With the official go-ahead from the Chief Seattle Council and the T’Kope Kwiskwis Lodge, and with tentative support from the National Park Service and National Forest Service, planning for ArrowCorps502 began in earnest in the fall of 2009. Originally conceived as a 1000-person service project, ArrowCorps502 soon evolved into a 502-person project, which reflected the combination of the T’Kope Kwiskiws Lodge number with the ArrowCorps5 name. In October 2010, the project was opened to all registered members of Scouting, including Cub Scouts, Scouts, Scouters, and Venturers. Through the long months of planning and revision ahead, a smaller, though no less ambitious, project slowly took shape under the direction of a core group of youth and adult leaders.

Even so, the hundred-person project that ArrowCorps502 eventually became was unprecedented in size and scope for T’Kope Kwiskwis and the Chief Seattle Council. Never had so many organizations come together to organize a service project of this magnitude. Planning something like this was something new and exciting, but often daunting and frustrating in equal measure. The story of ArrowCorps502, therefore, became one of adaptation and innovation. Through training events and partnerships with community organizations, the Lodge blazed a trail, honing skills and preparing for the greatest adventure of our lives. We pooled our previous experiences and developed a project that at once drew inspiration from elsewhere and yet was uniquely our own. We took the best of ArrowCorps5 and built on it, incorporating best practices from the Washington Trails Association and the land management agencies themselves. Volunteers promoted tirelessly, recruited staff, organized logistics, worked the phones, and secured camperships and donations. None of us really knew what we were doing, so we all learned together, and learned quickly. We had the will, so we made a way.

In the end, six sites in Mount Rainier National Park and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest were selected on the basis of conservation need and historical and environmental interest: Crystal Lake, Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, Government Meadows, Ipsut Creek, and Ranger Creek/Army Camp. By summer, all of the pieces were falling into place, and by the time participants started arriving at Camp Sheppard, we were ready.

The project itself, held from July 31-August 6, 2011, went off spectacularly and far surpassed anyone’s wildest expectations. Through there were some hiccups (some more humorous than others), the week will long be remembered as one of the best experiences of our lives. Crews blazed through their assignments, surprising the land management agencies and themselves with their efficiency and running out of backup projects just as the week ended. As much as service was the centerpiece of the event, we came to an important realization. ArrowCorps502 had, almost unintentionally, built up a profound repository of enthusiasm and expertise, a strong sense of outdoor ethics, and a new appreciation for conservation in a way that was highly visible to both the Scouting community and the public at large. This ensured that project would not only have a vital impact on future wilderness users, but gave participants and staff a new outlook on what they were capable of achieving and the difference they could make in their community and their world. It was this mindset that allowed us to get so much done on the trail, and would ensure that ArrowCorps502 would continue paying dividends long after the week had ended. What we had done was add our story to an ongoing legacy of service in the Mt. Rainier area.

Even before end of ArrowCorps502, it was evident that we had stumbled onto something truly extraordinary. Before the week was out, the Lodge announced its intention to hold and even bigger ArrowCorps in 2014, which was met with great enthusiasm. But that summer was a long way off, and we realized that three years was a long time to wait, plan, and prepare. A new generation would have to step forward to lead the project and make it their own, just the participants in ArrowCorps502 had made it theirs. We would need a way to keep the spirit alive.

Read on about Conservation Leadership School.