As the Scouts in Troop 1776 of Plano, Texas, get older, their interest in traditional summer camp activities starts to wane. They want to challenge themselves further, to venture deeper into nature’s mysteries.
They want high adventure.
A year ago, with that in mind, Scoutmaster David Wille approached the patrol leaders’ council with a suggestion. He encouraged the Scouts to select a summer camp destination that met two basic requirements:
- The camp had to be near a national park.
- The camp had to offer a high-adventure program for older Scouts.
“Rather than simply heading straight to camp, the troop would go a few days early and spend a few days exploring the national park,” Wille says. “This would give a taste of high adventure to the younger Scouts while still appealing to older Scouts.”
And the second requirement?
“Choosing summer camps with a high-adventure program for older Scouts would entice them to go to summer camp,” he says. “The younger Scouts would get to witness those older Scouts engaging in a high-adventure trip and immediately get to hear their stories of what happened on the trip.”
The Scouts took their Scoutmaster’s advice and ran with it. And that’s how Troop 1776 ended up at the Greater Wyoming Council’s Camp Buffalo Bill, a beautiful property near Yellowstone National Park.
In their story, we learn an important lesson: For many troops, high adventure leads to high retention.
Led by youth, mentored by adults
Troop 1776, like all great troops, is led by the Scouts. They decide where to camp. They plan the meals, set the itinerary and select the activities.
You’ll find the adults in the back of the room, providing mentorship and guidance when needed but generally staying out of the way.
I should know. I was a member of Troop 1776 from age 11 to 18 and went to summer camp each year. I was lucky enough to attend two Philmont treks and serve as senior patrol leader for six months.
A youth-led troop is exactly what Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, had in mind all those years ago. He wanted Scouts to have the freedom to fail, because that’s where learning happens. The role of the adult is that of a mentor, challenging Scouts and provide a safety net when needed.
Notice that when Scoutmaster Wille suggested the idea of an epic summer camp trip, it was just that: a suggestion. But it was a suggestion based on reason.
“I wanted to address two problems,” he says. “Our troop was losing Scouts before they reached eighth grade and could go to BSA high-adventure bases. A second problem was that virtually no Scout of high school age wanted to go to summer camp.”
A super solution
Troop 1776 policy says that Scoutmasters serve for three years and then step aside for someone else to take over. During his tenure, Wille wanted his Scouts to experience all that Scouting has to offer. And he wanted older Scouts to stick around. After all, one could argue that Scouting only gets more fun as Scouts get older and can enjoy more extreme activities.
That’s how Wille came up with those two suggestions. He wanted to encourage his Scouts to think beyond traditional Scouting trips and unlock new paths to high adventure — even if it might mean a little more fundraising to pay for it all.
“Troop 1776 enthusiastically embraced this proposal,” Wille says.
As it turns out, many BSA camps fit Wille’s requirements. There are lots of properties near a national park and with high-adventure programs.
“The BSA is blessed with many great summer camps, many of which are near some of our most cherished national parks,” Wille says. “A troop wanting to pursue a similar program should find many options to explore.”
For 2019, the Scouts selected Camp Buffalo Bill, a wonderful property 8 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.
‘Bears, moose and elk everywhere’
This past summer, an impressive 63 members of Troop 1776 traveled to summer camp. Twenty-one of the Scouts were in high school, meaning Wille’s plan to retain older Scouts was working.
They started with three days in Yellowstone, staying at Old Faithful Lodge and taking day hikes in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
Then they traveled to the camp, where the younger Scouts enjoyed a traditional summer camp experience while the older Scouts went to the camp’s Yellowstone High Adventure Outpost. There, they could chose from five-day backpacking, kayaking or rafting trips.
The Scouts chose backpacking and had an unbelievably great time.
“There were bears, moose and elk everywhere you looked,” says Ian K.
Colin M. liked learning to catch fish with flies he tied himself, while Chad M. liked seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Yellowstone’s most recognizable features.
From the adults’ perspective, everything flowed seamlessly because the Greater Wyoming Council made it so easy. They were especially complimentary of Andrew Allgeier, camp director.
“We began planning our trip in June 2018, and Andrew was extremely helpful to us in making the trip happen,” Wille says. “He went out of his way to help us make the trip happen.”
Assistant Scoutmaster Ron Maples agrees.
“The staff was just terrific,” he says.
And then came perhaps the biggest praise a person can give at Scout camp: “The food was the best camp food I can remember.”