Great Times for First-Year Campers

Special council programs ensure that younger Scouts have a summer camp experience that leaves them eager to return.

Down at the Quivira Scout Ranch waterfront, monkeys are turning into alligators. No magic here; the young Boy Scouts in Monkey Patrol are competing in the Alligator Race.

They’re propelling themselves across the water on their backs in groups of three. The lead swimmer does a backstroke with his feet hooked under the middle Scout’s armpits. The third boy, hooked to the middle one in the same way, kicks. The middle of the alligator just hangs on for the ride.

This watery fun is a team-building game. Monkey Patrol is brand-new this week, bringing together Scouts from Troop 55, Iola, Kan.; Troop 736, Wichita; and Troop 117, Oklahoma City. It’s one of the patrols formed in this southeast Kansas camp’s Baden-Powell program for first-year campers.


At a Boy Scout’s first summer camp, he expects to have fun, hang out with his troop, and do everything he’s heard older Scouts talk about.

His troop leaders and the camp staff want him to have a great time, too. Along with that, they want him to have experiences that help him advance in rank, stay in Scouting, and return to camp next year.

Councils are not leaving this to chance. Like Quivira Council (Wichita), they’ve brought creativity and enthusiasm to the challenge of presenting first-year camper programs. Each council or camp puts its own name and individualized stamp on such programs. But they all have this in common: They try to give new Scouts a memorable start, one that will help motivate them to stay in Scouting.

Alex Barclay, Baden-Powell program director, and his staff of six patrol guides work with half the new campers in the morning and half in the afternoon, Monday through Thursday. This week, about one-third of 320 youth are camping for the first time.

Barclay, a 21-year-old college student from Andover, Kan., has been on camp staff for six years in other areas. He says: “One of my conditions was, if I’m going to do Baden-Powell, I’m going to change some things. Last year, they pushed advancement and de-emphasized fun. We’re expanding from advancement to fun, games, and team- building.”


On Monday morning, boys are placed in patrols that will work on either Tenderfoot or Second Class requirements. (No one is working on First Class requirements in the morning session.) They come up with patrol names, flags, and yells, and play games that get them acquainted.

Most Scouts in Monkey Patrol are 11 years old. Working on earning the Tenderfoot rank, they whip and fuse ropes, then move on to the Scout Oath and flag etiquette. “The more fun they have, the more fun the staff has,” says their staff patrol guide, Tim Brown, 16, who has experience as a troop guide.

Ranks aren’t handed out. “We won’t pass off a requirement if they didn’t earn it or weren’t paying attention,” says Barclay. At the end of the week, the staff reports each Scout’s completed requirements to his Scoutmaster, who can test the Scout’s knowledge and sign him off.

After each morning session, Monkey Patrol Scouts return to their troops and attend regular camp activities, including up to three merit badge classes.


In late afternoon, it’s free time. John Fish of Wichita joins troop members in making a nature gadget, “a weather rock with a string and three sticks. If it’s wet, it’s raining; if it’s shaking, there’s an earthquake.”

Andrew Nelson of Iola relaxes at his troop’s campsite. “We talk, play card games.” Tylor Tokar, from Oklahoma City, heads for free swim time. “Most of our troop goes for that.” Some young campers canoe or sail a Sunfish with qualified troop members or leaders.

Monday evening at a campfire overlooking the lake, they watch the staff perform comedy skits that rival anything on TV.

Tuesday morning, Monkey Patrol pronounces the campfire “cool.” This is the day that four patrols working on Tenderfoot are at the waterfront, reviewing the buddy system and playing water games, while two other patrols are on a five-mile hike for Second Class.

Later at the Baden-Powell area, Monkey Patrol ties knots. Tim Brown is patient with them. “Keep going,” he encourages Patrick Cash, of Iola. “I think you’ve got it.”


The hot afternoon finds Brian Cochran and Adam Jackson, both from Iola, in a shady shelter, making arrows in their Archery merit badge class. They’ve tried archery before, at Cub Scout day camp. “I do it every time I can,” says Adam.

During free swim time, Kirk Sponsel, from Wichita, passes his blue swimmer test. He holds up his blue buddy tag and says, “That means I can go out to the diving dock.”

That dreaded program-rearranger, drenching rain, strikes on Wednesday, so patrols meet in the dining hall for first-aid work and quiet games. Predictably, some goofiness breaks out but simmers down when checkerboards appear.

On Thursday, nature staffer Jeremy Palmer leads Monkey Patrol on a hike along the wooded edge of the lake and inland to a waterfall. When a Scout spies a slender green insect, Palmer says, “This is kind of cool; it hides from predators by looking like a stick.”

Back at the Baden-Powell area, Monkey Patrol works on the Totin’ Chip to finish their last session. They’ve done all the Tenderfoot requirements they can do at camp.


It’s anyone’s guess what a Scout will remember from his first camp session. Maybe Monkey Patrol will remember the nature hike, the walking stick insect, and John Fish losing his shoe in the mud. Or that Wednesday evening’s entertainment, Edible Outpost, with a taste of candied grasshoppers. “Very crunchy, with brown sugar,” says Iola’s Brian Cochran.

They’ll surely remember Friday. All through a day of campwide games, they remain silent. At the campfire, they receive coup thongs and first-year beads, completing their initial step in the camp’s Tribe of Quivira, a traditional program to keep them coming back year after year (see box on page 18). Silence is broken with a roar, and their first year of camp is almost over.

The week’s experience could mean the difference between a boy staying in Scouting or drifting away. “If we lose a kid the first year of camp—if they don’t like it or it’s boring—we’ve lost them,” says camp director Pat Becher. “So it’s critical for us to really make a good impression on those kids, get them started right, make sure they have a lot of fun, and teach them some skills along the way.”

Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson reported on the Heart of America Council’s“Venturing Odyssey” in the January-February issue.


At Quivira Scout Ranch, Scouts and leaders may become members of the Tribe of Quivira by completing tasks at camp on Friday. Each successive year, they attain higher stations in the tribe and add beads to their coup thongs. Leaders say the program brings Scouts back to camp.

First year: Trackers protect the camp by keeping it free of litter. They pass a test of silence.

Second year: Hunters preserve the camp by practicing conservation and maintaining facilities. They carve a log with their initials and troop number.

Third year: Braves chisel their initials in a sandstone rock and carry it for the day, symbolizing their responsibilities in life. They receive Indian names.

Fourth year: Warriors assist with tribal programs and add their initialed rocks to a wall.

Fifth year: Old Warriors supervise third-year rock carriers and become Tribal Elders.


Resident Camp First-Time Camper Program (BSA No. 33498) is a 96-page manual that presents two suggested schedules for first-year campers.

One (Option A) is an all-day program, from 9 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. A second plan (Option B) divides new campers into two groups, one meeting in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

The publication includes equipment lists, resources, and an extensive illustrated appendix showing activities in rope, cooking, and camping skills.


Because 50 percent or more of youth attending a council summer camp may be first-time campers, many councils have developed special programs to meet the needs of these brand-new Scouts.

The sampling of council programs described here shows how individual councils have adapted the concept to meet the needs of new campers in their area.

Blue Ridge Mountains Council. (Roanoke, Va.) Brownsea Island Adventure at Camps Powhatan and Ottari is modeled on Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s initial 1907 camp. There’s a strong emphasis on the patrol method and working together.

“Baden-Powell said the basic unit for teaching boys to be good citizens and to feel good about themselves is the patrol method,” says Bruce Tuten, council Scout executive. While the main idea is for Scouts to master skills they’ll use the rest of their lives, some skills apply to rank advancement.

An Eagle Scout and a Scoutmaster staff each patrol. Verbal instruction is minimal, with more time spent practicing skills through games and interpatrol competitions.

Patrols have “camp time” for such activities as touring the high adventure areas or taking a nature hike.

New campers are together all day and with their troops in the evening, except for one Brownsea overnighter.

For each skill a Scout checks off in a booklet, he adds a bead to a staff he carries.

Tuscarora Council. (Goldsboro, N.C.) Tkahsaha, the first-year program’s name, means “starting something new” in the Tuscarora language. It focuses on Tenderfoot requirements along with activities designed to bring a Scout back to camp the next year.

The staff patrol guides are either Eagle Scouts or almost at Eagle. Each day, Scouts work on requirements at the Tkahsaha area for two hours. After lunch, it’s back to their troops and merit badge work. Because First Aid and Swimming merit badges are recommended, most of the new Scouts are together all day.

At the final campfire, they receive the Tkahsaha patch. “The key is to get these guys to come to camp and have the time of their lives, more activity than you can pack into three hours,” says camp ranger and Tkahsaha director Hogan Moore.

Western Los Angeles County Council. In the First-Year Program at Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina Island, Scouts who are just starting on the road to First Class attend morning sessions at the program area, where the objective is to get them as close to First Class as possible.

Other Scouts who already have a start on advancement drop in on evening seminars to gain skills they need in ropes and knot-tying, first aid, and aquatics.

Each troop is assigned a staff guide called a ranger. The ranger visits the troop campsite, “using the theory that the campsite is the heart of the camp,” says camp director Lee Harrison. “The rangers work with the older Scouts in the troop to help them teach the younger Scouts those First-Year Program skills.”

Hawk Mountain Council. (Reading, Pa.) Young Scouts at Hawk Mountain Scout Reservation stay with their troops as they work on the traditional Kittatinny Award.

They’re issued a green neckerchief, and as they complete specific activities, symbols are stamped on it which can be embroidered later. They earn required stamps for Scout spirit, service, conservation, and advancement (which can be completing a merit badge, learning a skill, or advancing in rank). Then they choose five activities from a list that includes rappelling and showing up every day for Polar Bear, an early-morning swim.

The reward is the Kittatinny patch. This is just the beginning; Scouts returning to camp can earn the Kittatinny each year. Many other activities are designed for first-year campers, such as special projects in the handicraft area.

At the Science and Technology Center, which has computers and a planetarium, they can work on merit badges “that appeal to first-year campers and are geared to get them interested in things other than just Scoutcraft,” says Scout Executive Dick Bennett.


1 Comment

  1. Boy I miss the years as a camper, not to mention the 11 summers as a staffer. Great times and even Better Life Long Friends. D-A Scout Ranch Detroit Area Council

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