Chicago is the third-most populous city in the United States. A ton of people live there.
That means a lot of Scouts live there, too.
There used to be four BSA councils in and around that part of Illinois. Now there’s only one. (In 2014, the Calumet Council, Chicago Area Council, Des Plaines Valley Council and Northwest Suburban Council merged to become the Pathway to Adventure Council.)
With more than 20,000 youth members and 7,500 adults, it can be difficult to get everyone together for a big event. But that’s exactly what they pulled off with the Future Frontier Camporee, a huge family affair that saw more than 5,000 campers spend the weekend at Busse Woods forest preserve in the northeast corner of the state.
The idea was to provide a Jamboree-like experience within easy driving distance for as many Scouts as possible in the council’s massive footprint. That meant offering lots of different activities — rocket launches, woodworking, rock climbing and archery, just to name a few — for lots of different people.
“We’re always going to remember the legacy councils and have memories from them,” says Robert Gale, a longtime Scouting volunteer and chairman of the event, “but this event serves to say, ‘This is the Pathway to Adventure Council; this is who we are now, and we’re moving forward together.’”
Location, location, location
The key to making the event as easy as possible for as many Scouts as possible to attend is, clearly, location. Busse Woods — officially called Ned Brown Preserve — turned out to be more convenient than most of the council-owned properties.
First, it’s one of the largest open areas in Cook County (which includes Chicago).
But maybe more important, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which manages Busse Woods and other locations, has a long-standing relationship with local Scout units. Scouts like spending time at their properties; they like it when Scouts spend time at their properties. Everybody wins.
This made it much easier to work with them on the logistics of bringing in the manpower required to host such a massive event.
“It’s great,” Gale says, “because we know that we have all the infrastructure we need to, say, bring in a kitchen that can feed 5,000 people in an hour.”
Then came the program.
Sticking with the Future Frontier theme, they wanted to have plenty of science- and STEM-themed activities. They also wanted to make sure they had events that would appeal to Scouts all across the spectrum, from brand-new Tigers to older Venturers and Scouts BSA members.
“It was a really fun time,” says Elise Koch, the 15-year-old senior patrol leader of Troop 606 in Chicago. “There were lots of different activities. They had this rope where you could try to climb across. They had some food trucks and bouncy houses. There was one station where you could take apart an actual car. It was pretty interesting.”
A place to come together
One of the best things about events like the Future Frontier Camporee is that it gives Scouts of all ages from all programs the opportunity to hang out, relax, talk and have fun.
Cub Scouts who attend get the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Scouts BSA and Venturing. Scouts BSA members and Venturers get to see what other troops and crews are up to.
“I have some friends I’ve met at different Scout camps,” says Ambria Wilson, 16, from Troop 606. “We all have similar interests.”
Troop 606 Scoutmaster Angela Koch says she encouraged her unit to attend when she found out the Cub Scout pack from their same chartering organization was going to be there. Not only did her Scouts get the chance to have fun, but they also got to meet and hang out with the Cub Scouts who will hopefully be joining that troop someday.
“There’s a level of excitement there about what’s going on,” Koch says, “that is fun to just kind of absorb and be a part of.”
Photographs by Charlie Simokaitis