I was talking to an old time scouter the other day about summer camp and other scouting programs. He made a remark in passing that started me thinking about this subject. He said that most of his contemporaries do not know much more about Boy Scout summer camping other than Camp Parsons as they have never gone to any other camp for a comparison. He went on to mention the differences in other camps up and down the west coast as well as the differences in program styles found at each site. That got me thinking about whether or not we have become somewhat "tunnel visioned"; in other words have we become ordinary, natural and comfortable? Is this good, bad or does it really matter?
I have been to numerous camps throughout the years and also have trained numerous directors of a wide variety of camps these past four years. The camps I have been to have been Back Mountain and Fire Mountain of the Mt. Baker Council; Merriwether, Baldwin and Pioneer of the CP Council; Camp Cowles and Easton of the Inland NW council; Fife and Bonaparte of Grand Columbia and numerous more in Utah and California, of course I also worked at Philmont for a season as well. Now granted, most of these camps I visited was during the off season so I really didn't see all the programs in action, but I did see the facilities, the pictures of the scouts enjoying those facilities and of course the descriptions that their staff give of the various camps. There were many of these facilities that were beautiful and had outstanding locations; Merriwether and Easton to name a few. Not only that but many camps were situated to be a "theme" type of camp. Camp Baldwin has a huge emphasis on horses and if you have been to that camp, it fits well. Other camps have emphasis on shooting sports others on camping and hiking. There is a wide a variety amongst many of the camps I have seen and they are limited only by their location (can only be used in the summer) or maintenance. I have listened to some of the program offerings that people who are from those camps and attend camp school tell me. Interactive archery ranges, aquatics gear such as inflatable slides and trampolines, COPE courses, extensive climbing facilities, state of the art dining halls; it goes on and on.
So is sticking with one thing good or bad? I suppose it is different from a troop's perspective as opposed to those of us who run the program from year to year at one camp. Many Scoutmasters tell me that although they love coming to Camp Parsons they wish to rotate around to different camps "so that the boys get a different experience". Although I agree with the sentiment, I am not sure if I agree with the reality. Young scouts have an attention span that can be measured in seconds. A scout can come to the same camp over and over again (regardless of which one) and will be amused again and again, just like it was the first time they went to camp. As they grow older (14 and up) they may begin to appreciate the differences in activities but really, I think it is the adults who want more of the variety than the scouts. "No Mike, seriously, the troop leadership council chooses where we go to camp." Yeah, yeah....you forget, I was a Scoutmaster once as well, I know how the "choosing" goes. Give the three options that you like so it doesn't matter which one they pick as any one would be OK. The main purpose of summer camp is making sure that the troop and the scouts get out of it what is important.....making the troop stronger AND having a good time. Where you do it is secondary.
Don't get me wrong.....I encourage troops to travel around, particularly to more "themed" camps such as patrol cooking as opposed to dining halls and programs that we will never offer such as horses. There is also an element of ego in there as well as I think when you compare us to other camps, for the most part people appreciate our continuity of program. You know what you are going to get and you kow the quality (I believe) remains high. For other camps, not so much. Through my experiences most camps cycle through senior leadership on a yearly basis....hard to develop continuity doing that. Most camps are run by professional boy scouts, many of which look upon it as a rite-of-passage for their career and something to get done quickly and move on. Yes, I am being harsh, but why would a camp be great one year then two years later be termed as one of the "worst" camps, speaks mainly to poor and inconsistant leadership.
So being comfortable and predictable as far as our leadership goes is not a bad thing as long as it doesn't spill into the enthusiasm of our staff or our commitment to provide the best week of a troops scouting year and the quality of the product we deliver. I remember one Scoutmaster in a meeting said that he liked Camp Parsons for many reasons but the main reason was that you knew what you were going to get when it came to customer service as well as the caliber of the staff. If that is true, then I don't mind being long in the tooth for that.