A Festival for Families
By Lori Murray
An Ohio council's annual camp lets moms, dads, and children of all ages enjoy a weekend together learning about the fun of Scouting
As you drive through southwestern Ohio in early October, the small towns close to the Indiana state line are alive with fall foliage and harvest decorations.
At the Woodland Trails Scout Reservation near the town of Camden, Ohio, a dramatic display of autumn colors captures the eye of every visitor.
During one weekend each October, something else outshines the bright sun and fall colors: the smiles on the faces of family members participating in the Miami Valley Council's Fall Family Festival.
Something for everyone
The council organized its first family camping weekend in 1992. Originally limited to Cub Scout participants, it was designed to foster a spirit of cooperation among families and help parents learn more about Scouting. The weekend's popularity led to the addition of Boy Scout families in 1996, and the 1997 event saw more than 1,250 campers of all ages enjoying the weekend festivities.
"This is a family camping program that is sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America," says program creator Ray Dawson. "Our program serves everybody--from babies and children on up--with a schedule of activities meant to be fun."
To that end, Dawson and co-creator Janet Freeman organized more than 40 different activity stations throughout the camp. There's something for every family member -- archery, fishing, arts and crafts, rappelling, hayrides, and much more.
Three popular events
Three of the most popular events--air rifle, slingshots, and archery--are located in a field a short walk from the dining hall. Carnival-like lines of both first-timers and experienced marksmen wait their turn on the firing line.
"This experience isn't enough opportunity to become an expert, but they get a feel for it," says slingshot instructor Everett Wood, Scoutmaster of Sunwatch District Troop 80.
Leaving the range, Jonathan Spanel, whose family is part of Pack 391 in Huber Heights, says he had trouble controlling his slingshot projectile. "It was hard to get it near the target," he admits.
Jonathan, however, is only 6 years old. Chris Spitler, 11, also of Pack 391, feels more confident and is back in line for another try.
Nearby, archery safety instructor Yvonne Brinkman explains to waiting participants how important it is to listen to the range coach's commands. Some adults and older youth use stronger recurve bows, while moms and dads assist the younger ones with easier-to-use compound bows.
At the air rifle range the popping sound of air rifles mixes with the booming voice of the range officer. Samantha Brahm, 5, listens carefully to the many safety instructions, then, assisted by her father, Jeff, she fires her air gun at the target.
Samantha and her parents are attending camp with her 8-year-old brother, Jacob, and other members of Pack 28 in Kettering, Ohio. Leaving the range, safety goggle marks still impressed on her forehead, Samantha explains, "It was hard, but my Dad helped me and that made it easier."
Learn by doing
The Fall Family Festival provides many hands-on opportunities to learn new camping skills.
One of these, gourmet camp cooking, is especially popular with families. "We want you to know that you don't have to eat the same old thing at camp," says the instructor, as a group of youngsters and their parents taste a batch of doughnuts they have just cooked over an open fire.
As her 8-year-old son Daniel sprinkles sugar on his doughnut, Patty Minham, leader of Pack 530 in Centerville, pauses to express how much her pack's families, many of them first-time campers, appreciated the help of Boy Scout service patrols.
"When we arrived, the Scouts helped me unload my car and put up the tent," she says. "Every one of them had a specific job, and they all knew what they were doing."
Boy Scout volunteers help in other ways, too. At a first-aid demonstration, "victims" Brian McCarthy and John Foley of Kettering Troop 236, with makeup applied to simulate wounds, help pediatric surgeon Dr. Charles Goodwin show how to treat injuries.
Throughout the day, families and groups set their own schedules, doing as much--or as little--as they want.
Outside the dining hall, an impromptu sand volleyball game starts to get lively, while nearby a spontaneous tug-of-war between fathers and sons draws laughter. The area near the flagpoles has a carnival-type atmosphere, with potato sack races and stilt-walking. Younger children try to pitch corncobs into a barrel or throw beanbags through the openings in a clown-face target.
Adults and kids enjoy pony rides through the woods. On a hill overlooking the orange-and-red forest, two boys release helium balloons containing their names and addresses. The bright blue sky becomes a backdrop for the rising red globes.
Back at the arts and crafts building, face-painting, coloring, and sand art are popular. At one table, children are enthusiastically mixing soap powder, baking soda, water, and white glue, determined to produce a green slime solution.
Carol Laage, from Dayton's Pack 88, observes the activity. "As a Cubmaster, I seek out things families can do together," she says. The festival fits the bill, and this year nine families from her pack are attending.
Creative and bold planning
Organizers Ray Dawson and Janet Freeman began the festival in 1992 with fishing, air rifles, and hayrides. Each year they have added activities and crafts.
New this year is a living history area, with displays of pioneer housing and tools from the 18th-century frontier era.
"We drop some activities that have been around awhile and add different ones," says Dawson. He believes the program should not be bound by tradition, which means creativity and boldness are needed in planning each camp.
Dawson and Freeman work hard to accommodate their guests. "We try to place experienced groups in campsites with inexperienced groups. Likewise, if there is a group having leadership problems, we locate them with a group that is working well together."
Jeanne Ponziani, mother of three from Centerville Pack 299, has attended the event with her family since it began. "The first year I was the only mom from our pack, and there were about 24 of us," she says.
"It's more organized now than it was then, but even if the camp had no activities, it probably wouldn't matter to the kids. It's a wonderful chance for families to spend a beautiful weekend camping in the woods, and the kids will always have a good time."
Both Freeman and Dawson agree that the program would not run without the 150 adult volunteers--dedicated people (like themselves) who are committed to providing Scouting to young people.
The two organizers set high volunteer standards for others to strive for. Dawson recently retired from his position as the director of camping for the Miami Valley Council, while Freeman has been a Scouting volunteer for 33 years.
Said then-council Scout Executive Bob Henry (now National Director of the Venturing Division, BSA), "Freeman is one of those volunteers who wherever she is needed, she's ready to put on another hat."
The efforts of the volunteers have made the October weekend an annual hit. The beautiful fall weather may have competed for center stage at the 1997 camp, but the enthusiasm of the participants made it obvious that the event would have been a success even in pouring rain.
The message of the weekend was clear--Scouting is for families.
Freelance writer Lori Murray lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Getting Hooked on Camping With Pack 299
Attending the Miami Valley Council's Fall Family Festival is a tradition for families of Centerville, Ohio, Cub Scout Pack 299, dating back to 1992 when the event began.
Over the years, Pack 299 has developed some special family camping traditions. One of these is the "story stick," awarded to the camper telling the best tale during Friday and Saturday night story time.
About 150 family members from the pack attended the 1997 festival. A visitor to Green Meadows, their picturesque campsite, saw a group of young campers sitting near a grove of trees, listening carefully to a wood-carver's instructions on the basics of whittling.
Nearby, adults conversed casually, some in lawn chairs, others busy with food preparation and cleanup.
Splashes of sunlight found their way through the trees; a light breeze made the temperature on the October day perfect.
"If this is anyone's first camping experience," observed Den Leader Scott Watamaniuk, "then I think we've got them hooked."
Indeed, the weather, activities, and family togetherness were a perfect mix for a successful camping weekend.
Karen Bakke attended with her 6-year-old son, Damien. Mom comes from a family of Boy Scouts, but for Damien the experience was all new (see photo above). "What an opening act to Scouting!" Karen marveled.
First-time camper Steve Broach, here with his 6-year-old son, Justin, expressed similar feelings. "I always wanted to camp but never made the time," he admitted. Next year he plans to bring Justin and his older siblings.
A Big Success From the Start
While Ray Dawson was camping director for the Miami Valley Council, Dayton, Ohio, he was challenged to create an event that would accommodate an overflow from the council's popular weekend camp-out for Webelos Scouts.
The result (created with the help of colleague Janet Freeman) was Cub Scout Family Camp, which then evolved into the current Fall Family Festival.
"There was so much interest and participation that we had to create two different weekends," said then-Miami Valley Scout Executive Bob Henry.
Even then, the more than 400 campers attending the inaugural event in 1992 nearly overwhelmed the six organized activities and staff of about 20 adult volunteers. To ease the crunch, organizers added activities, requiring more volunteer staff.
To date, recruiting volunteers is the festival's biggest challenge. Its second biggest? Keeping all activities running during inclement weather.
Copyright © 1998 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
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