doesn’t mean that all leaders and all boys go every month. This means that leaders alternate when necessary to accommodate their work and family schedules. This means that boys go when they can. But the opportunity to adventure every month is always there.

Outings work wonders on youth, and the evidence is all around us. When boys are away from technology and the noise of the world they can experience sacred space. Fresh air should never be underestimated.


I had the opportunity to experience outdoor adventure with my wife this summer in Skagway, Alaska; the doorway to the famed Yukon Territory. This tiny town sits along the coast below breathtaking mountaintops and glaciers. Surprisingly, we had two encounters with Scouting in Skagway.

While shopping in one of the many tourist stores, I took my wallet out of my backpack to pay for our items.

“You’re a Scout,” said the young cashier immediately. “I see the symbol on your backpack.” And then the inevitable, “I’m an Eagle Scout.” He was proud to tell us of the good Scouting experience he had had as a youth. In fact, he gave us a bonus discount on our purchase as well!

Later that day we had still another encounter as we rode the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad up into the Yukon Territory. This historic railway was built in 1898 to aid in the Alaskan Gold Rush. Before the railway, potential miners traveled over 20 treacherous miles through the narrow White Pass, an elevation climb of almost 3000 feet. They traversed the pass with packhorses, backpacks, and whatever means they could find to bring their goods up into the Yukon and search for gold. It was a perilous and adventurous time.

Thankfully, the ingenuity and grit of determined men inspired the building of the railroad. Once completed, goods and people could be much more easily transported through the White Pass and up into Canada.


My wife and I rode this historic train up into the White Pass for 20 miles. The old train cars, glaciers, waterfalls, blooming Wildfire flowers, and majestic waterfalls and views made our trip unforgettable.

After reaching the top and stopping for a time in Canada, the train made its way back down the canyon. The conductor, passing through the cars, stopped and started up a friendly conversation with us. We asked about his background and he in turn asked where we were from and what I did for a living.

“I work for the Boy Scouts of America,” came the reply. Without hesitation this conductor immediately straightened, and with an air of respect said, “I was a Boy Scout.”


“Yes. I was raised in Florida, in the city, and joined a Scout troop.” He explained. “We were a very poor downtown troop. We didn’t even have uniforms at first. But what Scouting did for our troop was tremendous. Our leaders got us out of the city into the outdoors. They taught us to fish, camp, and hike. It was life changing for me. In fact, Scouting is partly what brought me here to Alaska.” He shared with us that he had been an Alaskan resident now for over 30 years and thoroughly loved his life in the beautiful wilderness of the state.

“Principles I learned in Scouting I still practice today,” he said. “The buddy system, good outdoor skills, how to survive in the wild—those are all part of my life even now.”

We were surprised and awed by his sudden and wonderful tribute to Scouting. There, on an old train, in the wilds of Alaska, was a gentleman who had been touched and changed by Scouting.

My favorite thing about the Boy Scouts of America is that our involvement invites instant friendships and connections with people in the most unexpected situations. You never know when or where you will meet a Scout. But chances are, Scouts will turn up in good places and be doing good things. They will still remember good leaders, good principles and good activities that shaped their lives years ago, and they will be grateful for what they experienced as a youth.

I will always remember the Scout I met in the remote White Pass of the Yukon Territory.

~Mark R. Francis has served as the director of LDS-BSA Relationships since 2013. In his next life he hopes to be a train conductor.