Thanks to the Order of the Arrow, Puerto Rico’s hurricane-devastated Camp Guajataka is open for business

Typical young people spend their spring break on the beach, the ski hill or the couch.

Good thing members of the Order of the Arrow aren’t typical young people.

A hundred Scouts and Scouters from 28 different states traveled to Puerto Rico this month to help rebuild Camp Guajataka, the beloved camp owned by the BSA’s Puerto Rico Council. The camp was hit hard by Hurricane Maria in September.

The service project was called Arrowcorps Puerto Rico, and Scouts traveled from as far away as Alaska — a 20-hour journey of nearly 4,000 miles.

When the Arrowmen arrived, Camp Guajataka wasn’t suitable for Scouts. When they left a week later, the camp was open and ready for a great summer camp experience. Now that’s what I call leaving a place better than you found it.

How it happened

The instant Hurricane Maria put Puerto Rico in its sights, things looked dire. Unfortunately, the forecasts turned out to be right on, and the island sustained major damage.

The Puerto Rico Council’s main office and its Camp Guajataka were heavily damaged in the storm.

Camp Guajataka was in such bad shape “that we were not sure they would be able to open this summer to provide a much-needed week of Scouting to their Scouts,” said Area Director Jim Hans.

That’s when the Order of the Arrow stepped in.

Step 1: Sell patches to benefit the camp

Within weeks of the hurricane, Section Chief Jeremy Bedient and Section Advisor Rob Rodriguez launched a patch sale to benefit the camp.

The sale, which I blogged about in November, raised $60,000 for the camp.

The money went to good use right away, but it soon became clear cash alone wouldn’t be enough to reopen the camp.

There simply weren’t enough hands to do the work.

Step 2: Plan a massive service project

The idea for Arrowcorps Puerto Rico was born in October.

The idea was simple: invite Scouts and Scouters from across the country to Puerto Rico with the sole objective of doing whatever it took to get the camp open for Scouts this summer.

“The logistics and reality of this this project were immense,” Hans said. “Who better to tackle the impossible but the Order of the Arrow?”

Assuming the camp wouldn’t have running water or electricity, the OA set a cap of 100 participants from the mainland and 50 from Puerto Rico.

“We felt that is all we would be able to support,” Hans said.

Within weeks, all the spots had been taken.

Step 3: Arrive in Puerto Rico

Fortunately, electricity and water were restored to camp a few weeks before the OA’s arrival.

On March 11, 100 Scouts and adult volunteers from 28 states began arriving at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan.

The task list was daunting:

  • Clear and remove all downed trees and bamboo from the roads, common areas and campsites
  • Repair an electrical system decimated by the power surges experienced from the hurricane
  • Repair the Friendship Bridge, which connects the two halves of the camp and was made unusable by the storm
  • Clean, repair and paint the campsite buildings
  • Repair the COPE course
  • Clear and repair the campfire ring, including repairing and reconstructing some destroyed petroglyphs

Adult volunteers and local firefighters helped with any tasks that weren’t safe for Scouts — like work involving chain saws, electrical lines or heavy construction equipment.

Step 4: Begin the cheerful service

On arrival day, the workers were welcomed with a paella feast prepared by members of the council’s executive committee.

The next day, the Arrowcorps group was spellbound as they heard firsthand accounts from Puerto Rico Scouts of what it was like to live through the hurricane and its aftermath.

“Their stories brought into focus our mission and motivated our members to an intensity of work and determination that I have never seen before,” Hans said. “One participant, an Eagle Scout who had attended Philmont, national jamborees, NOAC, and numerous other Scouting events, confided in me that ‘this is the highlight of my Scouting career; I have never been prouder to be in the Boy Scouts.'”

The work was tough; the days were long. The Arrowcorps team worked so hard and so quickly that additional items were added to the work list.

Five additional camp trails were opened, and drainage ditches were cleared to prevent further flooding.

Step 5: Complete the transformation

With everything on the checklist — and more — finished, the Scouts and leaders assessed the scene.

They had left Camp Guajataka much better than they found it. They reopened the bridge, cleaned and repaired more than 20 buildings, and removed all downed trees and bamboo.

Friday’s closing ceremony was inspirational as the group listened to the thanks from members of the Puerto Rico Council.

The next morning, they gathered to head to the airport. Everyone was tired and sore and a little sad to be leaving.

“But we were also a group filled with pride,” Hans said. “Not only had we accomplished more than we had set out to do, but we could tell our fellow Scouts from Puerto Rico that their beloved Camp Guajataka was now open for business. The scars of Hurricane Maria had been removed by Arrowcorps.”