By George T. Wilson
At the Andrew Jackson Council's annual Eastern District Akela Cub Camp-out, happy campers are always in abundance.
A recent camper, Janett Estes, 4, was one of the happiest.
Her father, Ken Estes, explained that she had "cried for two weeks" the previous year when he took only brother Jake, 7, to the autumn camp-out.
"All three of us will be back next time," Dad added.
Timothy Fletcher Pickett, also 4, was attending the Jackson, Miss., council event for the third time.
Asked by his dad (who is a unit commissioner) if he was having fun, Timothy shook his head vigorously. But he wore an opossum grin under his tousled hair, the teasing equivalent of crossed fingers.
Timothy and Janett are examples of why the Akela Cub Camp-out has been so successful. Cub Scouts, moms, dads, and brothers and sisters are invited to enjoy a weekend at Scout camp. And the council's new Cub World facility - with an Indian village, frontier stockade, castle, and pirate ship - makes the event more popular than ever.
Chris Dupree and Ken Collins are the co-directors. "This camp-out is designed as a family-oriented, fun event," Dupree explained. "Taking part in games, setting up camp, and cooking over open fires bring families together."
Collins noted that a good experience in Cub Scouting means a boy is more likely to become a Boy Scout. "This is the first camping experience for many of these boys," he added. "We want it to be unforgettable."
The boisterous arrival of the first contingent of Cub Scouts broke the morning quiet at Hood Scout Reservation. Soon the camp resounded with conversation, laughing, giggling, and shouting. Powered with a seemingly endless energy supply, the Cub Scouts jumped, skipped, hopped, ran, tagged, and scrambled around the reservation.
When Chris Dupree became an event director eight years ago, the weekend was a dad-and-lad affair. One hundred fifteen Cub Scouts and their fathers attended.
When Ken Collins joined as co-director four years ago, attendance was up to 700. Since then it has more than doubled, and in 1997, two different weekends were scheduled, to reduce the number of boys at the reservation at one time. Each weekend attracted 800 persons, for a record 1,600 campers and 40 packs.
District director Wally Bowman says that Cub World, built at a cost of a quarter million dollars raised in the council's 1994 capital campaign, was designed with events like Akela Cub Camp-out in mind. "We added it for the impact it would have on Cub Scouts coming here for different activities."
And the Akela campers quickly took over Cub World. On the ship, young buccaneers shouted orders to their crews. At the frontier stockade, Cub Scout-size Davy Crocketts and Daniel Boones defended the outpost against attack, while, nearby, a small army stormed the medieval castle.
Afternoon games included a scavenger hunt for Webelos Scouts, tugs-of-war for different age-groups, and a water gun shootout.
The water gun event was (surprise) very popular. Cub Scouts with water pistols lined up on opposite sides of a row of candles, ready to shoot out all the flames. However (surprise again), the game usually turned into a battle royal, with Cub Scouts firing directly at their opponents.
In Blind Man, younger campers, using voice only, directed blindfolded parents to locate cans hanging from tree limbs. Younger siblings, in particular, enjoyed this chance to tell mom or dad what to do.
The camping event brought the Rev. Burnell Newsome Sr., pastor of three United Methodist churches, back to Hood Scout Reservation for the first time in a quarter century. His two sons had camped here when the site was basically wilderness, and Newsome was now accompanied by his grandson, Dacorri, 6.
Dacorri said he liked most everything, but especially "getting to know other boys and eating hot dogs." His grandfather agreed that the event was great, but for other reasons.
"This camp-out gives them a chance to grow close to nature," Newsome observed. "It gives them a background that causes more appreciation for the outdoors. I will probably share some of this experience from the pulpit on Sunday."
Eddie and Caroline Hurtt, both with children from previous marriages, have a "blended family," and the weekend belonged to 11-year-old Casey Hurtt and his sister, Pearl Guy. "As far as camping is concerned, this is our first trip," Eddie Hurtt explained. "We believe Scouting brings us closer together."
Phillip and Jane Brown have brought their family to the Akela camp many times. Son Brian, 11, had attended five camps, while brother Jarred, 8, was on his third. Oldest son Jason, 14, had been at six camps but was unable to come to this one.
What Jarred said he liked best about Cub Scouting was the chance for hiking and camping. And, he added, Cub World was now a new favorite.
Jane Brown said the camp was a wonderful experience for the entire family.
"It is a good opportunity for the younger Cub Scouts to see what the older Scouts have learned," Phillip Brown added. "We had a father and son camp next to us. It was their first time, and they were telling us this morning how much they had enjoyed it."
"We have lots of families - probably 40 to 50 percent - who bring brothers and sisters of Cub Scouts, said district director Wally Bowman. "They range in age from infants in strollers to Boy Scout brothers, 12 to 14 years old."
Cole Gresset held up four fingers to indicate his age. His father, Ricky Gresset, said Cole told him: "It's a fun year. I'm all grown-up. Now I can go camping."
Fred Richards is general sales manager of an aviation company. His wife, Susan, is general sales manager of television station WDBD, the Fox network affiliate in Jackson. They were accompanied on this, their first visit to a camp-out, with their daughter, Emily, 9, and Tiger Cub son, Coleman, 6.
Fred Richards described the camp-out as "a great idea. We need to do more together. We need to sit down and decide things we can do as a family."
Saturday ended with an evening program featuring two blazing campfires. The flames cast eerie shadows on the surrounding woods as the campers settled into place. Chris Dupree introduced Larry Russell, who was his co-director at the first Akela Cub Camp-out. Dressed in full Native American regalia, Russell mixed corny humor with a serious message for his Cub Scout audience.
Even 4-year-old Timothy Fletcher Pickett got to steal a scene when he joined his dad, Milton Pickett, in a fishing skit.
At evening's end, everyone pronounced the camp a howling success - including a pack of coyotes that yowled across the reservation after midnight.
Collins and Dupree insisted that the coyotes were not a part of the planned program. But they were willing to accept the bows for everything else.
Bringing families closer together, after all, is what the program they designed was meant to do.
Freelance writer George Wilson lives in Memphis.
Hood's Gift to Scouts
Hood Scout Reservation is carved from a wilderness area near Hazelhurst, Miss. It covers 1,300 acres and has a 110-acre lake.
Warren A. Hood of Jackson, a lumberman, furniture company owner, and entrepreneur, gave the property for the Scout reservation. Hood owned two companies that merged with the Masonite Corporation. He is chairman emeritus of Deposit Guaranty Corporation.
Hood is active with the executive committee of the Andrew Jackson Council. He is past president of the council, a position his son, Jimmy, now fills. He is also a National Council representative from the Andrew Jackson Council.
Buildings on the reservation include a trading post, administration building, dining hall, health lodge, and staff quarters. Only a small amount of the property has been developed, and district director Wally Bowman says the undeveloped area is sometimes used for "outpost camping and a mountain bike trail."
Everyone agrees that Hood Reservation's water supply is adequate. It has its own 50,000-gallon water tank, once owned by the city of Jackson.
In 1996 a contractor laid a three-mile road with an eight-inch base in the reservation area. "It's better than most of the roads back in my county," one Scout leader commented.
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