Learning about ropes and of the ropes of life at camp

Boy Scout experience lives on for this staff member

What is more important to you: what you receive, or what you give? How you feel, or how you make another feel? What you learn, or what you help another learn? As a person who takes more out of life from helping others than from helping himself, I believe that the less you take for yourself and the more you give of yourself, the more full you will feel as a person. My point may seem like an anomaly, so allow me to elaborate using this example from my life.

This summer, I had the privilege of serving the youth of New York City and surrounding areas as a staffman at Camp Aquehonga, one of three scout camps on the 12,000 acre Ten Mile River Scout Reservation in the Catskill Mountains. TMR has a rich and abundant history dating back to 1927 when future President Franklin Roosevelt donated the land to the Boy Scouts of America during his time as president of the New York City Boy Scout Foundation. His contribution provided a sizable wilderness retreat from metropolitan life for the city’s soaring scouting population, a consequence of the worldwide scouting movement that had spawned earlier in the 20th century.

Throughout my three month stay in the backcountry, I held the age-old position of Scoutcraft Director. Scoutcraft is one of the many areas in camp where scouts go to earn merit badges throughout the week. Every area offers programs to scouts in the form of merit badge classes. Aquatics, ecology, field sports, shooting sports, and climbing were some of the other areas at camp.

As troops came to camp week after week, Scoutcraft was always a major stop along the trail, given that it is where the core of scouting resides. The merit badges offered in my program area were pioneering, orienteering, wilderness survival, camping, hiking, backpacking, and geocaching. Each badge teaches skills on how to live comfortably in the outdoors. Of all the badges offered in my area, however, pioneering was by far my favorite to teach.

In pioneering, scouts acquired the knowledge and ability to create and build life-size projects using spars (wooden poles) and rope, using the same techniques America’s pioneers used to establish towns as they settled across the country. In preparation for this challenge, scouts learned anything and everything about rope: types of rope, whipping and fusing rope, coiling rope, throwing rope, splicing rope, lashing with rope, and even making rope. They learn about its properties just as an engineer learns about the properties of other materials. Based on this curriculum, one might even say Pioneering is essentially a class in primitive engineering, hence, why I enjoyed teaching it the most.

Many of the projects designed and constructed by classes each week were remarkable, to say the least. To help them formulate some ideas, my staff and I constructed a monkey bridge out of rope and wooden bridge in the shape of the Aquehonga “A.” The most impressive project, however, wasn’t one that we made, but was instead a fully functioning swing set made during the third week that lasted until the close of camp in August. The group of scouts who designed it invested an inspiring amount of time and energy into this project, working outside of class whenever the area was open. Seeing them take so much pride in their work was a sight to behold. In spite of the daily struggle of trying to teach these twelve-year-old boys basic engineering mechanics and principles, the twinkle in their eyes that shined when their vision finally became a reality was the greatest reward I could have asked for.

But it wasn’t all peaches and cream. I also saw the side of scouting that is typically shielded away from scouts and scouters when I joined the camp staff—the side where finances and politics rear their ugly heads. The problem lies in the fact that everyone wants to run the best program possible, but as with anything, funds are limited, and Aquehonga is not the only camp run by Greater New York Councils. It doesn’t receive preferential treatment. Although staff did their best to keep this news away from scouts, it was evident that our program areas could not be exceptional in all facets; we were only supplied with the materials to offer the bare minimum to the boys. It was frustrating, even disheartening at times, knowing that we had no choice but to adhere to such a strict budget. Nevertheless, the staff kept the upbeat, cheerful attitude that scouts love, and proceeded to give them the time of their lives, knowing that for some of the scouts, this was the highlight of their year.
Take the opportunity to spend a summer on a camp staff if you haven’t done it before. You will see the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the nice and the not-so- nice, yet if you believe in yourself, and put your heart into your work, you will find that in the short span of a mere week, it is incredible the difference you are capable of making in someone’s life. The impact could even last a lifetime.