Which Scout Summer Camp?

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evaluating scout summer camps

Two troops, same Scout summer camp, same week; one troop has a wonderful time and goes home smiling, one has a difficult time and leaves unhappy.

Some of my fondest Scouting memories come from the years I spent working on our Scout summer camp staff and  serving as a camp director. After observing hundreds of troops and thousands of  Scouts for a dozen summers I learned there’s one thing that makes or breaks a week at camp.

Is it the facilities, location, staff, or program? Can these things assure that your stay at camp this summer will be a positive one? The short answer is no, evaluating a camp’s facilities, location, staff, or program actually has very little to do with the experience you’ll have once you are there.

The most reliable predictor of the sort of experience you will have is what you bring with you. I am not talking the gear you pack, but what’s between your ears and in your heart. The two greatest assets you can bring to camp is a sense of perspective and a heart full of Scout spirit. 

A good camp director and good staff  have one goal – to serve Scouting. They are seriously customer oriented and will bend over backwards to meet your expectations.  Things usually go south when adults lose their perspective and overplay their role as a customer to the point it encroaches on Scout Spirit. 

Yes, you are a customer in that you paid to attend the camp. But more importantly you are a Scouter volunteering to serve a wonderful, enriching, program for young people. The sixteen year old staff member at the pool has absolutely no control over the camp budget, the weather or the schedule. Yet I  have seen and heard ill-tempered adults grouse to that sixteen-year-old  like a fussy society matron in a world-class hotel complaining about how they brew the tea or the quality of the chocolate left on their pillow. 

I know from personal experience the camp staff is there because they love Scouting, not for the small salary they receive in return for weeks of preparation and 18 hour workdays. As a rule summer camping operations don’t make a profit. What you pay is usually only a percentage of the actual cost of your stay.

Join in with gusto, be a participant rather than a customer, spread Scouting Spirit, and things will go well even in the worst circumstances.

If you are traveling to an unfamiliar camp adopt the attitude that you are a guest visiting another country. A gracious traveler accepts and celebrates the differences of culture, language, geography and climate as the real joy of the voyage. Enjoy the particular culture and traditions of the camp, no matter how unfamiliar. Resolve to be the most welcomed, polite, spirited and helpful troop in camp and you’ll go home happy.

Variables like location, cost, program content, and facilities cover a broad range of personal tastes. One camp is not objectively better than the other; choose based on what appeals to the majority of your Scouts.

Videos, brochures, and other marketing tools provide some information but the inside track is the camp director’s email address; if possible contact them directly. The telephone number or email address associated with the camp is most likely answered by the registrar at the council office who may have limited experiential knowledge of the summer program or facilities. 

 Here’s what I would ask the camp director:

  • What is their staff retention rate is from year to year? The more the better; it indicates the staff  has a positive experience, and that’s a strong predictor of a great program.
  • What is the average age of the directors in the various program areas? Younger area directors (early to mid twenties) are more likely to bring into more energy and fun in the program.
  • What percentage of the staff are Eagle Scouts? Lots of Eagle Scouts indicates a staff that knows and understands not only the Scouting program but what it’s like to be a Scout in camp.
  • If the camp has special  programs (high adventure, and younger or older Scout programs) ask how long they been running, how many Scouts participate, and how participants evaluate them.  New, untested programs or those with low participation rates may not be what you are looking for.
  • What ratings did they get on their food service last summer? Food service problems eclipse all else: great weather and a great program in a world-class locale are immaterial if Scouts don’t eat and eat a lot.

A  good camp director is tracking responses to their program and will be willing to talk to you about the evaluations they receive. If they don’t know the answers to these questions there’s a possibility they aren’t paying attention to other things as well.

As a general rule of thumb camps with a great program usually have few openings, camps with a so-so program usually have many.

Finally; every BSA summer camp must meet minimal national accreditation standards. Accreditation does mean something, but it’s not a good way to gauge the program or the facility against other camps.