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Future of the Local Scout Camp

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This past weekend I went to the Northeast Region Outdoor Program Seminar. As the weekend went on it became clear that many of the attendees had the same thought on their minds; How do we increase BS summer camp attendance at our local camps in the face of the huge mega camps that have been growing around us?


Before anyone high jacks the thread let me get the Provide a better Program issue out of the way. Many of us have a great Summer Camp program with a great camp facility, and great staffers. Yes, if was clear that for some it was strictly a program issue. But for many, if not most, it was simply a competitiveness issue. You just cant do on a shoe string, what these large facilities are able to do. From their huge revenues comes the ability to do things that a local camp could never justify.


For years the big camps have been draining resources and building their facilities, while the local camps have been struggling to just stay slightly ahead. At this point many of the local camps are not staying ahead and are on the verge of extinction, and with them are the fortunes of their coucil. The big camp in this area had over 60% of its summer campers come from out of council. Thats all theyd admit too, the reports are supposed to be out next week.


When challenged, the Regional people literally turned a deaf ear to the idea of limiting the out of council enrollment at the big camps. Oddly enough, this was the only time I saw them clam up. A tough issue and they didnt want to deal with it or even discuss it.


So whats the answer, the local camps are on a path to history, community Scouting, as its shaped by the local camp will become history. There is a full court press to engage CS's in more outdoor activities, many of them based on the use of the local Scout Camps. What happens??


Or, as was pointed out to me by a very tenured professional, its all part of scheme to close camps, reduce the number of councils, increase the coffers of the newly formed larger councils and in the end, increase the salaries of the professionals.

(This message has been edited by fotoscout)

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I'm wondering the same thing as OGE, and more generally, WHAT is a "huge mega camp" as opposed to a "local camp"? Is a "huge mega camp" a council camp, just one that is larger? I'm not aware of any of those around here, although the camp that my son's troop usually goes to is in another council (Bucks County, Pa.) and does seem to attract troops from various councils. This camp also seems to have more "resources" than our own council camp, such as a major corporation donated a science building, the dining hall is nicer, and things like that. And it seems "large" geographically but not necessarily larger than any other Scout camp I have seen. At the closing ceremony when I picked up my son, there seemed to be about 20 troops there, and supposedly the camp was "booked." That's not a "huge mega camp," is it?

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Like the Gent from NJ and OGE, I am a little unsure who or where the big camps are.

Where we are in SW-PA. This isn't a problem yet. Our Summer Camp has about 1,500 campers a summer. While there is a few out of council troops, most of the campers are from our own council.

Our next door neighbor is a metro council which owns and operates two camps within our council boundaries. I don't know how many campers they have. As the camp is in our council, some troops from our council opt to camp there because it is closer.

They do have a bigger lake then we do and offer a few activities that we don't, most of these are water activities that have to do with power boating.

In our area (Area 4 NE)There are a lot of small councils. All own and operate a camp or like us have a camp within a state park.

If we push sentiment aside and look at Scout camps as a business they just don't seem to be such a good idea.

Even though our camp is in a state park we have to do the maintenance.Two years ago the pool needed to be sand blasted and repainted. It wasn't sand it was something else and the paint was some special stuff the final bill was $52,000. There are 27 building on the camp that have roofs average life time of a roof is about 10 years. The Summer camp runs for seven weeks.

The life of a tent is less then 10 years. The campers stay for six nights. The tent if it is used every week will see 60 nights of use.The tent costs about $350 that works out to be over $5.00 night. The new building that was just build went way over budget and has cost over $300,000. As I travel around different councils I am surprised at how many new buildings I see.

Some Councils are lucky in that they can use their camps year round. We can't get in after the first snow and have to wait till spring thaw.If we were to look at the costs of running a camp with a real business eye we would get out of the camp business lickety-split!! We would have to charge such a lot that the scouts could never afford it.

What can the small camps do better then the big camps?

While you don't want to mention program I think that it has to be looked at. I think that the everyday program would be better at a smaller camp. The Scouts should be able to get more attention from the staff at a small camp.

If you are out to beat the big guys you need to do things better than they do.

Make sure the staff at camp understands that each and every Scout is a paying customer.

First impressions mean a lot. Have a staff member in the parking lot to welcome the Scout and his family as they arrive. He or she needs to smile and offer any help that is needed and say "Welcome to Camp Yoyo." When they check in and meet the next staffer he needs to say "Welcome to camp Yoyo"

The food in a small camp ought to be a lot better then the food in the big camp.

The staff need to be trained. I can't get over how well trained the staff were at Philmont. I didn't meet one "cocky" staffer. They all seemed to be there to help everyone. I never once seen the "I'm the staffer - I'm better then you" thing that I have seen at so many Scout camps.

Inter troop activities should be easier to organize and run with smaller numbers.

While I disagree with it, because it doesn't allow the PLC to do their job- Early sign up will bring them back next year. Most of the troops in our council sign up for the same site for the same week next year. They pay a very small deposit and are warned that if they can't fill the site they might be moved or have to share.

There are a lot of activities that a small camp can offer that a big camp can't. Finding them and making them happen is the hard thing.

Of course the worst thing that a small camp can do it over sell the weeks. Scouts don't want to wait for ever to do stuff. If the camp capacity is 250 don't allow 300 Scouts in just to beat the big guys.


Are you going to the meeting in Bedford in November??

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Yes, I guess that it's relative.


I am talking about camps that do 5000-6000 (or maybe more) per summer with an 8 week program. In one case where the majority of campers come from out of council. We have two of these each about 300 miles either side of our own in council camp. They are camp machines, churning kids in and out by the thousands. Pristine, and maintained like an exclusive private club.


I don't mean to imply that they are bad camps, if fact I'm sure that the program is very good. But it is undeniable that these camps and camps like them are having a huge and ongoing detrimental affect on the local camps.


Eamonn, you are correct about the personal nature of the local camp and yes it is something that we use to the best of our advantage. No, I am not scheduled to go to Bedford in November.


I continue to wonder about the future of the local camp as these camp machines roll on doing havoc on enrollment in the local summer camp programs.

(This message has been edited by fotoscout)

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I'm not familiar with the mega camps either. We do have a few camps in the area that attract more boys than others, but they tend to serve larger councils and/or offer something that attract the Scouts to them. Within a two hour drive of here there are seven or eight different council camps, so it is easy for troops to vote with their feet.


Ultimately, you have to look at what is best for the program. While we may wax nostalgically at the loss of good ol' Camp Runamok, if the bigger, newer mega camps can offer more quality program choices, better facilities and help keep the costs down, that may be the way of the future.


Hopefully the folks making decisions about the future of the camps focus on program delivery more than efficency and money when they decide.(This message has been edited by Twocubdad)

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Much as we may not like or want to hear it Councils are businesses.A business is a living thing, like most things that live it is either growing or it is dying.

The Council that puts up with me is not a large Council. But of the six Councils in our Wood Badge cluster we are the largest. At this time I know that one of these Councils is carrying a humongous amount of debt. One is looking at merging with another Council. It might just be a coincidence that 3 of these Councils have hired new Scout Executives over the past two years?

Scout Camps do require a lot of money. Sad to say it seems to me that the cost of Scout Camp does not include the cost of deprecation of equipment or buildings. If a camp does make a few bucks this ends up back in the general account and the money is spent on salaries, and everyday expenses. Then it seems to come as a big surprise when the camp needs money.

The last few years money has been really tight. Councils have had a hard enough time getting enough money in to meet budget. Most Scout Executives have not wanted to become involved in a capital campaign for fear it will take money from FOS and the money needed to operate the Council.

I have argued with some of our guys who either say that Camp is too expensive or sit on the Camping Committee and think that they are doing such a great job, by keeping the cost low.

This year a week at camp cost $160.00 I don't as yet have a break down of where the income from the camp was spent. A big chunk went to paying the staff. The biggest complaint I hear about camp is that the staff is too young. Sure when I look back over the years the staff was a lot older. We had more Lads who were at college and more adults who at that time were laid off from the steel mills!! We just do not pay enough for a college kid to save for the next year. A big chunk goes for food. Food costs have gone up a lot over the years. Everyone is on about the cost of a gal of gas. Look at the price of a gallon of milk!!

I know that I am in the minority in our Council, but we are doing things at camp that to my way of thinking take away from it being a camp. We are building a Nature Building.I don't know about anyone else but isn't that stuff outside any way? We are building an OA Museum!! I know that I can make it through a year without looking at old Lodge Flaps. We now have brick walk ways from building to building. Each and everyone of these will in time need repairs and maintained.So maybe the money is there to build them. But where does the money to maintain them come from?

When a Council can no longer afford to pay its way. When the money going our is more then the money coming in isn't enough. The Councils will either have to merge, in which case will they need two Scout Camps? Or they will have to sell some of their assets. Most Councils don't have too many and that camp site - Does it really need to be that big?

Starting endowment funds for camp and camp maintenance might be a way to protect and preserve the local Scout camp. But where will the money come from?


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"Or they will have to sell some of their assets."


Asset sales are a desperation move. As in a "real" business, assets must generate income. If you sell your asset to pay this month's electric bill, what are you going to sell next month? The challenge is to generate a continuous revenue stream from that asset. Once an asset is sold, that is an admission of failure, and any future hope of generating income from that asset is lost forever.



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Speaking of assets generating income. How many of your council campgrounds are open to outside groups? A few months ago, our troop did their monthly outing at a scout campground outside of our council. The date we had originally wanted to use it was closed to us because they rent the whole campground to one of the Indian tribes in our area for two weekends each summer. This same campground also rents the camp out to the Assembly of God Royal Rangers for summer camp. Do any of your councils consider allowing outside use rather than letting it sit idle or hosting an individual troop now and then on their monthly outing.

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