Scouts-L Mail Archive for August of 1999: Merit Badges and Summer Camp Offerings (was Unit-run summer
Merit Badges and Summer Camp Offerings (was Unit-run summer
Mon, 9 Aug 1999 03:49:10 EDT
The evolution/deevolution of the summer camp program has been going on for
quite a while now. In the early days of scouting in the US (until post-WWII)
many councils when through periods of fiscal uncertainty (to be kind). Land
for camps was purchased, developed, some sold or abandoned. Camp development
was little more than building a ranger cabin, formalized camp sanitation,
council fire circle, and a trading post. In those early years, the
development of the patrol method, junior and adult leadership skills, and
traditional scoutcraft training were the principal focus.
Shortly after WWII, the introduction of the "activity area" program was made.
More permanent structures were erected...much of the labor coming from the
newly incorporated Order of the Arrow lodges. Scoutcraft (including
signaling), waterfront, horsemanship, and other field sports were emphasized.
Parade field skills and formations were big. Handicraft skills (other than
woodcarving) were a general outgrowth of the "new" cubbing program introduced
in 1938. Merit badge completion was not a focus..skill development was.
During the 50's and 60's, merit badge programs were primarily the domain of
the senior scouts. Younger scouts and those not yet first class worked in
their troop sites with PLs and Instructors to meet those requirements. This
was the heyday of peer instruction. Out of site program was performed as a
troop, signing up for various activities as a unit. Merit badge sessions as
we know it today did not exist. Merit badge counselors were available as a
resource, to answer questions, manage service projects, provide instruction
and develop advanced skills, and to inspect and review completed
requirements. It had more of an independent study flavor to it. Having a good
time and completing a couple of merit badges would be considered a successful
week for a senior scout.
During the 70's, with the changes in advancement brought changes in the
summer camp program. Staff levels dramatically increased to help younger
scouts which now needed to complete merit badges for rank advancement under
Star. Merit badge prerequisites are published to aid in scout preparation.
Merit badge classes became the norm to help less experienced scouts.
Swimming lessons, in addition to the merit badge, were formally offered.
Nature became Ecology or E-Con (Ecology-Conservation). The introduction of
the killer merit badge, Environmental Science, with its observations and 500
word essay became a programming juggernaut. De-emphasis of tracking,
stalking, signaling, and parade activities occurred. First class skills were
still available as in-site activities with the use of the newly created
"Leadership Corp." During the 70's was the first observation of the erosion
of "brand loyalty." Units started looking at out-of-council camps. Councils
responded with Specialty Camps. These one week - one area camps were
developed. Retro camps (in-site cooking) showed up at traditional dining
hall camps. Merit badge offerings started to pitched as a sales tool. A good
week for an older scout would be 3 merit badges.
During the 80's, more changes in advancement brought changes in the summer
camp program. Staff levels remained high. Renewed emphasis on first class
skills occurs without significant program changes. The birth of the "high
adventure" camp came out of the old explorer base programs which were cut
back in the 70's with the advent of "Career Exploring." Merit badge
tracking, based on difficulty, is commonly used to aid scout selection. While
merit badges were still a big part of the summer camp experience,
opportunities for "special activities" are expanded, outpost camping and
mini-treks become available as overnight activities. The availability of
these activities at various camps are marketed and continue to undermine
During the 90's, two huge changes in summer camp program set the stage for
the new millennium .. the first-year program and the five-day high adventure
program. Known as Dan Beard, Trail Blazer, Brown Sea, Pioneer, and a host of
other names, the first year program is run with its own staff or as a part of
scoutcraft. Patrol method and traditional first class skills are developed
over a five day period with "first-year patrols" using staff as troop guides.
This frees older scouts to pursue their own advancement...but denies them an
important leadership development opportunity, IMHO. The five-day
high-adventure program is a direct response to troop's "doing it on their
own" and the drive to develop new opportunities for older scouts that may
help keep them in the program. You name it, its out there..backpacking,
canoeing, sailing, SCUBA, Mountain Man, Lumberjack. Activities during this
five-day program can include peak bagging, white water, snorkeling,
open-water SCUBA certification, log cabin building, black powder, fly
fishing, Paul Bunyan, 50-miler, hatchet throwing, action archery, shelter
building, horsemanship, advanced COPE, rock climbing. The list goes on and
on. A camp staffer provides one-day instruction and shake down and then goes
into field with unit-supplied adult leadership. The camp provides all of the
equipment except personal gear. In addition, the revival of the Speciality
Camps has occured. Aquatics Camp, Ecology Camp, Scoutcraft Camp, Trail to
Eagle, and even Drama Camp is out there. These run as provisional units with
camp-supplied adult leadership who double as merit badge counselors and
As has been previously posted, many units still do it on their own cheaper,
but if your unit is interested in something different in a turnkey
fashion..its out there..at a cost, in most cases, only slightly higher than
normal summer camp.