Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dwindling Numbers?

I had mentioned previously that although our 2017 sign ups are going well, they appear to be slightly anemic when compared to previous years.  Now part of this may be due to the upcoming Jamboree this summer and of course, July 4th week is always hard to fill because apparently blowing things up are more important to some individuals.  Some people have said to me that they think part of this is that a lot of troops want to be here for the 100th so some are going to other camps this summer.  This could be possible as we are ramping up sign ups already for 2018.  I hate to admit it though, I believe the decline is reflective in part to the decline in Scouting membership (although there is much ballyhoo about increased number of cubs these past years) and partly due to the fact that many adults do not believe that BSA summer camp is an important part of their troop's program.  I say that as I believe (and I could be wrong but I am sure I saw the numbers) that more than half of the Chief Seattle Council troops do not attend any summer camp program, in or out of council.  I am happy to be corrected on that if I am wrong.

When I first started in Scouting we were "awash" with BSA camps.  In the Western Washington area alone we had Camp Black Mountain, Camp Fire Mountain, Camp Omache, Camp Brinkley, Camp Parsons, Camp Hahobas, Camp Thunderbird, Camp Spirit Lake and Camp Warner in the Olympic Area Council.  Even Camp Sheppard had an active summer program which was not mainstream BSA summer camping program.  Ten BSA camps that were in operation in Western Washington.  Forty years later we have only three; Camp Parsons, Camp Pigott and Camp Fire Mountain.  Camp Fife is not mentioned here as that is located on the east side of the Cascades.  Only two councils out of four which operate in Western Washington have camps in Washington.  Now the reason for this is not just simply declining membership or resistance of troops to go to camp.  One camp was blown up by a volcano.  Another camp was split in two with development.  Two camps were merged into one as they shared the same reservation and out of that developed a very active summer Cub camp.  Others just could not financially stay alive; that is just economics.  On top of this, it is becoming more difficult to operate a BSA camp.  As I have mentioned in numerous posts before, many of our directors have to be certified and then attend a national school in order for us to operate certain programs.  It is not as simple as telling them "hey, sign up for this course which is given every weekend at the local Y", no the courses are offered once each year, miss it, too bad.  You can fly out to New York to attend the next one.  You  also have a hard time getting qualified individuals who are attending college to work for a couple of bucks a week.  Sure, I am whining, but that is the reality that faces a lot of camps.  I often view promo videos for other camps throughout the US and it is surprising how many of the staff are made of retired people.  God bless these volunteers but I think having a 20 year old Eagle Scout who is in college teaching lifeguarding trumps cynical people like me trying to do the same thing.

Outside of trying to revamp some of the regulations to run a camp (which I am eager to do) I think one definite area we need to focus on is getting troops to camp.  If they cannot do it under their own leadership, then we might be able to help.  If it is due to financial concerns, then there may be avenues to help them.  I think our own membership would bolster the attendance by itself, let alone the fact that we have 50% of the Scouts attending CP from outside councils.

I do believe Scouting will see a resurgence in the future, the values offered are necessary and sadly not found in society as a whole, or at least not valued by society as a whole but that does not make them less necessary.  More can be taught/learned in a week of summer camp than years of lecturing (hmm...what old scout said that?)

Monday, January 9, 2017

January Ruminations

We had (actually have) a chilly entrance into 2017.  Not much has been happening at camp over the holiday season as the weather has not been our friend and we do not have money freed up yet to move on to our next projects which will be basically renovating some of the campsite bathrooms and possibly putting in more Adirondacks to replace tent platforms.  There is no "one" major project this year and perhaps that is OK.  The Adirondack conversion plan takes a fair amount of time and we always seem to be pushing our luck with completing them by the time camp starts but I must admit, they are welcome additions.  I have had several Scoutmaster opine about the loss of sleeping "in a tent" as opposed to a "building".  Although I share their fond memories of sleeping in a large canvas tent at summer camp, the reality is that it is an expensive memory.  God Bless our scouts but those boys just can't keep their knives from going through the tent roof, here and there.  Too small to see that is until the rain starts and the Scoutmasters start yelling at us about how bad our equipment is.  The simple fact is that maintenance on the Adirondacks is far easier and more cost effective than platforms and tents.  They can also be used year round as well.  That is OK, in about ten years National will mandate tents once again.

Applications for the 2017 staff are starting to come in.  I hate to admit it but now I have to wear "cheaters" to read some of the things that the applicants write.  There was a time when I had 20/15 vision but no more, time is taking its toll.  At least I am not squinting as much now.  Of course there was a time when I had a lot of things, not so much now.  As usual, it will be interesting to see how things will line up for the staff this year.  With so many requirements with regard to certifications and training it puts an extra pressure on us to try to get key slots filled soon so they can attend some of these classes.  It was a little better when life was simple and training was always the week before staff week and that was it.

You may have heard there was a single engine plane crash near camp.  It was reported as going down in Dabaob Bay on the evening of the accident.  I even got a few texts or calls about it before hearing about the event.  It actually crashed just north of camp in the woods just east of Quilcene with the loss of four lives.  Very sad.

Not much more to report on other than summer will be here before we know it and we kick of our 99th season.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

As the nights have lengthened these past few months, so has been the length of time between my posts.  However, now that the solstice has passed, perhaps we will pick up the pace as the nights become shorter.  Much like most of the PNW, it has been a chilly December at camp.  The picture taken here this past week was around sunset on a very dry, calm and 28 degree day.  Despite the cold, it still is beautiful as always.  I had thought of actually posting a picture from the campfire bowl, where a Madronna Tree has laid into the top part of the railing of the seating stands.  Mother Nature you think?  Nah, just a little oopsy from one of our volunteers and he know who he is.  No worries, the seating is extremely robust and the railing will be fixed easily, perhaps not as easily as the ego of the one involved, but camp will not suffer.

I was looking through the 2017 sign ups recently and I must admit, I am a little disappointed at the slow pace of registration of troops who are thinking of coming to camp this season.  Usually by this time we have a number of weeks that are filled but currently, only one is pretty much at capacity.  Of course this will change as we move closer to the summer months but it does give pause to see if there is something else that is holding us back.  Obviously the National Jamboree is on for this summer and unfortunately there has been this "ethos" that a kid can only go to one scout event a year so as not to take away from other things.  Of course there is also cost involved in this as well and if that is the limiting factor, then it is understandable.  I just remember our troop going to Camp Omache for a week of patrol cooking, then Camp Parsons for a week of fun, then having a 50 mile hike with older scouts in August to round out the summer session.  I don't think troops do that anymore.  Shame.  There are other factors which I think are at play as well, but not for discussion in this venue.

Not much has been going on with work projects except small maintenance items.  The new Camp Maintenance budget will come out in January which will allow money to support major projects such as the ongoing replacement of tent sites with small cabins and perhaps another well to support our water needs.  I have always believed that the Scout's fiscal year is somewhat of a detriment to efficiencies of camp maintenance.  Currently the budget appears to be on a calendar year which does not release money until January thereby giving only 6 months to get projects done for the next season.  It would make far more sense to run a fiscal year from July 1st to June 30th, that way the CMF would be put to good use for 12 months.  If we start major projects in September for the following year, things go much smoother and we find ourselves not rushing at the last minute as cars arrive at camp in June.  These are just my ruminations here; we do the best with what we have.

From the shores of Jackson Cove on Hood Canal.....Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Getting Advice About Summer Camp

It is surprising how much business there is in supporting a summer camp.  Everything from employee management, hiring, accounting, marketing, equipment, and on and on.  Not just for BSA summer camp but for any summer camp; a business that usually operates anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks (some more, some less).  I suppose it is not surprising as summer camp, depending on its purpose, can be very lucrative.  Although BSA camps do their best to minimize fees in order to allow scouts from all economic levels to attend there are many other private camps that are very entrepreneurial.  The businesses that target summer camps are blind to this so we get many "advertisements" for various services, none of which are helpful or even affordable for us to use.  However, we also get advice and many times that is focused specifically on BSA camping as a whole.  I was just forwarded a blog piece regarding advice on how to keep a BSA camp relevant and functioning.  It centered around numerous items such as not letting yourself live in the past, look towards the future; make the program contemporary for the scouts you serve; don't isolate yourself and always plan for succession, and other items like this.  There was nothing controversial in the article but at the risk of sounding narcissistic I found it a bit naive. 

I have my idea of what the mission and purpose of a BSA camp should be and really, it is not my idea but rather the incorporation of what the mission and purpose of the BSA is into a resident scout camp.  I have shared this here on this forum many, many times before and I still adhere to it but to be frank, over the decades I have done this, the following are the main things that the adult in charge wants:

1.  Advancement, and plenty of it.
2.  Enough toilets so that any adult does not have to wait for one.
3.  Recycling.
4.  Food; plenty and cheap with no wastage.
5.  No candy in the Trading Post.
6.  Want to be able to drive into camp.
7.  Campfires should be allowed at any time, even with a burn ban.

This list (and there are a few more I can put on this) is in no particular order but in essence it is what we have collectively heard in discussion, meetings and evaluations.  There is nothing about social media, tradition, marketing or any of the other items that are constantly hit.  Sure, probably because these things are happening through word of mouth or through our website but the things that bring people back to camp has been the experience they had at camp which luckily has trumped most of what the adults in charge think they want prior to coming to camp.  When we get questions about advancement, we let people know that we balance that out with other activities at camp; many adults are wary but at the end of the week, they like it.  The same goes for campfires and burn bans, many adults want to have fires for the scouts but then understand it is not us, it is the State that demands it, by law.  Food will beat out social media any day, though luckily we have found that it has not beat out program.  Even during seasons when the meals are iffy (nutritious, edible, but not something people would eat routinely) we still have folks coming back for the program.  All the other items (and ones I did not list) have some validity to them but in reality what we do makes sense.  There is a saying that goes "don't tear down a fence until you know why it was built."  Although we view our selves as "customer-centric" we know that in our business of Scouting, the customer is not always right.

There is not a cookie cutter approach when it comes to camp development.  People go to Philmont not for a summer camp, but for high adventure.  People do not go to Bechtel for summer camp, they go for an experience of a Jamboree.  Every camp is unique in what it has to offer.  For us, it is the Hood Canal, the pier and a vibrant scout program presented by enthusiastic senior high school or college aged scouts/scouters.

I have often thought about putting up an advice column for BSA summer camp operations but I am reminded about what John Steinbeck said, "No one wants advice, only corroboration."  So I will follow Will Rogers advice that sometimes it is good to just shut up.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy 2016 Thanksgiving

It has been a cold and very wet Thanksgiving holiday across the PNW and it shows at camp with threatening grey clouds, wind and constant rain.  However the good news is that it regenerates our landscape that was beaten down by thousands of feet for nine weeks this past summer.  Things are green again, so that is something to give thanks about.

We are over half way being full for the upcoming season and we even have a large number signed up for the 2018 summer as well, so I am very thankful for that as well.  Of course what we have would not be possible without a dedicated and loyal staff, helpful volunteers for our work parties as well as those adults who come to camp with their troops and of course our dedicated Camp Director and Ranger.  So I think we can all be thankful for them.  I certainly am.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2016


Last week the Oregonian reported two more lawsuits filed in Portland, OR against the BSA as well as the Cascade Pacific Council for alleged abuses in the mid 1970's.  It is probably more than "alleged" as the perpetrator is currently serving time for similar offenses.  However the lawsuit is against the BSA and the local council for not protecting the victims and allowing this individual to be part of the program.  As I have mentioned many times before, protecting our youth is paramount to our program and the BSA today has probably one of the most robust youth protection programs of any youth organization in the US at this time.  The reality of the world has changed as the years have gone by and the reality that we must protect our youth from the worst of mankind has become even more apparent.  The BSA has been lambasted on its "secret files" however no one seems to realize that if the parents or guardians fail to press charges against an individual, it is hard and illegal to defame or slander another; you just try to keep that person away from the organization.  I am not blaming parents mind you, but the reality of the past is what it is.  What really annoys me is how the press seem to present "facts" about the organization which is untrue and adds to the misconception by the public as whole as to our program and how it is run.

What got me going was the statement in the article, "......and the BSA re-hired this individual to be a Scoutmaster...."  Rehired?  When did becoming a Scoutmaster equate to an employed position by the BSA?  Oh, it is work, but it is a volunteer position that is given to an adult (male or female) by the parents of the troop and sanctioned by the sponsoring agency, NOT the BSA.  When an adult joins the BSA today, there is a background check run on each individual to assure that there is not a significant issue that involves the individual but it is not as thorough as one obtaining a security clearance or being hired by law enforcement.  More importantly, it is the parents that need to be comfortable in selecting their adult leadership that will interact with their children.  The BSA sets forth policies on how we engage with children and mandates training that has to be completed every other year (every year with camp staff).  Youth protection is strictly enforced and should any question of a violation of the policy is noted, the individual is immediately removed from the program until an investigation by law enforcement (if they believe a violation occurred) and/or the council.  Once that is complete, the individual (if exonerated) can return to their volunteer position.  I have seen this enforced on several occasions and this certainly is a change from when I was a young scout.  The crux is this, the parents MUST be involved with the troop and be vigilant that their troop also follows the policies of youth protection.  This is the only way this is going to work.  I cannot tell you how many times I have received a phone call at camp from an irate parent saying "my son just called and said his Scoutmaster is being mean to him, how could you allow a man like that to be Scoutmaster?"  Of course my response is that "I" did not allow anyone to be Scoutmaster, your parental colleagues did that, talk with them.  Of course we would have to check to make sure there were no youth protection violations occurring at camp but usually it is a scout that didn't like being told what to do.  It worries me however that some parents do not get how the program is run.  That is the hard part about these lawsuits as they claim that the BSA knew about these people and still let them part of the organization.  Personally, I have a hard time believing that if someone specifically knew that a person was a danger that they would turn their back and let them do it again.  However, that is a personal thought that involves this program and not other organizations that have had abuses with children.

Luckily these incidences are more and more the exception in this organization with over 2 million youth.  Youth protection is paramount in our operation and will always be that way.  Just tired of these things popping up again and again. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Let's All Calm Down

This past week has brought a lot of anguish both mentally and emotionally for many people locally and nationally; one being the election and the other being the loss of UW to USC.  Many of you may care about one or the other (or both).  Regardless, tomorrow will come and life will go on.

The country, as a republic, made its decision last Tuesday on who would lead our great nation.  Half of the nation "won" and half the nation "lost" and by saying lost means simply your person did not get elected.  I have heard the rhetoric at work, read it in the printed media and watched on TV; I thought I would be happy after the election just to have it over but the drama continues.  Regardless of whom you voted for I really hope that those of us who really believe in what we teach through the BSA program, that this nation is far more stronger and robust than just one person.  We understand that our government is based on a series of checks and balances that are there to assure that what occurs is best for the nation.  Will mistakes be made?  Of course they will.  Will some people feel disenfranchised?  Of course, but there are always those who think we should be going one way with others feeling we should be going the other way.  This country has weathered controversy, scandals, monopolies, civil war and many other challenges and has moved on.  In the 240 years since our birth we have had Presidents who have been slave holders, racists, misogynists, bigots, liars and many who lack any form of integrity.  Yet our nation continues on.  There are many things that I disagree with in local or state politics, many things that I vote for or against that never seem to go my way.  That is the way life is in our democracy.  We don't quit, we move on and if we feel strongly about a subject it doesn't mean it cannot come back again for a vote.  I think it is great that we are so comfortable as a nation that anyone can protest about anything and it is protected but I shake my head when those protests come in the form of violence or property destruction.  That comes at the expense of others who actually might believe the way you do.  I have faith in this country and that comes not just from personal experience and observation but through the knowledge I learned even from High School US History as well as that from being a Boy Scout.  Let's calm down and deal with the issues and facts at hand.

As for the Husky game this past Saturday......ouch!  To my fellow fans I hate to say it but we did not play well in any facet of that game.  You cannot blame missed opportunity, you cannot blame the refs, you cannot blame any injuries; USC was just good that weekend and that is that.  Many of my friends took this loss hard and I understand but I must remind them, who in the heck ever thought we would be even considered a BCS team?  At the beginning of the season we were hoping....HOPING...that we might....MIGHT...make it to the PAC-12 championship.  Well not all is lost, we still can.  However enjoy the season, it has been great so far save this last game.  Like our nation, we will move on.

What does all of this have to do with Scouting or CP?  Well first, this blog is about my ruminations more than anything else but it does relate to what we try to develop in young scouts.  Adversity is always in front of you and how you deal with it is going to go along way in how you deal with life.  Things do not always go our way but regardless, life goes on and we have to go on with it.  There is nothing to be gained by stopping and lamenting about how things should be.  Pause, reflect and move on.  Many obstacles are surmountable and the ones that are not, well there are paths around them which may take more time but will arrive at the same place eventually.  Hard to measure you greatest successes if you do not have a few losses to compare them too.

Finally, if you were watching the ESPN broadcast from Seattle last weekend, you saw the CP flag waving in the background.  I may post a picture later....but it looked good.