By Melanie Radzicki McManus
Wearing bright purple court jester hats and big grins, camp counselors at the Cannon River Scout Reservation lined the narrow deck leading to the dining hall to greet their Polar Cub Day Camp charges.
"Heyyyyyyyy!" they intoned together, spying a group approaching from the parking lot. "Good morning! Come on in!" As Cub Scouts from the St. Paul-based Indianhead Council stepped onto the deck, they received welcoming claps on the back from each purple-topped counselor, causing smiles to pop out on their faces.
Glancing at the patchy snow, gray sky, and soggy ground, Cub Scout camping director Storme Nelson said with a laugh, "Looks like they're going to be Mud Cubs today."
Mud Cubs, Polar Cubsit didn't matter to the boys, who chatted excitedly and chased each other around the dining hall while waiting for the popular Minnesota winter day camp to begin.
The first Polar Cub activity for Packs 269 and 235, hailing from the Lakeville and Rosemount areas, was Crossing the Chasm.
"We're going to go down a trail, over a bridge, and through a tunnel!" roared counselor Mike Jirik of Troop 323 in New Prague, who introduced himself as "Ogre."
Jirik led the boys, now jiggling in anticipation, through the woods, stopping along the way to point out some winter survival shelters the counselors and staff had built. When they reached the "chasm"a heavy rope suspended between two treesthe Cub Scouts were shown how to grab the rope with their hands, hook it with their feet, and, hanging upside down, "inchworm" backwards to the other side of the "chasm."
"Can we go, too?" yelled a parent. (About 1,000 adults tagged along for the 1999 session.)
"Sure!" replied "Batman" (assistant Scoutmaster Matt Sheldon of Troop 313 in Northfield), who quickly steered the adults to the chasm. "That way we can get some car keys!!"
Packs 269 and 235 scrambled from the chasm to a straw-filled wagon for a hayride, a last-minute substitution for the Snow Sculpture session, canceled because of the spotty snow.
As the wagon rumbled along the camp roads, three counselors began singing songs with the Cub Scouts, dispensing kernels of outdoor wisdom between sets.
"Does anybody know how to tell the difference between a red pine and a white pine?" shouted "Two-by-Four" (Matt Kodadek of White Bear Lake's Troop 434). The Cub Scouts shook their heads no. "If you go up to a pine tree and pick a bundle of needles, a red pine will have two needles in the bundle, and a white pine will have five."
Kodadek, a veteran camp counselor, said he keeps returning "just to see the [happy] expression on the kids' faces. It's so much funand rewarding."
An intense game of Ultimate FrisbeeCub Scouts and counselors versus parentswrapped up the morning. No one seemed to mind that there was no snow on the field to make the game more challenging.
Despite the name, Polar Cub Camp isn't really about snow, explained Tom Litke, one of the parents. "The purpose is just to get outside and have fun. The kids want to come whether there's snow or notand they don't care how cold it is, either."
Nelson agreed, recalling that one of the camp's best-attended sessions was held on a day when the temperature hit 20 degrees below zero.
"Parents are often impressed that their kids, who are used to sitting inside watching TV, can stay outside all day and have fun," he said. "It's kind of an eye-opening experience [to see them enjoying] outdoor physical activity in the winter."
Activity for Cub Scouts at any temperature builds an appetite, and at lunchtime hungry campers stormed into the dining hall, ready to eat. They devoured sandwiches (which they assembled at a fix-your-own table) and downed bowl after bowl of hot soup or chili. Hot chocolate and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies were consumed with equal vigor.
"How is everybody liking camp so far?" asked Two-by-Four, stopping at a lunch table. "Do you give it two thumbs up?"
"I give it three thumbs up!" replied a grinning Cody Kolstad, of Morristown's Pack 318.
With temperatures pushing 40 degrees outside, a lunchtime demonstration on how to properly dress for cold weather was scrapped. Besides, the boys were anxious to get back to the fun.
In the nearby woods, Packs 235 and 269 met for a rousing game of Claim Jumpers, which is patterned after Capture the Flag. Cub Scouts and parents divided into two groups and raced in and out of the snowy woods, trying to find the other side's flagand stay out of jail in the process.
Snow tubing and snowball events are always the highlights of Polar Cub Camp, said Storme Nelson. Fortunately, even on days like today when snow is scarce, a small hill nestled in a wooded section of the reservation retains enough of a base for tubing.
The Cub Scouts giggled as they piled en masse on giant tractor tubes or tucked themselves into smaller truck or auto tires, then flung themselves down the hill. Parents lent a hand by pushing the tubes as they sailed by.
As for the snowball event, Nelson chuckled as he explained, "The kids always think they're coming out to make snowballs and throw them at somebody, but we don't allow that."
Instead, the counselors toss out bulky three- and four-foot pink plastic "earth balls" to the Cub Scouts, who must push and heave them around a 100-foot field, trying to score goals.
Packs 269 and 235 gingerly stepped out onto the muddy field, silently eyeing the hot pink globes. Once the counselors threw the first one into the group, however, pandemonium erupted. Cub Scouts, counselors, and parents chased after the balls, oblivious to the spraying mud that soon coated everyone from head to foot.
"Parents definitely have as much fun here as the kids, if not more," said Greg Nonweiler, a Cubmaster with Pack 269 who sported a wide streak of mud across his cheek and large, muddy splotches all over his back.
As the day finally drew to a close, tired but happy boys straggled toward their cars.
"I can't wait until next year," raved Cory Louder of Pack 269, scraping dried mud off of his cheeks. "I wouldn't miss this for anything!"
Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer who lives in Sun Prairie, Wis.
Rain or Snow, Mild or Cold, the Show Goes On
Polar Cub Day Camp celebrated its third year in 1999. Attendance went from 430 in 1997 to 2,400, or about a quarter of all Cub Scouts in Minnesota's St. Paul-based Indianhead Council. Up to 3,000 campers are expected this winter, when Tiger Cubs will be included.
Sessions run from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday (and on an occasional Sunday) in January and February and feature eight 35-minute activities. The cost is $16 per Cub Scout and $6 per adult.
Sometimes it's 'Solar Cubs'
The camp's name may be a bit of a misnomer, admits Cub Scout camping director Storme Nelson. The 400-acre Cannon River Scout Reservation, about 40 miles south of St. Paul, "is kind of in our state's banana belt, where snowfall is questionable."
However, camp is held no matter what the weather, Nelson stresses. Lots of snow means snow sculptures, snowshoeing, and snow forts; little or no white stuff and the program switches to activities like archery and hayrides.
In 1998, thanks to El Nino's warm winds, Polar Cub Day Camp saw a lot of wet, balmy days.
"Halfway through that season we dubbed ourselves 'Solar Cubs,'" says Nelson. Extremes in temperature and precipitation won't spoil the event, he adds, because its purpose is to get kids outside during the winterregardless of the weather.
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