2013 Boy Scout Winter Camporee
It takes more than last weekend's frigid temperatures and driving snow to repel determined campers from the annual Boy Scout Winter Camporee at the Cranberry Glades campground.
Scouts from a five county area arrived throughout the weekend to pitch tents — above an insulating layer of straw — in the snow.
It might sound crazy to some people, but according to Mark Ferrell, assistant scoutmaster for Troop 31, in Charleston, the boys love camping in the snow.
“There was no snow last year — we opted not to come. Nobody wanted to come unless it snowed. For a lot of our scouts, this is their favorite camp all year. It only takes one trip to figure out if you like it or not. You have a great time, or you don't,” joked Ferrell.
Ferrell said usually everyone has fun, but the event is really to teach leadership, problem solving skills and help build the scouts confidence.'
“Winter camp is a great chance to experience that,” Ferrell said. “We don't want anyone getting hurt or anything like that, but you gotta give them enough room to figure out things and sort things out on their own. For people that have never done it, they probably just imagine standing around a fire all day long, trying to stay warm. But actually, you don't even have to plan a program for these guys. I mean, we have organized stuff for them to do, but there's also a lot of free time built in. You turn a bunch of 14-year-old boys loose — they find stuff to do.”
Ferrell said Troop 31 meets every week, and the past few meetings leading up to this weekend, they talked about cold weather survival.
“We spent a little bit of time at the last two or three scout meetings talking about what to wear or what not to wear,” Ferrell said. “Teaching them the basic things that campers and backpackers learn.The Boy Scout motto is to “be prepared.” All these scouts have had some degree of training or another, what to bring, little tips on how to keep warm.”
“Another skill we worked on at the last meeting was setting up those tents,” added Dave Flannery, parent and volunteer adult leader with Troop 31. “It's not a problem setting up a tent — until you're doing it in 20 degree temperatures with 20 mile-an-hour winds, in the dark.
“You better have that down to a fine art. So we went through all that, but we were powerfully motivated,” Flannery said.
The Winter Camporee is usually held the last weekend of January, and it's been hosted in Pocahontas County for as long as some of the scoutmasters could remember — 15 or 20 years.
“Pocahontas County probably has a richer tradition of scouting than any other county,” Ferrell said.
“Dilley's Mill, as old as it is, and camps we have like this.”
Assistant scoutmaster John Miesner said they've had as many as 150 scouts in years past, but this year they were pushing 80 or 90.
Ferrell said ominous weather reports didn't discourage Troop 31.
“Before we left Charleston, they were talking about how it's going to get down in the teens, this big snow front is going to knock everything out, they're letting school out early and stuff. We're all looking at each other — this is perfect! This is exactly what you want for Winter Camporee,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell said cold weather and snowfall are some of the tools used to teach the 12 to 18 year-old-scouts, and the Cranberry Glades campground offers the perfect backdrop.
“One morning, it was seven degrees when we woke up in our tent,” Ferrell said. “The toothpaste was frozen. If you had something you wanted to use, you had to put it somewhere next to your body and wear it for a while — warm it up. At night, unless it's snowing or something, with the moonlight, you can walk around without a flashlight and see what you're doing.”
Jonathan Stevens, is district executive for the Elk River scout district. Stevens said the Winter Camporee is a great opportunity to talk about cold-weather survival and actually experience it.
“One of the great things about being up here — there's usually always snow,” Stevens said. “We help prepare them for situations, and we have fun in the snow. A lot of times they'll build igloos and then stay in them overnight. We'll do snowshoe races. In years past, we've had people build the snowshoes beforehand and then bring them out here and have a competition. There's always an opportunity for snow sports out here.”
Ferrell said he doesn't understand why everyone doesn't enjoy tent camping in January.
“One year we had a ridiculous amount of snow,” remembered Ferrell. “It was awesome. The boys were all out building shelters. There was so much snow — they were building these big long tunnels and stuff. I mean, you could've passed a canoe through there. The adults, we were all just sitting around the fire barrel. There was a Mountaineer game or something on. We had the radio hanging up in a tree, and we were listening to the game. I was thinking, who would want to be anywhere else?”