'We Go Camping'
By Harold Clapper
A New York State troop has conducted an outdoor activity for more than 400 consecutive months (nearly 35 years) by relying on a simple formula of program, planning, and parents.
October in New York State's Adirondack Mountains usually features ideal camping weatherbright, cloudless days, brilliant autumn color, and cool crisp nights. But the weather's failure to cooperate last October didn't faze Troop 709 of Caughdenoy, N.Y., which proceeded as planned, logging its 411th consecutive monthly outdoor event since 1971.
Located north of Syracuse, the hamlet of Caughdenoy has a population of only about 350. But Troop 709whose members come from other area towns as wellhas broad community involvement, a supportive chartered organization in the Caughdenoy United Methodist Church, and committed leaders.
Troop 709's formula for success can be expressed simply: program, planning, and parents.
It's no secret that its dynamic outdoor emphasis is a leading attraction for boys. As Scout Austin Aserian puts it when asked why he joined the troop: "Because it's the best troop around."
"We go camping," sums up Scout Jade Smith, a four-year veteran in the troop. "We have a lot of activities, like canoeing, camping, and mountain climbing. We even camp in the winter."
The destination for the 26 Scouts and 16 leaders on the October 2005 outing was the campground at the State University of New York Ranger School at Wanakena, N.Y. (http://rangerschool.esf.edu). Located on 2,800 acres in the state's Adirondack Forest Preserve, the school is a component of the university's School of Environmental Science and Forestry. Its permanent shelters and fireplaces offered the troop a welcome home base for the chilly, rainy weekend.
On its outings Troop 709 usually provides a variety of activities geared to the ages and experiences of different groups of boys. The two-day October outing included seven such options involving hiking and canoeing. (When water is available, canoeing is always an option because the troop owns 12 canoes.)
Older Scouts chose from three canoe-and-hike trips. One featured four miles of canoeing, three miles of hiking, and ended at an overlook with a scenic view of Cranberry Lake, Lows Lake, and the Five Ponds Wilderness.
Another offered a four-mile, relatively flat, easy hiking trail plus about four miles of canoeing, ending at a 20-foot waterfall on the Oswegatchie River.
The third trip had only a half mile of hiking and a short canoe ride and took Scouts to the site of 140-foot-tall, 400-year-old white pine trees. (In addition, Scouts who didn't want to canoe could do only the hiking portion of any combination tripor choose one of four other trips.)
All canoeing activity was preceded by a review of boating safety (including the proper way to enter, launch, and exit a craft) by assistant Scoutmasters Scott Bendura and Paul Newton Jr., followed by a water safety briefing by Star Scouts Kevin Hamon and Chris LaFlair, who are BSA certified lifeguards.
The success of Troop 709's outdoor program is due to good planning, much of it done by the boys. And the Scouts are not averse to altering their schedule at the last minute, as they did last winter when the troop learned about an opportunity for rock climbing and cancelled the planned camp-out in favor of the new activity.
The annual program plan, usually developed in the early fall, includes activities, a budget for funding them, and money-earning projects to generate the funds.
Money-earning projects, like chicken barbecues and pancake breakfasts, help pay troop expenses, including program materials and award insignia. Individual Scouts also earn money for summer camp through a "Camp Bucks" program. A portion of the profits from sales of such things as flower bulbs, candy, Christmas wreaths, and popcorn is credited to each Scout's summer camp account.
"The patrol leaders' council comes up with program ideas for the year," says former Scoutmaster Paul Newton. "They then go to their patrol members to find out what they want to do. The adults add direction to the program, [but] we try not to tell boys what to do."
Each monthly event is assigned to one of the troop's 24 assistant Scoutmasters; that person has overall responsibility for the activity weekend. During the outing, even the Scoutmaster reports to the designated Scouter in charge.
Continued involvement of parents and others is a third contributing element to the success of Troop 709.
Many parents are eager to be involved not only because their sons are members of the troop but also because they themselves were once Scouts in the troop.
For example, Paul Newton is one of three current leaders who were active in the troop as a boy. In fact, his family has had three generations in the troop. His father was an assistant Scoutmaster, and his son earned his Eagle Scout Award while a troop member. (Newton is now a unit commissioner and has received the Silver Beaver Award for distinguished service to youth in the Hiawatha Seaway Council.)
"We are deep in leadership," Scoutmaster Mark O'Mara says. "Most of the assistant Scoutmasters and committee members are parents of Scouts."
O'Mara also credits the troop's chartered organization, the Caughdenoy United Methodist Church, for helping make the troop successful. In addition, the Caughdenoy Volunteer Fire Department and the Red Onion Grocery and Pizzeria often provide support for events.
In addition to two dozen assistant Scoutmasters, the troop has nine committee members. Some serve more than one function, like Kim Wolff, an assistant Scoutmaster and also the chartered organization representative. She has an Eagle Scout son, Josh, and a second son, Kyle, who is a Life Scout on the trail to Eagle.
Another parent, Cheryl Boughton, is still involved even though her Eagle Scout son, John, is now in college.
Parent participation in the early 1990's helped the troop survive a lack of leaders and a decline in membership. O'Mara became an assistant Scoutmaster and persuaded two fathers of Webelos Scouts to become involved before their sons became Boy Scouts.
With 39 members [as of October 2005] the troop is back at "full strength," according to O'Mara. Each year the troop adds another eight to 10 Webelos Scouts, many from the church's Cub Scout Pack 709.
Keeping Troop 709 interesting and fun for boys is an ongoing process, with new activities being added, like whitewater rafting and kayaking.
Last summer, three leaders took the first steps in developing another high adventure experience. With handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) units to guide them most of the way, they made an 18-mile trek from the Ranger School at Wanakena to the Hiawatha Seaway Council's Sabattis Scout Reservation.
The unmarked trail was made even more difficult by fallen trees that remained from damage caused by massive "microburst" thunderstorms that hit the Adirondacks in 1995, but the Scouters completed the trip.
Unlike that trek, Troop 709's trail of program success is clearly markedby an unbroken string of more than 400 memorable monthly outings.
Freelance writer Harold Clapper lives in Syracuse, N.Y.
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