This summer my son spent three weeks at Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation, a BSA (Boy Scouts of America) summer camp located in Whiteford, MD. According to their website,they are located on the 5th largest area of undeveloped land in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. Broad Creek offers three different summer camp experiences: a traditional Boy Scout summer camp (Camp Saffran), a traditional Cub Scout summer camp (Camp Oest), and a Boy Scout STEM summer camp (Camp Spencer). STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” and it is a fast growing educational track that has been adopted by many schools, universities, extracurricular activities, communities, and even the government. My son spent two weeks at Camp Saffran – one with his troop, and one without, and one week as a provisional STEM camper at Camp Spencer.
My son had unknowingly camped at Broad Creek in the past during his troop’s regular weekend camping excursions. The grounds and amenities are available to troops for weekend camping all year-long. All three camps are located on a huge piece of wooded property in northern Maryland. There are several large group camp sites that could accommodate multiple troops, while still maintaining enough distance between the sites for campers to feel secluded. There are two lakes on the property, which are used for various activities such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing, water sports, and of course, fishing. There is also a small pond. There is a large swimming pool located at each camp. Each camp has a large camp store that stocks adequate amounts of scout gear, including required uniform bits, first aid components, tools, and other items that might be needed for merit badge completion (good to know, if you are missing something required). The store also stocks drinks, snacks, and slushies. My son ate his weight in slushies during his stay at camp, and he would argue that it was the best part of camp! Meals were supplied by the camp, and all of the troops and scouts came together under a large pavilion for communal meals.
There are ample opportunities to earn merit badges at Broad Creek, and scouts could be as diligent or as relaxed as they wanted to be. I encouraged my son to include an Eagle Scout requirement, or two, in his schedule. To my surprise, he wanted to focus on only Eagle Scout badges. I then changed my tune, and encouraged him to make time for one or two fun activities. In the end, he planned a well-balanced scheduled with equal parts fun and education. In addition to merit badges, scouts could opt for other adventures, including ATV tours, climbing, various water sports, exploration treks, swimming, open shooting at the range, drone flying, 3D printing, and even scuba diving! My son knocked out 4-5 merit badges each week, some being much harder than others. The more difficult badges were often those required for Eagle Scout, as they should be. He earned half of the required Eagle Scout badges at camp! In addition to First Aid, Swimming, Lifesaving, Emergency Prep, and Communication (all Eagle Scout requirements), he also earned merit badges for Shotgun Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Wilderness Survival, Aviation, Astronomy, Space Exploration, Programming, and Game Design. Keep in mind, he went for three weeks, though an extremely diligent scout could earn up to 7 badges per week. (An extremely useful tool in understanding merit badges and their requirements is meritbadge.org. )
I felt a little guilty about sending him to provisional camp. He seemed nervous about the idea of camping with strangers, and I was nervous for him. I was especially nervous about sending him off without knowing what to expect. The camp organizers were very helpful in answering my many questions. The STEM week is full of provisional scouts, and they are all 13 and older, so I was not as concerned about that particular camp. My son is very interested in STEM subjects, so I knew he would be excited to attend that camp. Traditional campers at Camp Saffran, however, ranged in age, and most campers were with their troops. My son was assigned to a make shift, rag-tag troop that was full of provisional campers. They were Peter Pan’s Lost Boys of Broad Creek, and formed their own troop, patrols, and leadership. My son was elected as the senior patrol leader for the group, as he was the oldest and most experienced. Immediately, he jumped into his role and loved the opportunity to be in charge for a change. With each kid being a provisional camper, they all accepted one another and were inclined to become instant friends. They were assigned a few adult troop leaders who watched over the boys during their stay, but for the most part, the boys handled things themselves. My son would send me an occasional text (phones are not recommended), just to let me know he was ok and having fun. I knew by the brevity and tone of his texts that he was having a blast!
Friday night was family night, and scouts’ families were welcome to tour the camp and have dinner with the kids. There was a closing “campfire” where each troop sang songs and put on skits, and patches were awarded to campers who excelled in certain areas. I was pretty entertained with the boys’ version of “I’m a Little Tea Cup,” which was sung to the stomping, clapping beat of “We Will Rock You.” Sorry Girl Scouts, but Boy Scout songs are way better.
My son had a diverse selection of merit badges that he was working on, and most had minor prerequisites that needed to be completed before camp. Typically, prerequisite requirements include troop activities (such as X number of days camped for Camping), visiting landmarks (such as an airport for Aviation), or meeting with specific groups and/or individuals (such as attending a public meeting for Communication). There are also a few merit badges that require long periods of study and observation, such as the requirements for Gardening, Nature, and Bird Study. These prerequisites were clearly listed on Broad Creek’s website, and are usually easy to complete with a little time and advanced planning. For the Aviation merit badge, STEM campers took a field trip to nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground, where they were able to tour a hanger facility and see several large military aircraft firsthand. My son took the photo below of an US Army Chinook helicopter during their visit, and was quite impressed with the experience.
After returning home from provisional camp, I asked him which experience he enjoyed most – camping with his troop or camping provisionally, and he couldn’t choose. He said that he enjoyed them equally, but for different reasons, and I would attribute at least some of that to the new friends and freedom he found while camping provisionally. He had even made friends with the camp staff, young and old. He showed an interest in one day working at the camp for a summer, but not next summer, because he has already planned out what he wants to work on at Broad Creek’s 2017 summer camp!