Saturday, June 26, 2010

Camp Pouch

Yesterday I played in a golf outing for the Boy Scouts of America. One of the special missions of the Scouts this year is to try to raise money to save Pouch Camp. This wooded retreat in the heart of Staten Island has provided camping grounds for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from the New York area for 60 years. The cash-strapped Greater New York Council of Boy Scouts, which owns the property, has left open the possibility of selling part of it to developers. The group, hit hard by the recession, has been operating at a deficit, and corporate and other donations have fallen by $5 million over the past 18 months — a big drop for an organization that until recently ran on a $15 million budget. The Boy Scouts hope that a conservation organization like the Trust for Public Land will buy the 140-acre property. The sale would provide as much as $30 million to the Boy Scouts, and see to it that the land is never developed for purposes like housing.

The prospect of Camp Pouch being turned into yet more houses on an already overdeveloped Staten Island is troubling indeed. When my sons were growing up, Pouch Camp was a frequent destination during their Scouting years. Both Mike and Matt spent years in the Boy Scouts of America, starting out as Cub Scouts and moving up. Matt made First Class Scout and Mike made it all the way to Eagle Scout. As often happens when children get involved with an organization, parents get pulled in too. I was a Scout Leader in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and saw up close how the values taught by Scouting made a difference in young men's lives. Even my daughter Laura participated in Brownies for a few years.

Camp Pouch hosted many Scouting events in its history. Because of its location, kids from not only the Staten Island area, but all over New York City, got a chance to enjoy cookouts, campouts, crafts, outdoor survival skills, and what it means to be part of a group. Scouting awards dozens of merit badges in a wide variety of skills. As our Troop's Advancement Chairman, I watched with great pleasure as our young men really applied themselves to complete the requirements for earning the badges needed to move up to the next Scouting rank. The effort they expended taught them much, not just about how to survive in the woods, but important life lessons about citizenship, disabilities awareness, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship and respecting the rights of others.

Scouting began in England in 1907-08, created by General Robert Baden-Powell, one of the few heroes to come out of Britain's Boer War. It took root in America starting around 1910, and was most influenced by three people: Ernest Thompson Seton, a famous writer and artist who founded a loosely structured boys' program called the Woodcraft Indians around 1901; James West, a Washington, DC attorney active in juvenile cases, created a well-organized national structure that was a key to the BSA's growth; and Daniel ("Uncle Dan") Beard, beloved by millions of American Boy Scouts during his lifetime. A well-known artist and outdoorsman, he had founded a Scout-like organization called the Sons of Daniel Boone about 1905. The Girl Scouts was founded by Juliette Gordon "Daisy" Low in 1912, and received a Congressional Charter in 1950.

The work of these pioneers has been carried on for over 100 years by thousands of dedicated men and women who have helped shape the lives of young people throughout the world. I was surprised to see men at the golf outing yesterday who are still active leaders in Boy Scouting. Many have been at it for 40 years or more, and their generosity in volunteering their time and energy is a wonderful thing. The number of meetings they attend, the camping trips in the pouring rain, the Pinewood Derbies where kids make and race wooden cars, the countless rubber chicken dinners they make time for so a kid can receive a well-earned promotion in rank...all of this is done with nothing asked in return. It was so sad to see the character of these good men and women dragged through the mud when, during the past few years, a few lowlifes connected with the Scout program were charged with molesting children. The media hype surrounding these incidents did much harm to Scouting and the kids who benefit from it.

Pouch Camp is a symbol of the great outdoors that this country once was. It gives kids, especially those from inner-city areas, a chance to get away to the "country" for a small taste of open spaces, trees, a lake for fishing and swimming, and to hear the quiet sounds of nature not mingled with blaring horns or fouled by car exhaust. Finding spaces like these is increasingly difficult, especially in cities like New York where land is scarce and real estate is such a valuable commodity. I guess the Boy Scouts of America can't be blamed for trying to survive by selling the assets they have, but once Pouch Camp is gone, it cannot be replaced. I'm thankful it was there for my kids, and I hope a solution can be found to preserve it for generations to come.


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The Whiner said...

I hope they save Camp Pouch, as the last thing Staten Island needs is more developmet, plus it has done so much good in its present mission. (p.s. Factual correction: (I was a Brownie for 2 years, but never actually was a Girl Scout. I did they "fly up" thing but that green uniform and beanie didn't do much for me so I had to quit.)

Jim Pantaleno said...

Will stop the presses and correct. Glad you're home.