By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Matthew Pragett is 18 years old, a year too old to be a Boy Scout.
But that doesn't stop him from being involved.
The Mountain Ranch resident, born and raised in the foothills, has seldom missed a scout meeting since he was 9. He loves the camaraderie, the learning, the adventure.
He's one of many Calaveras County residents young and old, male and female who are part of Boy Scouts of America.
"It's helping young men to mature and grow," said Pragett, explaining his passion for scouting. "You can tell a difference in scouts compared to non-scouts."
Founded in England, the Boy Scouts are celebrating their 94th anniversary in America.
In those 94 years, scouting has become a way of life for many American children. Calaveras County has Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops in West Point, Arnold, Murphys, Angels Camp, Mountain Ranch, San Andreas and Valley Springs.
Scouts perform community services. In San Andreas, for example, Troop 352 builds bird houses along the Mokelumne River. In Valley Springs, Troop 302 maintains the Jenny Lind Memorial Cemetery.
But that's not all scouting's about there's also the hiking, camping, horseback riding, swimming, rafting, climbing and other activities that outdoor enthusiasts crave.
The program also provides opportunities for young men and women to explore career paths.
Calaveras County's Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol headquarters have Explorer Scout posts. Such posts can be set up with different businesses to give scouts a real-world view of career paths.
Women can be Explorer scouts or Venture scouts. Venture scouts stick with more extreme outdoor activities, such as rafting and rock climbing, that other scout groups may not do. Women can also be scout leaders.
With the Sheriff's Department and CHP, Explorers complete simple but important tasks such as working the front desks and filing paperwork. They also learn about the law and penal codes and go on ride-alongs with officers and deputies. In doing so, they learn how to handle different situations.