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New director's life of Scouting started at age 8
Yuma's newest Boy Scout executive is a prime example of the impact the program can have on the lives of boys.
Erik Merkley, who in February took over as the district director of the Ocotillo District in the Grand Canyon Council of Boy Scouts of America, can attribute not one, but two careers to his formative years in Scouting.
As district director, Merkley is the one paid staff member for the Boy Scout program in Yuma County. With a large volunteer base of some 400 adults, the program serves about 1,300 boys from first-graders in Tigers to those up to 21 years old in Ventures (which is coed).
Throughout the years as they progress through the Scouting program, the boys learn core values, teamwork, leadership skills and love of the outdoors.
“If you take the outdoors out of Scouting, what are you left with?” asked Merkley. “Getting outdoors with nature is what it is all about.”
That's whether camping, canoeing, hiking, fishing or other outdoor activities that test and stretch the boys' skills and self-reliance.
Merkley grew up in Tridell, Utah, and joined Cub Scouts when he was 8. “That was just what you did when you turned 8.”
Scouting was an integral part of his family growing up. His father was his scoutmaster and all four of his brothers were in Scouting. Merkley and two of his brothers earned their Eagle Scout awards.
“I really enjoyed it. The adventure, the camping ... summer camp every summer. And it taught me good values. When I raise my hand and recite the Scout Oath, I remember to do my best to God and my country, myself and others.”
He also liked the merit badges: Boy Scouts has 130 merit badges with such diverse topics as art, astronomy, citizenship, environmental science, first aid, hiking, physical fitness, robotics, wilderness survival and, of course, camping.
One in particular, computers, struck a chord with Merkley. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science from Utah State University and worked in information technology for 15 years.
When he was laid off from his job in 2008, he considered pursuing work in Scouting. A neighbor who was a retired Scout executive helped him through the application process, and Merkley began his career with the Boy Scouts of America in May 2008 in Logan, Utah, as a district executive.
“I had found my calling.”
During his tenure there, he served two rural districts with a combined youth membership of about 4,000. He also worked for five summers at Camp Hunt, an aquatics camp on the west shore of Bear Lake. As camp director, he oversaw a $1 million renovation project of the 75-year-old camp.
“That was my favorite time,” he recalled. “I was working with good people and helping boys. My family loved camp, too.”
He and his wife, Karen, have one son who is an Eagle Scout and four daughters.
“The girls tagged along,” he said. “The oldest was on the camp staff and the other three were camp kids. They were honorary Boy Scouts.”
Then Merkley got a call from his supervisor who said the Grand Canyon Council was interested in him for the Yuma position.
“They wanted to explore me so I explored the area,” he said. “We visited the area, met some neat people and had a good time.”
He arrived in mid-February to a full schedule. It started with Midnight at the Oasis, during which Scout volunteers picked up trash. He attended a ceremony reopening the Easter Hill Trail at Yuma Proving Ground, which was a service project by Scout leaders taking part in a leadership training program. He's met with Yuma Police Department about the law enforcement explorer group.
This weekend is the Scout camporee in the Muggins Wilderness Area. In April, there is a triathlon, and he's working to put together a career tour at YPG for the Ventures.
“Fortunately, I have some good volunteers,” Merkley concluded.
For more information about the Boy Scouts of America program in Yuma County, call 782-1896.