A Century of Tradition
For the past 100 years, Camp Yawgoog has developed a reputation as one of the best Boy Scout camps in the nation. Every summer thousands of scouts from all over the country arrive at the 1,800-acre grounds on the Connecticut border for fun and learning. This month Jim Hummel shows us what is it that keeps many of them coming back every year.
Click here for more information about Camp Yawgoog.
At first glance it looks like many other summer camps - with lots of waterfront activities and places for kids to just enjoy nature.
Camp Yawgoog has all of that, but anyone who has passed through the gates of this 1,800-acre Boy Scout Camp quickly realizes there is a common thread - and theme - to everything that goes on here:
Friel: ``Tradition is a big, big word here and that’s what really gives us the heart of our camp and the love and devotion to our camp.’’
Dan Friel began coming to Yawgoog as a 10-year-old scout: 17 years later he is now the assistant reservation director of a camp that this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary, making it the second-oldest scout camp in the country.
And the tradition is everywhere - from the bugler who summons scouts to meals.
To the staff of more 200 singing songs in the dining halls - 85 percent of those working here this summer first came to Yawgoog as scouts.
To the Sunday parade - an exclamation point to each of the summer’s eight weeks, where nearly a 1,000 scouts gather to celebrate the end of camp with family and friends looking on.
This year a total of 6,300 scouts from 12 states came to Yawgoog, for eight one-week sessions. The camp is located in the southwest corner of Rhode Island adjacent to the Connecticut border. In fact 65 percent of those who attended in 2015 came from out of state, in large part because of Yawgoog’s regional and national reputation.
Friel: ``We stretch down to New Jersey, we stretch up to Maine, Vermont, we have many people come to visit us. ‘’
Hummel: ``What do you think the draw is?’’
Friel: ``The draw is our program, it’s our facilities here, it’s our beautiful, beautiful geography of Yawgoog. And I’ve travelled to different camps all over the East Coast, and they’re beautiful camps, but Yawgoog is one in a million , you just can get anywhere like Yawgoog.’’
So much so that many troops book the same campsite in the same section of camp for the same date every year.
The staff at Yawgoog has it down to a science, with more than three dozen merit badges offered on any given week. And while the waterfront - with its 160 acre-pond - plays a central role to many activities it goes way beyond that.
There is an archery range.
A rifle range.
And a shotgun range, added in 1991.
Plus a zip line that was put in 15 years ago.
John Mosby became the CEO of the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts three years ago, arriving here from the Midwest.
Mosby: ``In my 25 years, as a career in scouting, I’ve had the opportunity to be in probably 30 different Boy Scout camps across the nation, and while they each have their own unique flavor, and some are beautiful just like Camp Yawgoog, the thing I’ve noticed the most about moving here and being involved in Yawgoog is the spirit. When you’re in the dining hall and you hear those young men doing their troop chants, and they’re involved in their singing and songs, it’s just phenomenal, and the customer service that our staff has developed over the years is second to none.’’
And for the past century Yawgoog and The Boy Scouts have helped teach something that can sometimes be elusive.
Mosby: ``I think more than any other organization scouting teaches young people how to lead their own peer group. And so if you think about the various activities that young people are involved in, whether it be sports or other clubs, they often have leaders, adult leaders that provide them with the guidance they need. But in scouting we teach them how to lead themselves. So when they’re on a campout and they’re involved in those activities, they plan those activities, they give leadership with those activities.’’
While tradition is everywhere, Yawgoog has also changed with the times, this summer for the first time offering a popular robotics course.
Brady Clark is the assistant waterfront director at Sandy Beach, one of the three individual camps that make up Yawgoog as a whole. He came here from Connecticut seven years ago as a scout.
Clark: ``Last week alone I taught five kids who were non- swimmers to become swimmers. It’s the greatest feeling ever, to see a kid who jumps in the water, kind of splashes around to see them passing all four lengths. It’s probably my favorite part of my job.
And in time where cell phones and computers dominate many young people’s time and attention, Clark says Yawgoog makes many of the scouts forgot those things for the week they are here.
Hummel: ``What’s that like to be able to come out here in an atmosphere where a lot of the kids just leave that stuff behind.’’
Clark: ``It’s relaxing - it makes you feel like the kids are finally understanding what’s going on in this place. They get back out into nature and they realize what it really is out in the woods and it’s one of those things you don’t find many other places because everywhere else they have their phones out, they take videos, they take pictures and without all of that stuff they can finally enjoy it for themselves. ‘’
That was certainly true for Daniel Orban, a 12-year-old who was spending his first week at Yawgoog when we spoke with him in July.
Hummel: ``Is it weird leaving all of that behind: phones, computers, all of that? You don’t have any of that do you?’’
Hummel: ``How is that?’’
Orban: ``It’s actually really fun, it’s really good because I get to explore more things than if I was on a phone just sitting in my tent.’’
Yawgoog gives many scouts the opportunity to earn merit badges they might not be able to take back home, and that often results in rank advancement for those coming here.
Paul Jarry brought 46 scouts from nearby Troop 1 in Richmond this summer to Yawgoog.
Jarry: ``Our troop accomplishes more rank advancements during our week at Yawgoog than anytime throughout the years. You’re interactive one-on-one with the boys throughout the whole week. There’s just so much more opportunity to advance.’’
Friel: ``We know Yawoog has the best program. It’s our job as staff to make sure that the scouts, the leaders, and including our staff, get the full potential of that. We don’t change much around here at Yawgoog. The songs are still the songs that you sang and the parents sang that their kids are now coming and singing and the dads are singing with their kids because they know the same songs. The traditions are still the same, the programming is pretty much the same. Sure we add and develop new programs as they come, such as robotics this year, which is brand new. But all in all Yawgoog is very much the same.’’
Mosby: ``I think the tradition of what we do, and developing young men to be leader, and I think I’ve appreciated that more as an adult than even when I was a young kid myself in scouting, watching my own two boys come into the program, being an adult leader myself, you watch them come from that young Webelo Scout that can barely tie his own shoes, to all of a sudden being a leader among their peers.’’
Hummel: ``Do you think of where you would be as a person had you not coming here or gotten into scouting?’’
Friel: ``Jim, I think of that every day. Every day that I wake up. I’m a man of faith and I thank God every day for putting Yawgoog and scouting in my life. I know I would not be the person I was today had it not been for Yawgoog. There’s that saying: `Everything I learned I learned in kindergarten. Everything I learned I learned at Yawgoog.’’
In Rockville Rhode Island, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.