Since 1988, members of Boy Scout Troop 496 of Hookstown have hiked 100 miles to Camp Heritage in Farmington in Fayette County.
But this year – which marks the 33rd annual trek – the Boy Scout camp has closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The boys, though, still wanted to make the hike.
And the Beaver County troop leaders felt it was important to keep up the tradition, even though they had to take extra precautions because of COVID.
“So we decided we’d hike halfway, to Scenery Hill, and then turn around and retrace our steps back home,” said Randy Cox, hike coordinator.
On Thursday, about 65 miles into the hike, the six Boy Scouts and their troop leaders and support personnel camped overnight at North Strabane Township Park.
They have hiked on average about 14 miles a day, packing up their gear and starting around 7 a.m. and walking until they reach the next destination, usually between 3 or 4 p.m.
It’s Cox’s eighth hike.
“Every year has its own thing that makes it unique, and obviously, this year it’s COVID,” said Cox. “You always meet a lot of nice people along the way, and that’s true this year, too.”
People have provided donations so the boys could buy ice cream, and Subway in Hickory donated breakfast sandwiches on a recent stop, and will give the boys hoagies when they pass through on their return to Hookstown.
“People toot the horn, wave at you, cheer you on. It’s a hard hike. A single day isn’t, but when you’re doing it day after day, it gets tough,” said Cox.
At North Strabane Park, the boys set up sleeping bags on the picnic tables, ate prepared meals, played cards, threw ball, and compared blisters before turning in for the night.
For the boys, the trek, which concluded Saturday, offers an opportunity to hike different terrain, to cope with unexpected weather and to bond with the group.
And completing the trek brings a well-earned sense of achievement.
“These Scouts have stories they could tell that will last a lifetime, and go through a bonding experience that will also last,” said April Carpenter, a parent and support car driver. “It shows them that they have the ability to do anything they put their minds to.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported an additional 800 positive cases of COVID-19 Sunday as new cases of the virus within the state continue to mount. The additional positive tests bring the statewide total to 107,425. Since test results started coming in March 6, there have been 7,118 people who have died from coronavirus in the state, with four of those occurring Saturday.
Of the 800 new cases, 35% were in two counties: Allegheny and Philadelphia.
Of the patients who tested positive in Pennsylvania, more than 37% are between the ages of 25 and 49 and nearly 25% are ages 65 and older, with most of the deaths in the latter age bracket.
As of Sunday, the total number of positive cases sits at 669 in Washington County, an increase of 15, while Greene County’s caseload rose by one to 98 as of Sunday, according to a health department news release.
Neither Washington nor Greene reported any new deaths, the health department said.
Allegheny County reported 133 additional positive test results but no new deaths.
Fayette County’s numbers rose by four cases to 311. There were no new deaths reported.
There are 1,028,776 patients who have tested negative for the coronavirus to date, according to the health department.
“As the state has put in place new mitigation efforts to offset recent case increases, we must renew our commitment to protecting against COVID-19 by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and following the requirements set forth in the orders for bars and restaurants, gatherings and telework,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Pennsylvania has been a model for the country on how to reopen effectively using a careful, measured approach. However, we know the virus has not gone away as we see cases rise, so we must work together to stop another surge.”
Mask-wearing is required in all businesses and whenever leaving home.