At age 12, I spent a week with my large Scout troop at Camp Loll BSA in the remote wilderness between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It rained the first day. I ended up in a tent full of misfits. The next day we attended church in an outdoor chapel that has a divine grandeur that exceeds any manmade shrine. We hiked into and camped overnight in Yellowstone. I shivered while swamping my canoe in the chilly waters of Lake of the Woods in pursuit of a merit badge, but I later came to enjoy swimming in the lake. Our patrol leader council disciplined two members of our troop who were caught stealing food from troop supplies. My patrol cooked pancakes over a blazing fire, which made for burned cakes with liquid centers. I came home with severely chapped lips but with a memory that will stay with me forever.
What do you remember about the first time you went to a Scout camp? What did it look like? What was the weather like? What did it smell like? Who were you with? What adventures did you have? Almost everyone that has been to Scout camp can answer these questions, regardless of how many years have passed since that first camp experience. Why? Because camping is a significant adventure for boys of Scouting age
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting said, “A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room.” Scout troops meet weekly to learn about Scouting. When they go Scout camping they do Scouting, implementing what they have learned. This happens on weekend camps as well as weeklong camps.
The BSA was only five years old when E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson were tapped to direct Camp Treasure Island near Point Pleasant Pennsylvania in 1915. The Order of the Arrow grew from Goodman’s and Edson’s efforts to honor Scouts at the camp that summer who were the best campers and who best demonstrated Scouting ideals. So from the beginning the OA has been rooted in camping.
The Order’s camping focus continues to this day. A Scout or adult leader must have completed 15 nights of Scout camping during the preceding two years to be eligible for nomination to the OA. The Order’s ceremonies encourage honorable camping and mention a love for the woods and camping. While camping is important, it is only one method of Scouting, not Scouting’s purpose (Order of the Arrow Handbook, , Boy Scouts of America, 10). Scout camping requires practical applications of the Scout Oath and Law so that camping helps achieve the aims of Scouting.
At a recent Order of the Arrow camping event, I watched young men grapple with gale-force microbursts, plentiful rain, and dropping temperatures. Some had to relearn lessons about properly securing tents and keeping gear dry. I was impressed with young men that sprang into action to help rescue the flailing tents of brothers they didn’t know. These Arrowmen were internalizing Scouting ideals. This was just one of the many examples of Scouting in action that I saw that weekend.
The OA strongly encourages Scout troops and Varsity Scout teams to carry out a year-round camping program so that boys can become the Scouts they learn about at unit meetings. For Latter-day Saint Scouts, unit camping experiences also offer the perfect setting for implementing many of the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. Service and leadership opportunities abound when camping. Testimony building can happen with brothers around a campfire in ways that cannot be duplicated in any other environment.
One of the goals of the OA is to promote Scout camping. OA members serve on camp staffs and work on camp service projects to help provide boys with Scout camping opportunities. Let’s put it a little closer to home. OA members can come to your unit meeting to promote camping. They can even come to a unit campout to work with your boys on Scout camping skills.
Scout troops and Varsity Scout teams are often unable to nominate youth to join the OA because no unit members have completed 15 or more nights of Scout camping during the previous 24 months. This seems especially true of troops and teams with Latter-day Saint sponsorship. Many LDS Scout units could do much better on implementing a robust year-round camping program. When you have a quality camping program, boys in the troop want to be there and opportunities for living the principles of Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood expand.
It’s true that not every boy enjoys camping. I was one of those boys. My first overnight troop campout was awful for me. But other boys seemed to enjoy our troop camping adventures, so I stuck with it as we camped month after month. My skills increased and eventually I found joy in Scout camping. A quality unit camping program can do that for a boy. The OA can help that happen. As your boys gain camping proficiency they can become a great resource to the troop. Those that join the OA can become even better resources to your unit, better future missionaries, and better priesthood holders.
Questions to Ponder
- Does your Scouting unit have a quality year-round camping program?
- How often during this past year have you testified to your Scouts during a campout?
- Do you know about the ways the OA can help build your unit camping program?
- What will you do to provide better camping experiences for the boys in your unit?
-Scott Hinrichs has been actively Scouting since age eight. He has served in many youth and adult Scouting positions and has been a member of the Order of the Arrow for more than four decades. He and his wife are raising their family in North Ogden, Utah. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.