Boy Scout Summer Camp

Posted Posted by DetectiveEstes in Detective Estes' Corner     Comments No comments

On Sunday Boy Scout Troop 624 left for their annual trip to the week long summer camp in Sinoquipe, Pennsylvania.  The camp is a standard boy scout summer camp and lasts 7 days.  Lots of merit badges can be earned by the boys.  Meanwhile the adults either volunteer to work somewhere in the camp, or take the COPE course (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience)or just do their own work, or maybe fish.

I was hoping to go along on this summer camp.  My perfectly legitimate excuse for not going is that I had surgery on my knee for a torn meniscus.  The surgery was in early June.  It was supposed to fix a pain in the knee problem but it’s still painful.  Hence, no summer camp for me.

Perhaps readers wonder why that is?  Just because of a minor pain in the knee?  This may not seem like a good reason for some.  Well, the problem mainly is that cars are not allowed around, or adjacent to the camp site.  Campers have to walk every where.  Some might say that I have an excuse in my knee so the vehicle could be ridden up and down from camp each day.  That is true, but the Boy Scout mantra is teaching of young men to be self sufficient.  How bad does it look for an adult scouter to have to rely on a car if the scouts cannot?

The other problem is Kardiak Hill.  Campers have to walk up a long, relatively steep hill to and from camp. It’s about a quarter mile long.  All the campsite areas are on the side of Kardiak Hill.  The larger the scout group, the farther the campers have to walk.  Troop 624 has long brought the most scouts, and adult scouts.  Consequently Troop 624 gets to walk the entire way up/down Kardiak Hill. As the camping week develops, and the days get hotter, the hill seems to get longer and steeper.  The hill got its name due to an adult scouter that allegedly had a heart attack walking up the hill.  My problem is after about 50 yards my knee is done for walking.  So Kardiak Hill is out of the question. See the above reason for me, not going to the camp.

It’s a great disappointment not to go.   The first part of my own disappointment is the trip up to the camp.  I drive alone, taking only what I need for myself and travel by back roads.  I enjoy driving on old two and four lane roads.  My favorite road to Sinoquipe is Rt. 522, a two lane, curvy road, mostly curvy.  Rt. 522 begins just outside of Richmond.  I’ve traveled all of it in Virginia and West Virginia.  I’m like that.  Once I find a road I enjoy, I can usually make up reasons to drive on it.  I got this from my Dad.  He loved to drive.  I love to drive as well.  I can take Rt. 522 right outside of Front Royal, Virginia.  I take it thru Berkley Springs, WVA, a small little place that really does have warm springs to lie in.  Then on into Pennsylvania.  522 ends at Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.  I take it to Fort Littleton, Pa.  A left there and about a mile later is the turn off to Sinoquipe.  Turn left at the camp sign, down a dirt road, and cross the low bridge across a shallow, fast running little stream.  About a quarter mile later, turn right and cross over a covered culvert and arrive.

The camp in Pennsylvania is where the Troop has gone every year since before 1990.  Prior to 1990 the troop went to Goshen.  The change came due to distance and population.  Goshen takes near 5 hours to get to, Sinoquipe takes 1 1/2.  Goshen has upwards of a thousand boys at one time.  Sinoquipe has a max of 260 boys.  From other scout reservations I think that Sinoquipe is similar in appearance to most others.  It’s out in the wild a good bit, about 25 miles from a town of any size.  Upon arrival, campers are greeted with a sign by a totem pole that says, “Welcome to Sinoquipe”.  There is a lake on the right side of the sign which is good size, but not huge, perhaps 3 acres.  It has fish in it.  If it weren’t filled up with boy scouts it would an idyllic setting.  Sometime during every waking hour during the summer, there are at least 200 screaming boy voices.  This takes away that idyllic setting quickly.  For me, in it’s place is a setting for learning cool new things, or practicing leadership techniques for boys that they could get no where else.

A person on the outside, knowing nothing about scouting might not believe that adult men can interact or learn from young men.  It’s about watching boys deliberate over leadership decisions.  It’s about watching young boys learn new things like first aid, camping, lifesaving and swimming, archery, shooting, and many other useful skills.  Skills and knowledge that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Once the Troop arrives, the Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster or other adult leader search out a camp representative.  The representative then has the leaders in a short conference as to their campsite and how to get there.  The campers are driven up to the site and all of the equipment is unloaded, as well as previous years awards.  Which for Troop 624 are many.  The Senior Patrol Leader gets the patrol leaders together and assigns tents to each patrol.  The patrol leaders call their patrols together and tents are assigned 2 scouts per tent.  The scouts are then required to set up camp, then set up their tents.

While this is going on the adult scouts are shown their own campsites, which are on the other side of the road from the boys sites.  Close enough to walk over and check on them, but far enough away so the boys have privacy from adults.

The camp representative returns with additional requirements of the camp, when merit badge class sign-ups will take place, when the evening meal will be, the fact that all scouts must be in class A uniform for evening meal.  After camp set up the scouts then go back to the entrance to see the camp doctor and hand in their physicals, and also to take a swim test to see about their skills in water.

The camp has an organized Polar Bear Swim every morning at 6AM.  The scouts can earn a patch for their uniform by doing this each morning.  Many scouts don’t do this and that’s ok.  But if not doing this, then they have to run, or bike through the camp-ground each day at the same time frame.  Get’s their blood running.  If the reader wonders why the swim is called the Polar Bear Swim, consider that Sinoquipe is located in mountains of Pennsylvania and even in the summer, many times the water is around 40-50 degrees.  It ain’t pretty, but it sure is effective to get that blood running in the morning.  The adult scouters can earn the same patch….but most don’t.

So what is there for adult scouters to do at Sinoquipe.  The camp hires some adults to cook, run the shooting range, run the overall camp, and do some other things as well.  Many Eagle Scouts return to the camp each year as paid scouters to run these various activities.  Adult scouter campers with troops can take the COPE course.  They can volunteer for various duties in the camp, such as assist at the various merit badge stations, or assist in the dining room.  Adults can teach merit badges in the evening, after the regular camp activities were done.  I’ve taught several Fingerprinting merit badges as well as Crime Prevention and Photography.  This year I was hoping to teach the newest merit badge, Geocaching, as I think it’s such a cool badge.

Adults don’t have to do much of anything if they don’t want to.  There is fishing at the lake.  Interested persons can obtain a 3-5 day fishing license for not much money.  Adults can go to the shooting ranges at off times and shoot.  Adults can read in camp, or do work they would like to do.  Last year I worked on a book in my car.  Adults can leave the scout reservation and go touring if they want.  As previously stated, Sinoquipe is close to Ft. Littleton which is in the middle of a lot of French-Indian War history as well as Revolutionary War history.

Most adults don’t do any of that.  Most of the adults in the camp are parents.  Some volunteer but most of them follow their kids around the first year of the camp making sure their little darlings are fine, not being eaten by the snakes or the wild in general and that the little fellers aren’t homesick and are getting fed.  These adults shortly find out that their kids are having the time of their lives.  They are healthy, eating right, doing actitivies they may have never done before, learning stuff far easier than school activities and enjoying theirselves immensely.  About Tuesday afternoon, the parents start to relax a bit and enjoy their own camp life a bit more.  By Wednesday, the parents are no longer following their boys, but now are finding things to do in camp while the boys are away at their classes.  By Friday, the parents have decided that they’ll be back next year but are writing down activities they can do so they can be there for their boys, but not interfere with their activities.

The adult leaders with the troop usually take the COPE course, or volunteer in the various parts of the camp.  Sometimes the leaders may return to camp and visit the boys camp just to check security of the camp and make sure everyone is either ok or if not, why not.  Some of the leaders assist the younger scouts with their Brownsea experience.  The leaders also make sure that everyone who is doing something, does it.  And finds out why those that have decided not to do something, are still doing something.  Idle hands are not encouraged.

Here is a day in the life of boy scouts during the week.  Get up just before 6AM and get down to the morning exercise, whatever it is.  Get back afterwards and into clothes for the day.  The Troop then heads down to assembly at 7AM, raising the flag to a bugle call, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and announcements for the day.  Next is breakfast at the dining hall which is adjacent to assembly.  Who is first in line depends on which troop was at assembly first with the most organization in the troop.  This is usually a toss up.  Next, get in line for breakfast.  Adults can get in first if they want.  Most enjoy staying with the troop.  Breakfast consists of cereal, a main course of some breakfast food, and drinks.  Boy Scouts assigned by their patrol leaders have already set the table.  On the table are large pitchers of water, silverware and napkins, butter, and peanut butter, and bread.  Breakfast lasts about 20 minutes.  There are things to do.  Depending on who works in the dining hall, there may be some type of exercise cheer before leaving.  Who leaves first only depends on the whim of the leader of the work group.  A question might be if any troop is from Virginia.  Upon saying yes, that troop leaves first or last.

After breakfast, the boys head on out to their various merit badge classes, or the COPE course.  In the case of the youngest scouts, they may be taking ‘Brownsea’, which is a special course for beginner scouts to learn about the history of scouting so they can earn their Tenderfoot rank before the week is out.  Each class lasts one hour and the boys go on to the next class.

Lunch is at 12 noon.  Back to the dining hall and get into troop groups.  Again, the tables are set by Boy Scouts and adult volunteers.  The troops file in to the dining hall.  Sometimes there are so many boys some troops have to wait outside till others finish their meal.  Lunch is usually a sandwich.  Again, drinks are on the table.  Troops eat together.  When done, silverware is placed in glasses.  Spoons in one, knives in another, forks in yet another.  Dishes are taken to the front on leaving and left in a specific place.  On leaving the hall, the boys head out to their afternoon activities.

Classes are over around 3 and the boys go back to their campsites to prepare for dinner and roll call and assembly in the class A uniform.  Class A is the uniform that most people see boy scouts in.  A light brown shirt, and green pants, shorts of long, and ending with shoes of some color that covers the foot and the green scout sox. All troops assemble at the assembly are at 5PM.  There is a roll call.  Awards for camp cleanliness are given at this time.  Usually the troop with the daily cleanliness award gets to eat first.  There are announcements  on evening activities such as open camp shooting at the shotgun range and the daily volleyball tournaments between competing troops.  The flag is drawn down to a bugle call.  Time to eat dinner.

Dinner is similar to the other two meals.  There is a salad, a main course, drinks on the table.  There is always water.  There may be cool aid as well.  There is also always coffee for adults.  After dinner, the supervisor of the hall may include a dinner exercise, or perhaps a question as to what troop got the award for the day.  Depending on the answer depends on who leaves first.  There are announcements are to evening activities.  The troops leave in an orderly manner after minor cleaning to assist the scouts who are assigned to do the main cleaning chore.

After the evening activities, the boys return to the campsite.  Some of the boys may be taking evening merit badge courses such as Astronomy.  They leave the site, with a flashlite of course, and go to the merit badge site.  After that they will return to their camp site.  Studying is done by the younger scouts for the next day’s assignments.  Older scouts may take any offered merit badge taught by adults in the camp.  The patrol leaders and the senior patrol leader gather together to discuss plans for the remainder of the week, how they did in the camp grades and how to do better.  Later yet, the senior patrol leader and the assistant senior patrol leader, and perhaps the scoutmaster gather together to discuss camp progress.  Later still, there may be a senior patrol leader and assistants and scoutmaster conference at one of the meeting houses close to assembly.  This is a conference on leadership skills and how things are going in general at the camp.  Problems are discussed.  A snack of meat and cheese with drinks are provided by the camp for this event.  After this the leaders return to camp.  Lights out are at 11.  Time to sleep till the Polar Bear Swim the next morning.  Ugh.

Some folks may wonder about now, when do the scouts get clean?  And where are the bathrooms?  Well, as previously stated, the scouts have their own personal responsibilities.  That includes their showers.  Showers are located close to every camp site.  Their are signs outside that can be turned to show if scouts are adults, or adult women are using the shower.  To get back to scouts and showers.  Sometimes that showering business simply doesn’t happen.  One young fellow, a nephew of one of the scout leaders, decided to see how long he could go before anyone said anything to him about his cleanliness.  Along about Wednesday, the boys of the troop began to notice a certain ripeness in the air whenever Jess walked around the camp.  On Thursday, Jess was in the dining hall and the troop got to exit first because only one person could say that he had not had a shower all week long…Jess.

As far as bathrooms go, there are latrines in each campsite which are cleaned each week of the waste inside by commercial extractors.  However, the overall cleanliness of the interior and exterior of the latrine and the outside sink is done by scouts of each campsite.  This is figured out by the senior patrol leader, a scout himself, at the beginning of the week.  It’s part of his duties as the senior scout to figure out schedules of scouts cleaning the latrines, and working in the dining hall.  The senior scout takes these duties seriously as he has done these duties in the past when he was younger and knows how nasty they are.  So the duties are scheduled for different patrols daily.  Ultimately, however, the responsibility for getting the chores done, are left to the senior patrol leader.  The camp of the boys are graded by the camp leadership.  Cleanliness overall, and neatness overall as well as each tent, and how the camp appears to visitors are all graded.  Improvements to the camp is noted as well.  Perhaps a weather rock tethered to a tripod of sticks so the scouts know its raining outside, (water on the rock).  Or maybe a soap bar in a woman’s stoking by the sink so the soap won’t get dirt on it and is readily available for use.  The grades are posted on the camp site bulletin board for all the scouts to see.  At the end of each day, at the roll call assembly, the troop with the best camp grade is given an award they can display at the entrance to their camp.  At the end of the week, the troop with the best grades of campsites get an overall award they can take with them when they leave.  Bragging rights for doing a good job together.

But, specifically speaking, why do I want to go if I have no boy in the Troop and, currently, don’t have a specific job in the camp?   The camp is in a small valley surrounded by mountains.  Prior to entry by the lake is a small stream, which is shallow, easy to navigate if someone likes fly fishing even if the fisherman doesn’t have much equipment.  Furthermore, due to the moving water, there are plenty of places for a photographer to get some great photos showing water in movement as well as beautiful plants growing around the water.  The lake is peaceful to fish at, or just sit beside and read while listening to the scouts learn about lifesaving techniques, as well as canoeing and fishing.  The tents are situated on wood platforms, under which runs whole towns of bugs.  Some of these bugs are really vicious looking, such as the Virginia wolf spider; a spider which has a round body and eyes that actually move when bug spray is fired at it, or light shines on it.  Amazingly, other wildlife braves 260 boys to wander or run through camp.  A bear ran through our camp a couple years ago.  Sometimes deer are seen as well.  All of this ads to the adventure of the place as well as the doings going on.

When my youngest son was a scout and at Sinoquipe the same year my older son was the senior patrol leader, young son had issues with a Virginia wolf spider.  The spider came into the tent of my son and another scout who shared the tent. They saw this huge spider on the ceiling of their tent.  They went to knock the thing out of the tent but it leaped away.  Together the two of them sprayed the spider until he dripped bug spray.  This apparently did no good as the spider just walked on out of the tent, very unconcerned about being coated in spray.  Later in the week, the spider returned.  This time my son knocked the spider out of the tent while the other scout sprayed the spider again.  My son ran out and found the spider again and was busily beating it to death with a broom when another adult walked up.  The adult told me later that, “I thought that thing was a gerbil, it was so big!”  This happened about 8 years ago.  Today, in preparation for writing this I text my son and asked him what kind of spider it was that Mr. Brooks thought was a gerbil.  The answer came back immediately that it was a Virginia wolf spider.  What a great adventure!

It’s the whole camping out, the adventure; in the solitude, yet not solitude.  It’s the bugs, the wildlife, including wild boys, and other men that think like I do about sitting in a camp site, reading a book, talking to the boys about their classes, or the leaders about their leading.  It’s about teaching merit badge classes in the evening, after dinner among the scouts and the adult leaders.  It’s watching nature go on around me, and doing exactly what I am doing right now; writing about how much I enjoy it.  And wishing I had gone.  Probably next year.  I sure hope so.




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About Detective Estes

Detective EstesMr. Estes has lived in the DC Metropolitan area for most of his life. His father’s influence and expertise in firearms resulted in Mr. Estes beginning to rifle shoot at a young age and eventually shooting on the Washington-Lee High School rifle team in Arlington, VA.

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