I spent the last week out of technology range at Camp Loll, a rustic Boy Scout camp near Yellowstone National Park. This was not your normal troop summer camp. Rather, I volunteered my time to do a lot of manual labor to help prepare the camp for its summer operations. Of course, the main reason for my involvement is that I have two sons that are working on staff there this summer. But I also have a special place in my heart for Camp Loll, having worked on staff there the summers I was 17 and 18.
Camp Loll is situated in the Targhee National Forest. You can hike from there into the nearby Jedediah Smith Wilderness, Grand Teton National Park, and of course Yellowstone National Park. Although they built a new lodge at the camp several summers ago, the camp remains one of the most rustic and rugged Scout camps in America. It is in the back country and requires roughly an hour of driving over rugged roads from the nearest outposts of civilization regardless of whether you come from the Idaho or Wyoming side.
The Camp Loll property is leased from the National Forest Service. Compared with some other Scout camps, improvements have been scarce. Part of the reason for this is that depending on who is in charge of the NFS, the camp’s lease could easily be revoked each time its renewal comes due. Any improvements would be relinquished with no compensation. So the Scout council often chooses to spend its limited resources elsewhere.
I first visited Camp Loll in 1973 as a young Boy Scout, and as I mentioned, subsequently spent a couple of summers working there. I am amazed both at how much the camp has changed as well as how much it has remained the same. The biggest change I have noted is a stronger devotion to conservation. Decades ago when I worked on staff we knew how to prevent wildfires and such. But now there is a much stronger emphasis on leave-no-trace camping skills. Limiting human impact on the wilderness has become a central part of pretty much everything that occurs with respect to the camp.
This is a difficult task, because most Scout leaders are unit-level volunteers. Camp Loll staffers nowadays get leave-no-trace skills coded into their DNA. But the boys in the troops only get this only if their unit’s leaders make it a priority. Some units are good at conservation. Some aren’t. Although the BSA has been working on implementing better environmental skills and awareness for over two decades, many boys still go through the Scouting program without ever developing such knowledge and skills. Such is the nature of a volunteer organization.
Some that consider themselves protectors of the environment claim that Boy Scouts are so bad at environmental skills that they should not be permitted in our nation’s wilderness areas. Fortunately, our national parks and forests belong not to some elitist group, but to We The People. And a 12-year-old from northern Utah has just as much right as a Vermont yuppie to trek through the Yellowstone back country. If you’d like a list of what some of these dirty little Scouts have grown up to contribute to our nation, I can put you in touch with Camp Loll’s director, who has some knowledge of this.
I stood in a clearing at Camp Loll the other night gazing up through towering spruce trees at the star-filled heavens, seeing stars not visible in more populated areas with heavy light pollution. I marveled at the wisdom and foresight of those that worked to develop a system of national forests and parks over the past 135 years. I also marveled at the century of Scouts and Scout leaders that have worked to further Scouting values and to make places like Camp Loll a reality today.
I also marveled at the quality of the young men and young women that are spending their summer working at the camp. (Yes, there are a few young women on staff.) Many of these people are the cream of the crop and have bright future prospects. A job on camp staff frankly pays little. Each of these young people could be earning more (often much more) by finding a job near home. To be honest, my sons will spend more for the opportunity of working on staff (in uniforms, equipment, and transportation costs) than they will get paid.
And yet they come, sleep in tents for 2½ months in the back country, and work 16-hour days in all kinds of weather among the fiercest mosquito hoards around. Why? For an ideal. To provide boys with opportunities they simply can’t get elsewhere. How grateful I am to the people that made and make this possible.