I have just spent a week away at Boy Scout camp at Camp Bartlett. Over the weekend, I also visited Camp Loll because I have a son working on staff there. It was a rare opportunity to be bitten by mosquitoes at two fine Scout camps on the same day.
Our boys had a great time at Camp Bartlett. I have spent many weeks at Scout camps during my life, and rarely have any of these weeks been rain free. Although we occasionally had clouds pass over, it was relatively warm and clear all week long. The night sky was constantly clear, offering a fantastic opportunity for astronomy. The air was so calm every night that the tent fabric never even rustled in the breeze.
The camp has completely renovated its field sports area since I last visited. It boasts a large rifle range, a shotgun range, and a nice archery range. It is one of the few camps I have attended that has two waterfront areas: one for swimming and one for boating. The camp has also added a new campfire bowl arena that is one of the finest I have seen at a wilderness style camp.
Camp Bartlett is a large camp with many campsites. I am told that the camp hosted 550 Scouts and leaders during a recent week. There are two main parking areas with smaller parking areas near some campsites. (Our site was not one of those. We had to manually haul our gear.) The camp is large enough to require a lot of walking. One of the adult leaders wore a pedometer. Including the troop hike on Wednesday, he logged 36 miles by the end of the week. We were all a bit footsore by Saturday morning.
Besides many chipmunks and various types of birds, my son was thrilled to see deer and even a young bull moose in the camp. (That had me a bit nervous, because bull moose can be more harmful than grizzly bears.) My son wasn’t as happy with the “demon squirrel” that loudly barked and chattered outside of our tent every morning at precisely 5:15 am.
Since the camp is large, it has a large staff. Each day the entire staff wore the same style of uniform. Some days it was the full Venturing uniform. Other days it was the BSA activity shirt, and other times it was the Bartlett staff shirt. The large staff belted out many camp songs at camp gatherings.
The camp recently (like last week) completed renovations to the parade grounds (a large open field), which were necessitated by upgrades to the septic system. A new, very tall flag pole has been installed, from which hangs a large American Flag that is about 20 feet long. This massive flag flutters even in the slightest breeze. Our troop retired the colors one evening. We practiced using a 20’ tarp, so our performance was nearly flawless.
There are more activities to do than there is time available at camp, so Scouts have to pick and choose. My son tolerated his merit badge classes, although, he quite enjoyed a couple of them. He fished, but never caught a fish. He said that his favorite part of camp was hanging out at our campsite with the other boys, although, all of the boys seemed to enjoy making trips to the trading post for treats.
The week included its normal share of ups and downs. Boys occasionally faced discipline from the troop leader council for some infraction, such as going fishing when it was their turn to do dishes or putting graffiti on the latrine wall. There were a few minor injuries and some homesickness.
The fare one evening was a ‘hobo dinner’ — a meal made of hamburger and vegetables wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked on coals in the fire pit. My son absolutely loves this meal. He can be a picky eater, so he was happy to have a meal that he really likes. But it takes a long time to get a fire burned down to enough coals to cook that many meals, so we were pushing up against a deadline to be at an event by the time people were eating.
Finally, the leaders called for everyone to drop what they were doing and go. My son had saved the meat, his favorite part of the meal, until last. He decided to carry the foil with the meat to eat on the trail. Unfortunately, when he tripped on a root the meat scattered into many pieces in the dirt. My son was heartbroken and cried. He was sullen and didn’t want to go to the event. But, I made him go anyway.
When we arrived at the event, the Scoutmaster asked the rest of the adults to handle it, saying that he had some business to attend to. It was an inspirational honor trail. By the time my son had experienced the messages, much of his self pity had dissipated.
We walked back to the campsite, knowing that there was other food that he could eat there, but that it wouldn’t be as good as his lost dinner. When we arrived, the Scoutmaster explained that there was a new hobo dinner waiting for my son in the coals of the fire.
Unbeknownst to me, the Scoutmaster had run from the event more than half a mile to the commissary, which was closed. He found the commissary director and begged her to open the place and get enough food to make another hobo dinner. She did this for him. He then ran back to camp. His 17-year-old son, who is the Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, had remained to tend the fire. This young man quickly put the hobo dinner together and got it cooking so that it would be done upon our return.
This simple act of service brings tears to my eyes just to think about it. Needless to say, my son was quite pleased. I can only hope that he will see this kind of service as a pattern to adopt for himself.
The closing campfire ceremony on Friday evening was spectacular. On the west side of camp is a large, rustic amphitheater for this purpose. There were fun songs and skits. Then the mood got serious when we sang, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. The staff then expertly ran through a series of patriotic quotes, songs, and explanations. The program included trumpets playing strains from Fanfare for the Common Man, black powder rifles firing off around the grove in timed intervals, staffers dressed in Native American and mountain man regalia, and even a live deer standing on the south side of the grove. (The deer was unplanned, of course.)
Finally, a staff color guard presented a tattered American Flag that was to be retired from service. We sang the National Anthem and then saluted as the flag was lovingly committed to the campfire while a bugle sounded Taps. We quietly filed out of the amphitheater as the staff quietly sang. It was the perfect ending to a great week of Scout camp.