Rendezvous at Ripley
By Suzanne Wilson
Five Scout councils team with a National Guard facility to host 9,000 campers at a megacamporee filled with history themes, action centers, and merit badge workshops.
On a June weekend, 9,000 Scouts and Scouters invaded Camp Ripley, a Minnesota National Guard installation in the central part of the state, 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
This was an invasion by invitation. Campers came from five statesMinnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowafor the 1999 Area-Wide Ripley Rendezvous, a jamboree-size event that combined Scouting adventures and skills with history themes and military know-how.
The buzz of activity
A weekend camporee filled with thousands of participants means a constant buzz and flow of activity. Some rendezvous examples:
At the Minnesota Military Museum, which covers Minnesotans' military participation from Indian wars to the present, Scouts tried on a World War I steel helmet, examined a 1912 water-cooled Vickers machine gun, and studied a display featuring a Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, and Congressional Medal of Honor.
A display of military equipment appeared to include a gigantic pile of climbing, clambering Scouts. (The tank they were climbing on could hardly be seen.)
The Merit Badge Midway resembled a village of white-painted concrete-block houses. Scouts stopped to try leatherwork and fingerprinting, sample the mysteries of filmmaking, contact someone at home on a ham radio, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and work on what seemed like every available badge.
In a wooded area a few miles away, older Scouts tested themselves on a National Guard "confidence course" that featured challenges dubbed Tanglefoot, Island Hopper, and Tarzan.
That small sample of what goes on at the Area-Wide Ripley Rendezvous shows why the first two encampments, in 1994 and 1999, were so successful. And why the rendezvous is now slated to take place every four years.
The camporee is hosted by organizations with plenty of experience in planning: the BSA's Central Minnesota Council, headquartered in St. Cloud, and Camp Ripley's officers and staff. Their partnership, with Central Minnesota Council's senior district executive Troy Fritz serving as event staff adviser, makes this huge event possible.
To handle "Gateway to the Future," the theme of 1999's rendezvous, the the Central Minnesota Council shared sponsorship with four nearby councils: Voyageurs Area Council and Indianhead Council in Minnesota, Sioux Council in South Dakota, and Northern Lights Council in North Dakota.
The councils supplied 1,000 Scouters to staff program areas, merit badge booths, first-aid stations, meal centers, and to take care of all the other Scouting jobs required for a major gathering.
Camp Ripley supplied the spacious facility with its hundreds of tin huts for Scout troops, the Merit Badge Midway, trading posts, and headquarters for each council.
The camp's shooting ranges, rappelling tower, and confidence obstacle course became part of the rendezvous program, along with enough open space to accommodate 30 action centers for younger Scouts.
The camp presented a display of modern and historic military equipment, including helicopters, tanks, an armored personnel carrier, and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Scouts lined up to enter a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and their Saturday evening show included a flyover of F-16 fighter jets.
The National Guard's key role
National Guard members explained equipment and assisted in program areas. Some guardsmen were on regular duty, some volunteered to be there, and many were Scouters themselves. In fact, post commander Col. Rick Erlandson is a member of the Central Minnesota Council Executive Board.
"Our organization...is very supportive of Scouting activities," Erlandson says of Camp Ripley. "We're citizen-based; we want to be part of the community. Activities such as this build a bridge to our community and our young people, to show them what we're all about."
"It wouldn't happen if it weren't for the National Guard," says rendezvous chairman and executive board member Steve Laraway of St. Cloud. "We get tremendous cooperation."
At an early stage in two years of planning, the event committee brings its ideas for activities to the military. "We can come up with some wild ideas, and a few have been turned down," Laraway says.
"It all boils down to communication, knowing what the Boy Scouts need for success," Erlandson says.
After each rendezvous, there's an evaluation session, in military lingo an "after-action review."
Each time, "the 'what went well' column gets longer," Erlandson points out.
From rappelling to 'Yakiti-Yak'
Scouts, age 15 and older, were bused four miles to the confidence course; rappelling tower; and .22 rifle, trap shooting, and archery ranges. The area also included a display of historic and current military arms.
Back at the main rendezvous area, 30 action centers offered younger Scouts these six activities: Splash & Gulp (water use in camping), Yakiti-Yak (communication), Knotty-Knotty (rope and knots, including a three-way tug of war), Sign of the Times (team-building project, producing troop flags), Beep-Beep (disabilities awareness), and Patch and Fix (first aid).
Mike Wolfe, Troop 60 Scoutmaster from Fairmont, Minn., refereed a fast game of tennis-ball soccer at his Beep-Beep station. "They've got to have a little fun first," he said. With good reason, because in the next game everyone, except the two team captains, played blindfolded.
A merit badge bonanza
At the Merit Badge Midway, Ron Purcell, a Cycling merit badge counselor from Troop 286 in Cottage Grove, Minn., watched Scouts spin a bicycle wheel, its spokes tagged with bike part names. The part to find on a bike was displayed where the wheel stopped. Bottom bracket? Chain ring? Cassette?
Whether he won or lost, each Scout received a candy reward, which caused a smiling Purcell to observe that the wheel "has seen 700 to 800 spins todayprobably 25 percent repeat business."
Mark Spencer, committee chairman of Troop 306 in Faribault, Minn., had a question for Scouts visiting his American Business merit badge booth.
"Have you shoveled a driveway and been paid for it?" They had. "Then you're one-fifth of the way to earning this badge."
Special activities, such as making snowshoes and canoe paddles, took place outside the midway. And the 1st Minnesota Infantry, Civil War reenactors, recruited Scouts for a marching session with Springfield rifled muskets.
Saturday night's show featured the F-16 flyover, a comic who served as master of ceremonies, an aerialist, a singing group, and fireworks.
"It all went off extremely well," chairman Steve Laraway said when the huge rendezvous had ended. "If I were to characterize it, I'd say everything exceeded my expectationsthe ease of it and the way everything evolved," he noted. "And it was personally fun and gratifying to see everyone having a good time."
Suzanne Wilson also wrote "A Successful Disaster," in the March-April 2000 Scouting, which described an Arkansas district's superrealistic disaster drill.
Megasupport for a Mega-Event
Everywhere at the Ripley Rendezvous, support was in place. The Northern Lights and Voyageurs Area councils were in charge of the senior Scout program area; Indianhead Council coordinated the Merit Badge Midway; and Central Minnesota and Sioux councils hosted the younger-Scout action centers.
Each council had its own headquarters, first-aid station, and food center.
As food services chairman, Joe Cordie of St. Cloud worked out of a Camp Ripley warehouse with food purchased from wholesalers36,000 meals in all for the weekend. His staff loaded meals onto rental trucks and delivered them to council drop sites.
Stearns County Sheriff Jim Kostreba was in charge of security and traffic control, with a staff of four officers and the department's Law Enforcement Explorer Post 250. Explorers patrolled all night, checking to be sure all Scouts were safe and the grounds secure.
The Brainerd (Minn.) Radio Club provided "net control" in an RV parked at event headquarters. Al Doree, Radio merit badge counselor for the Central Minnesota Council, and his wife, Shirley, maintained contact with amateur ("ham") radio operators stationed at strategic points. (Venturing Crew 676 of Crystal, Minn., also had radio operators in the field.) They handled messages requesting ammunition at the ranges, delivery of lunches to outposts, and help in reuniting Scouts with their units.
History of a Fort, a Camp, and a Rendezvous
Camp Ripley is the second largest state-owned National Guard installation in the United States, comprising 53,000 acres, with the Mississippi River flowing along its eastern edge. The camp's everyday business is military training; law enforcement personnel also train here.
Several miles north of the area where Scouts gather for the rendezvous, a few traces remain of Old Fort Ripley, an Army outpost active from 1849 to 1877. In 1931, Camp Ripley opened as a Minnesota National Guard installation.
Central Minnesota Council's Lone Eagle District surrounds Camp Ripley, and in the mid-1960s the camp began hosting an annual district winter camporee. That event eventually became a councilwide camporeecalled the Ripley Rendezvous and held in warmer weather.
In 1994, the rendezvous went statewide, drawing approximately 10,000 Scouts and leaders. In 1999, the official name became the Area-Wide Ripley Rendezvous because Scouts from all of the BSA Central Region's Area One (12 councils in Minnesota, North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, western Wisconsin, and most of Iowa) had become involved.
Central Minnesota Council remains the primary organizer. In the intervals between areawide events, it holds a smaller council rendezvous at Camp Ripley, drawing about 1,500 participants.
May-June 2000 Table of Contents
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