07/06/11 — Scouts focus on skills, fun

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Scouts focus on skills, fun

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 6, 2011 1:46 PM

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Camper Marcus Simmons takes aim as he practices his archery skills at the Boy Scouts' Camp Tuscarora. The camp, which is in its last week for the summer, has drawn more than 100 Scouts and leaders.

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Tuscarora Boy Scout Camp shooting sports director Joe Morgan lines up behind shooter Zach Sumner, 14, and coach Marcus Simmons.

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Campers at the Boy Scouts' Camp Tuscarora play a game similar to Simon Says. The camp offers activities for beginners, as well as those about to earn their Eagle Scout badges.

A gaggle of 11-year-olds build campfires and compete to see who can yell the loudest. Older boys blast skeet out of the air with shotguns or throw roped buoys into the lake to practice life-saving.

Summer is in full swing at Camp Tuscarora, and for local Boy Scouts, that means time for fun.

The camp wrapped up its second week Friday after hosting 152 Scouts and 34 adult leaders who spent their visit sleeping under the trees, swimming in the lake, racing around the BMX track and learning tricks in the skateboard park.

"I just like going here," said Chris Skinner, a camper from Rosewood's Troop 258. "The staff are really nice. It's just fun."

For Chris, it might have just been a week of summer fun, but for camp officials it was another success story for Tkasaha, the camp's flourishing beginners program.

Tkasaha, which means "new beginning," is designed to boost new Scouts up to their Second Class rank shortly after leaving camp. Ryan Roberts, Tuscarora's program director, said it's one of the camp's top attractions.

"It eliminates homesickness," Roberts said, explaining how the program helps first-years stick together and learn the camping basics, such as how to build a campfire.

When the Scouts graduate from Tkasaha, they can take more advanced classes like shotgun shooting or wilderness survival, Roberts explained.

He added that Tkasaha even attracted a troop from Florida in the camp's first week.

Roberts said the appeal of Tkasaha is that young Scouts can come to camp, stick together and be themselves for a week.

"When you want to be obnoxious or corny or cheesy, you can do that," he said.

And often, the boys are rewarded for their spirit with free slushy tokens, which Roberts said are the currency of the camp.

Slushies are a staple at the camp's trading post, where Roberts said campers go in their free time to take advantage of the air conditioning to beat the heat, as well as compete in Ping-Pong tournaments.

"This is pretty much the hang out spot," Roberts said, showing off the trading post. "If free swim's not open, they come down here."

But some older campers who have moved past Tkasaha prefer to spend their free time at the shooting range, where they can improve their marksmanship with rifles, shotguns and bows and arrows.

To qualify for the shooting merit badges, campers must learn to handle the firearms safely and shoot accurately, which staff members said takes a lot of skill and concentration.

But Josh Rands, a shooting instructor, said the effort put into teaching campers how to shoot is always worth it when they learn.

"I love to just see their faces when it actually works," Rands said. "It's great when I say something and the kids listen to me, and it actually works."

When they're not shooting or swimming in the lake, campers can also retreat to the shady ecology lodge, where they learn about the nature around them.

Campers can take classes on forestry, mammal study and environmental science, as well as reptile and amphibian study, where they get to handle rat snakes, turtles and salamanders.

Camper Dane Shanta, 14, said he is fascinated by the world around him, so he is taking all four ecology classes.

"I like how I can see all the animals and I can be fascinated by it," he said.

Shanta added that he plans to keep a skink or a toad for 30 days as one of his requirements for reptile and amphibian study.

Campers also learn basic survival skills at Tuscarora, such as how to orient themselves with a compass, how to build shelters by rope lashing and how to spend a night in the woods without a tent.

They even learn a few crafts, such as basket-weaving.

Pam Rook, who is spending her 14th summer on the camp's staff, said she enjoys teaching Scouts about basketry and Native American lore.

"I enjoy it, I just love it, watching boys become men," she said.

And she's not the only one.

Roberts said he works for the Boy Scouts throughout the year, but nothing beats coming down to Camp Tuscarora in the summer.

"There's a favorite part about working at camp, and that's a disconnect from everything," he said, talking about how he can shut off the world outside. "On the downside, you forget what day it is."

It's something that 15-year-old Alex Williford said he's going to miss when he leaves camp.

"I mean, I'm glad it's over, but then I'm not," he said.

Having earned nearly all the badges he needs for his Eagle Scout rank, Williford, a Star Scout, said this summer will probably be his last at Tuscarora. He said he is most looking forward to the solemn closing ceremony around the campfire in the amphitheater.

"It's just chill," he said.