Monday, September 15, 2008

A Successful Large Scouting Event, but ...

This past weekend, more than a year of work came to fruition. My Boy Scout district sponsored a large Scouting event at Camp Fife.

Camp Fife is situated in the river bottoms of the Bear River below Cutler Dam. During the summer, Fife is used for Cub Scout camps for boys and Activity Days camps for girls. During the rest of the year, it is used for various Scout training, Scout district camporees, fathers & sons overnighters, winter camping, and youth conferences.

It has been four years since our district sponsored an event this size. It was first sponsored eight years ago, but after running it four years in a row, the event was suspended in favor of smaller events. After everyone had forgotten how difficult it was to run an event on this scale, we decided to run the event again.

Normally, a weekend campout for the Scout district is called a camporee. But for some reason, the lawyers told us that if Cub Scouts were invited, it had to be called a camporall. Whatever. The point is that we invited all Cubs, Scouts, Varsity, and Ventures in the district to attend along with their leaders. The Cubs came up on Saturday morning, while the older boys spent the night.

To make an event this size really work, however, we knew we needed more people than would attend from our own district. We ended up inviting two neighboring districts to join us. Both of those districts added attendees, but only one of the districts added significant volunteer help.

Lining up the volunteers, making sure they are properly trained, and making sure they do their jobs is one of the biggest challenges with running an event this size. We planned over 120 activities, many of them aimed at completing advancement requirements. One leader remarked that this is like having a whole week of Scout camp packed into 24 hours, and that is pretty much correct. There are far more activities than any one boy can do in the time available.

Another major challenge for an event of this nature is getting all of the equipment and supplies together, and getting them distributed to the sites of the various events. If you leave it up to the people running the events, you’re never sure that you’re going to get the stuff there in the right amounts for the right price. You have to have a shrewd procurement person that can work deals and find bargains to make it work. This is a massive task.

The final major challenge is funding and attendance. Since a Scout district has no budget for an event like this, you can’t spend the money until you have some idea of how much money you will get. We try to set the price low so that it is affordable ($7 for overnight campers and $4 for Cubs). If you get much pricier than that, you start to exclude too many potential participants. (We invited some inner city units to attend for free.)

A volunteer developed an online registration system, and we started pushing registration last May. Many volunteers worked to get units signed up. An alternative method would be to simply assess each zone (in our area that generally means an LDS stake) that wishes to participate to pony up a specified amount months in advance and then let the zones worry about registration and collection. You can probably see that such a plan would meet with some resistance.

The event went off spectacularly well, thanks to the providence of good weather and the many dedicated volunteers that came out and helped. We needed BSA certified directors for our waterfront, shooting ranges, zip line, and climbing wall. We offered BB guns and short-range archery for Cubs. We had field archery and a .22 rifle range for Scouts. We had handgun, shotgun, and black powder rifle ranges for the older boys. We only had one run-in with the Sherriff, who asked us to re-orient our black powder range somewhat. We had a certified EMT on duty, but we had no significant injuries among more than 1,500 people present.

Even with how well the event went, I’m not sure we will do it again. We offered many features that directly compete with the organized BSA camp programs. The entire event is almost like a duplication of the council’s Scout-O-Rama/Camp-O-Rama event held in the spring, but they offer some bigger ticket items because they have a real budget for the event. We have found no satisfactory way of delegating tasks so that you don’t have to rely on a handful of heroes to pull off major elements. There just aren’t that many dedicated volunteers in the district that aren’t already busy working with their local units.

It is quite a spectacle to see Scouters of all ages at an event like this. But simpler is not necessarily worse. Holding several smaller, targeted events can also be good in other ways. It will take some time before the district is ready to run an event like this again. And even then, I don’t know if it will happen if I am still in charge of this program. The past few weeks have taken a toll on my health. Most of my vacation this year has been donated to BSA programs.

This is the first year that all four of my sons have been involved in BSA programs at some level. My two older boys worked on the event staff. In some ways they were better than most of the adult volunteers. My two younger boys loved the event. I have spoken with many leaders and youth that have raved about the event. So, there is incentive to hold an event like this again. But the disincentives for doing so also loom large.

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