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Venturing into the Deep

"It's like comparing the regular army with Special Forces," says Wayne Nielsen of the difference between Boy Scouts and its off-shoot Venturing. Nielsen should know — he leads both a standard Boy Scout troop and a Venturing Crew, although in the case of Venturing, the youths lead themselves, and his title is advisor. Venturing is a Boy Scouts of America youth development program established five years ago based on a European model to give youth between the ages of 14 and 20 the opportunity to participate in "high adventure" activities. Nine of the 25 Venturers in Crew 761 recently completed another adventure, wreck diving on the North Carolina coast.

One of the obvious differences between Scouts and Venturing is that Venturing is coed. "It's a chance where we can all get together and share ideas," said Stephanie Scales, 16, a rising junior at Park View High School and the treasurer of Crew 761. Many of the Venturers are involved in either Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but in Venturing the boys and girls work together. Scales notes that girls are stereotyped into horseback riding but emphasizes that they are capable of doing more outdoors, as Venturing attests.

Another difference is that Venturers choose their own adventures, and adults are there to advise. Crew 761's activities include backpacking, rappelling, mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, spelunking and flyfishing on the Potomac from Nielsen's backyard. There are also core requirements, like first aid, CPR, Leave No Trace camping techniques, wilderness survival and navigation skills, that enable the Venturers to conduct their activities safely. Once a Venturer has completed eight such core requirements and four elective activities they achieve a Ranger Award. Crew 761's Meredith Cleveland is the first Ranger in the Venturing Council area of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

FOR THEIR TRIP to North Carolina the last four days of June, the Venturers of Crew 761 had to earn PADI certification so that they could legally dive. In North Carolina they stayed on Topsail Island and dove at the wreck of the Indra, a landing ship transport intentionally scuttled for reef-building purposes during the '80s, near the town of Beauford. They earned Graveyard Venturers recognition from the area dive shop.

The wreck diving trip was not the Venturers' first foray into the diving world, as they previously had made two trips to the Florida Keys. Crew 761's President Jon Hartsuiker, 16, a rising junior at Potomac Falls High School, says of diving, "It's fun and an experience that not many people get to do." Christian Nielsen, Wayne's son and bound for Christopher Newport University, is one of the senior members of the crew, calling the diving in North Carolina "absolutely fantastic." Diving primarily at a depth of 45 to 50 feet, they saw southern stingrays, angelfish, and humans hunting fish with spear guns. The only drawback was the accumulation of jellyfish at the surface. Fortunately these were of a species with a comparatively mild sting, but Christian Nielsen says it was still "like diving through 10 feet of briars."

Crew 761 is based in Sterling and chartered by the Rotary Club of Sterling. They were named the Venturing Crew of the Year for their Council is 2002. Nielsen estimates that there are several hundred Venturing Crew in the country and says that the comparatively new organization is growing. Danielle Schultz, 17, a rising senior at Broad Run High School and the Crew's vice president, says the best thing about Venturing is "getting to do what normal teenagers don't get the opportunity to do." This privilege has a cost and the Crew frequently does fundraising including mulching and car-washing.

The biggest event on the Venturers' schedule at the moment is a trip to Northern Tier in Manitoba, Canada next summer, with 22 participating. The Venturers will be dropped by plane into the wilderness for 10 days of canoeing.

In the next year the Venturers can look forward to their annual winter skiing/snowboarding trip to Vermont and other adventures. As Hartsuiker said, "We're focused on going out and having fun."