It's Not Your Father's Summer Camp
By Suzanne Wilson
Innovative facilities and dynamic summer programs like those offered at the Northern Star Council's Many Point Scout Camp keep Scouts coming back for more.
Some jump backward off the raft while attempting to shoot a basketball through a hoop. Others climb into canoes and paddle out for a water version of Capture the Flag.
"It's a blast!" says Scout Alex Eckberg. "Awesome!" adds fellow camper Josh Colbert. "The most fun I've had at camp."
The two 13-year-olds from Troop 446, Bloomington, Minn., are attending summer camp at Northern Star Council's Many Point Scout Camp in northwest Minnesota. They're among the 11 Scouts on each of the 30-by-40-foot rafts who have come from various troops in camp for the overnight experience. On each raft, two staff members from the camp's Flintlock Adventure Base lead activities. The Scouts also cook their evening meal and later doze off in sleeping bags in special mosquito-net protected areas.
The Huck Finn rafts are examples of how, in recent years, councils across the country have shown a spirit of innovation in developing new summer camp experiences for older Scouts.
"By eighth grade, Scouts have been to summer camp two times," explains Bob Gagner, former council director of camping and activities and camping director at Many Point. "They need something different."
And they find plenty of choices at this camp, which extends along eight miles of Round Lake and Many Point Lake shoreline. Besides the rafts, some other options include windsurfing, two Project COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) courses, sailing and kayaking overnights, a fishing outpost where Scouts stay in round Mongolian-style tents called yurts, and the camp's new tree houses.
Such exciting new adventures bring Scouts back to camp and keep them in Scouting, says Gagner, Scoutmaster of Troop 513, Coon Rapids, Minn. He has seen numerous examples of this at Many Point and in his troop, in which six Scouts have returned for a sixth summer camp.
More testimonials are offered on the Huck Finn rafts, where the fun and enthusiasm continues into the evening. "You can't beat this!" sums up Paul Hobus, 13, from Troop 283, Wayzata, Minn.
At home in the trees
However, the campers who have signed up for a night in Many Point's tree houses are not ready to concede to the rafters' claims of program superiority.
As the Scouts cross the lake in pontoon boats, they catch their first intriguing glimpse of the structures in the forest above the shore. Supported by white oaks, the two tree house settings are only 12 feet above the ground, but their positions on a bluff create an illusion of greater height.
About 50 yards apart, the sites are named Village I and Village II. Each consists of a platform on which housesactually a collection of single-purpose roomshave been built, creating the sense of a small "village" in the trees. Each site includes a unit where campers can put down their sleeping bags at day's end and a separate kitchen unit where Scouts cook supper on a gas stove, with an open deck between the two.
Village I has an additional house where the two staff members sleep; at Village II staffers sleep on the kitchen floor.
While his group is still on the ground, staffer Pat Kinney talks to the Scouts about the construction of Village I. He shows them the special hardware that lets the trees support the platform while remaining free to move in the wind.
"These trees live for a long time," Kinney says, "so if we take care of them, Scouts will be able to enjoy the tree houses for a long time. What are some of the things we can do to take care of them while we're up there?"
"Don't snap the twigs off," one of the Scouts answers.
"Right. Keep the leaves and twigs where they are. The tree, if it needs to get rid of them, [will] do that on its own. What else?"
A Scout says they should also leave the bark alone. "Exactly," Kinney says.
These are important reminders, because up on the deck, they'll be next to tree trunks and ducking under branches.
Scouts are impressed by solar panels at the edge of the clearing; the panels are used to charge a battery, which provides power for their tree house's electric lights.
There's no obvious way to get up to the tree houses until Kinney pulls down an attic ladder leading to the deck. "Ah, clever" and "Wow!" are the Scouts' responses.
They use their Scouting skills to figure out some things. There's a hoist, and there's a cargo net. They connect them and decide who will be on the ground loading gear and who will be on the deck unloading it. At supper time, some will cook, and the others will clean up.
Tom Elliott, 16, a Scout in Minnetonka Troop 346, admits he enjoys taking a break from his troop leadership responsibilities. "It's nice to be able to sit around and talk and not have to worry about anything," he says. "It's easygoing; you go at your own pace."
The two staff members at each house start Scouts on a timed challenge using ropes to lift pails of water up on one side of the deck and then to tip them into a tub on the other side. Later, Scouts make paper airplanes to fly from the deck in competitions for distance and time aloft.
What else to do up here? Play cards. Or create coded messages to send back and forth through the trees between the two houses on a rope with pulleys. Or shoot with a slingshot at hanging objects in a controlled target range area. And after dinner there's a ring on the ground in front of one tree house for a traditional evening campfire.
Like the overnight on the rafts, a night in a tree house is a kid's dream of a magical summertime, and the Scouts fall asleep to the rustle of leaves and the calls of loons.
Whenever a new activity is proposed for the camp, planners discuss whether it will accomplish the objectives in what they call their "mission test"Many Point's "Goals of the Outdoor Program." These include Scouts learning teamwork and cooperation, learning respect for the environment, developing resourcefulness, and developing physical, mental, and emotional fitness.
Unit leaders appreciate the value of programs for older Scouts like those offered by the camp's Flintlock Adventure Base.
Scoutmaster Ben Hodgkins of Troop 106, Hermantown, Minn., brought a group of Scouts to Flintlock for their departure on a kayaking overnight. This was the first summer they were old enough for such advanced programs.
"They've been looking forward to it and talking about it since last year," Hodgkins said. "[Programs like this] are great for older Scouts, something more challenging and exciting that makes them want to come back to camp."
Scouts quickly recognize what's fun, challenging, and worth talking about.
And camp staff can only hope that any new adventure will get the kind of endorsement that Joe Burns, 13, from Troop 446 in Bloomington, voiced following his stay on a raft:
"It's something you want to do again, and recommend to younger Scouts."
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo.
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