Boys and Scout camp are a summer tradition

Nathaniel Neuland, right, and Spencer Becker, left, admire the lunker largemouth that Nathaniel caught and released while attending Camp Bowman on the Goshen Scout Reservation in Virginia.

I AND TWO OTHER brave assistant Scoutmasters from Boy Scout Troop 792 in Frederick recently survived an adventurous week at Camp Bowman on the Goshen Scout Reservation in Virginia. Scout camp is not every adult's idea of a relaxing summer vacation. Most adults would not relish the idea of sleeping in a tent surrounded by 10 adolescent boys and eating only food prepared by those boys during a long, hot week in the outdoors.

What really makes summer camp a satisfying experience for adult leaders is that we become a small part of an exceptional experience where boys can be boys while they learn outdoor skills and develop team-building and leadership capabilities that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

I must admit, I am still a kid at heart and I enjoy an outdoor summer camp just as much or more than the young ones ... despite the fact that we all sleep on uncomfortable cots each night inside musty canvas tents with mosquitoes buzzing about our heads.

The camp experience

Goshen Scout Reservation is the National Capital Area Council's long-term resident summer camp, on 4,800 acres in the mountains Southwest Virginia. There are six separate camps positioned around the Goshen property along the shores of 450-acre Lake Merriweather. The Boy Scouts use three of the camps, the Webelos Scouts use two of the camps. The sixth camp is designed for high-adventure crews that hike between outposts in the backcountry.

I have attended three Goshen camps, including Camp Ross, Lenhok'sin High Adventure Camp and Camp Bowman. I attended Camp Bowman for three consecutive summers, from 1995 to 1997, with my oldest son and Troop 1070 of Walkersville. The return this summer to Bowman with my youngest son was like reconnecting with an old friend who hasn't changed much in the past 15 years. The staff is just as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as I remember, and the program areas remain virtually unchanged.

For the new Scouts, the challenge of summer camping may simply be to endure the separation from their home and family for an entire week while older Scouts may undertake the task of completing a number of required and elective merit badges. Scout camps also provide high-adventure opportunities for the more experienced Scouts to develop teambuilding and leadership skills.

Bowman is the most unique of the Goshen camps because the Scouts work together as patrols to cook their own food for each meal. They also have to perform daily chores, such as cleaning the latrine and bringing water to the campsite for cooking and cleaning. The patrol concept reinforces the importance of cooperation.

The Scouts from our troop earned individual merit badges in canoeing, kayaking, rifle, shotgun, archery, environmental science, fishing, motorboating, lifesaving, orienteering, and reptile and amphibian study, to name a few. Two boys completed the Mile Swim challenge and seven of the boys earned their Duty to God patch by participation in daily religious practices.

In addition, our troop earned the Camp Adventure Award by participating in a variety of extra activities and service projects. The Scouts really enjoyed the morning we jumped in the lake at 6 a.m. for the Polar Bear Swim. After the quick swim, we embarked in canoes and paddled to the opposite side of the lake for our "pirate's breakfast" of doughnuts, cereal and fruit juice. The boys fished their way back to camp and my son Nathaniel landed a lunker largemouth bass on a wacky worm rig.

For service projects, our troop performed a flag-lowering ceremony that was accompanied by our troop bugler. We also volunteered to undertake the not so pleasant chore of cleaning the camp shower house and bathroom -- not everyone's favorite activity, but a necessary one.

Later in the week, we had a lunch at the shooting range for our troop shoot event. Scouts shot .22 rifles and recurve bows during their downtime between morning and afternoon merit badge classes. The week ended with hike to Viewing Rock, a scenic overlook of Lake Merriweather, an arduous hike that is worth every step.

Taking the challenge

I am most proud of the boys who completed the Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience program. COPE is a series challenging events that involve teamwork, self-confidence, trust, leadership, communication, decision making and problem solving. The leaders use games and trust activities such as climbing walls, ziplines, and various rope and cable combinations.

The COPE program culminated in the "Leap of Faith," where participants scale a 15-foot-high pole, balance on a wobbly platform and attempt to jump to a swinging bar positioned 7 feet away. The Scouts are belayed for safety, of course, but the concept of jumping into midair is still very frightening. Not one of the boys was able to reach the swinging bar, but just making the leap is a mark of success.

Scouting is a journey with many steps along the way on the trail to the rank of Eagle Scout. Earning an Eagle badge is a rite of passage, reserved for only the most dedicated and motivated young men. Summer camps are an important part of that Scouting journey and they can be the most enjoyable and challenging part of the whole Scouting experience.

To learn more about Boy Scouts, visit the National Capital Area Council website at www.boyscouts-ncac.org.

Contact Dan Neuland at danneuland@gmail.com.

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