- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - During the summer months, Camp Augustine will be full of Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and their Scoutmasters as they hike, swim and climb toward new merit badges.

Camp Augustine, just south of Grand Island, is home to the Overland Trails Council of Scouts that oversees troops in 44 counties in central and western Nebraska. The council’s coverage stretches from east of Aurora to west of Ogallala, and north and south to the state borders.

In June and July, Camp Augustine welcomes Scouts from the area to take part in three to six day camps. This past week, 84 Scouts and 22 Scoutmasters are attending the first of three sessions of Boy Scouts Camp.

The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/1rs56GK ) reports that the 10-18 year-old campers had the opportunity to learn new skills and earn merit badges throughout the week. About 45 different badges are available and Scouts can earn anywhere from one to eight during camp. Camp director Seth Hald said most Scouts earn three to four badges while at Camp Augustine.

“We probably have one of the best young camper programs around,” Hald said.

The Trail to First Class program is the most popular class each year and focuses on getting youth prepared for the leadership roles they will take on within their units.

In addition to developing basic scouting skills, the class gets Scouts ready for the future and helps them move toward advancement in the troop while still allowing them to have fun throughout the week.

Hald said students also get to visit the climbing wall, shooting range and lake as an opportunity to explore the rest of camp.

The Trails to First Class program is popular mainly due to the demographic of students served, Hald said. Of the 84 Scouts at camp this week, 54 are working on earning first class ranks.

Other classes include journalism, leather work, ecology, archery, marksmanship and basketry - just to name a few.

Camp begins on Sunday afternoons and will conclude on Saturday mornings. Programs run on a block schedule through the week with sessions in the morning and afternoon. Scouts attend programs Monday through Thursday, focusing first on learning the craft before testing it out.

While at camp, Scouts stay in tents at one of the six campsites with their troops. For most of the time, troops stay together and attend the same classes. However there are many opportunities during the week to meet other Scouts from across the state.

Evenings at the camp bring special programing, something Hald said both the Scouts and staff enjoy. After dinner on Thursday, the troops attend chapel before taking part in a camp-wide game of hide and seek.

On Friday, Scouts participate in the Banana Relay, visiting all of the camp’s main destinations while passing a banana in place of a baton. At the end of the event, Scoutmasters are presented the fruit by their troop and required to eat the usually warm and squished banana.

This year, 32 staff members from both in and out of state, are spending the summer at Camp Augustine to make the program possible. Hald is in his first summer as camp director and said many of the members on staff are relatively new to their roles.

Travis Burbach is spending his first year as program director, making sure area directors have the resources they need and programs run smoothly.

“There’s not too many places that give you this experience so I want to provide it the best that we can,” Burbach said.

Popular programs include canoeing, climbing and swimming, especially in the warmer months.

Aquatic director Maegan Blodgett spends her summer awarding water-related merit badges both at the pool and the lake.

“I’m the ‘pool lady’ who only deals with water and I always get told not to serve octopus for lunch,” she said with a laugh.

On Tuesday, Blodgett worked with six Scouts to teach basic strokes and safety when entering and exiting a canoe. She said she has always loved the water and enjoys spending time with the variety of personalities she interacts with during the summer.

“It’s a great group of kids and it’s kids from all over,” she said. “They’re very fun and interesting to be with.”

There are two more sessions of Boy Scout Camp before Cub Scouts begin arriving in July. The Cub Scouts camp offers two programs, Cub Resident Camp and Webelos Resident Camp, for Scouts ages seven to 10.

“The Cub Scouts is really what we’re geared towards, it’s what we excel at,” Hald said. “We definitely have the geography to really help them there too.”

Camp Augustine has fewer hills and is flatter than most other camps. The terrain makes it quicker for Scouts as they move from one class session to the next.

Outdoor program committee chairman Kenny Morris oversees the camp facilities and works each year to make sure Camp Augustine is operating the best it can. Last year the bathrooms were upgraded and Morris said there is more to come in the future.

The strategic plan is focused on facility upgrades, including air conditioning in the dining hall, but there also are ideas for adding down-time activity areas like sand volleyball and a basketball courts.

One area Morris said will always be growing is the programs offered at camp. New this year were the journalism and marksmanship merit badges, although he said those are just the start.

“I’d really like to have something out here for special needs groups to get them outside and to come out,” he said. “I want to put together a program of merit badge-type activities that they can do and participate in.”

Morris said the camp programs will continue to change to keep up with new interests of the Scouts.

This year, the camp chose a new logo, putting an emphasis on the Augustine name, rather than just the camp aspect. Hald said there is only one camp that offers the variety of programs they do, which plays an important role for Scouts and staff.

“We don’t want just the camp experience, we want the Augustine experience,” Hald said.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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