Camp Freeland Leslie

Screen capture from Three Fires Council promotional video.

While the Boy Scout Motto is “Be Prepared,” the Three Fires Council, that serves four area counties, was prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping its summer camps open even with the nationally acclaimed Philmont Scout Ranch shutting down.

Up in Oxford, Wisconsin Camp Freeland Leslie or CFL, with its shimmering Lake Emerick, opened the gates to 600 campers and 70 troops during a recent five-week program.  WSPY News sat down with Three Fires Council Chief Executive Clint Scharff to learn how the council survived when an estimated 60-70 percent of scout summer camps nationwide eliminated the annual experience.

Scharff described the differences this summer from previous seasons.

Swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding to archery, shotgun, and rifle shooting to nature, conservation, first aid, wilderness survival  skills were offered for merit badge advancement.

The council’s first attempt at a dining hall meals option was shuttered for its usual patrol method, where six to eight kids in a group cook their own meals and stay in one area of a troop campsite.  For a majority of Three Fires Council troops that take advantage of an abundance of Midwest BSA camps with dining hall meals, that option shut camps down.  So Three Fires came up with another strategy.

At Camp Big Timber, the 100-acre facility was converted into a daily scout program, still with 10 scouts per merit badge class and only 60 kids on the property, the other 50 never coming into contact with the 10. Lunch was brought from home.

But probably the biggest camp news as troops left Saturday for home, there has been zero cases of COVID-19 from kids to camp staff to adults.  Delaying the opening until July helped avoid the June rules of groups of only 10 ten allowed.

The council planned pre-camp with the American Camping Association, BSA National, and two counties (Adams and Marquette counties in Wisc.) and a local task force of volunteer committees: risk management, health and safety, medical, program, and camping.  Scharff said the goal was to meet the state and county guidelines, create an authentic BSA program within those guidelines, and be fiscally responsible.

Health screenings were done for anyone entering the camp. Daily temperature checks of scouts and three times daily for staff was conducted.

For Cub Scouts, at-home backyard kits were provided to keep scouting’s flame alive.  Inside the box, instructions, lesson plans, activities, on-line resources, videos, how to’s, storyboards, and digital interests were ready.

Elsewhere, even the upcoming annual popcorn sales will be saved.  Scouts will place door hangers to advertise the fund-raising campaign whereby residents can go online to each scout’s website to order popcorn.  The reverse side will explain how to become involved in scouting.

As for those little old ladies crossing the street, as long as everyone is masked up, scouts will still help them across, just six feet away, the slogan still being “Do A Good Turn Daily!”

You can listen this story here:

More of Mark Harrington's interview with Clint Scharf here: