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2018 Summer Camp Listening Sessions Hidden Valley Scout Reservation and Camp Tuckahoe

Introduction

The New Birth of Freedom Council, Boy Scouts of America owns and operates Camp Tuckahoe (Dillsburg, PA) and Hidden Valley Scout Reservation (Loysville, PA). Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe both offer overnight summer camp programs and year-round camping opportunities. In addition to serving New Birth of Freedom Council units, these facilities also attract units from throughout the Northeast Region. In 2018, units from 18 additional councils attended either Hidden Valley or Tuckahoe for their summer camp experience.

The summer program schedule provides camping opportunities for:

  • Tiger Scouts and their families in our Tiger Camp. This two-day, one-night program is designed specifically for Lion Scouts (first graders) and their families that joined the prior year and have completed the Lion Program or those families just joining as Tiger Scouts in the spring.
  • Cub Scouts in our Cub Scout Resident Camp. This three-day, two-night experience is designed for Tigers (second graders) through Bears (third graders). Scouts participate in exciting and hands-on outdoor activities that create fun memories and help advance them along the Cub Scout trail.
  • Webelos and Arrow of Light Scouts in our Webelos Resident Camp. This five-day, four-night experience is designed for Webelos Scouts (fourth graders) and Arrow of Light Scouts (fifth graders). Activities and challenges during this session help Scouts work to achieve the highest award in Cub Scouting, the Arrow of Light, as well as preparing Scouts to transition into the Scouts BSA program. Experiences are more advanced than those offered to Cub Scouts but are designed to be just as fun!
  • Scouts BSA in our Scout Resident Camps. This seven-day, six-night outdoor experience takes full advantage of the unique qualities of both of our camping facilities. Scouts have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of merit badge classes as well as take part in unforgettable experiences such as the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) program at Hidden Valley, Project COPE and a 700’ long zip-line across Memory Lake at Tuckahoe, with climbing and rappelling towers available at both camps.
The new zip-line across Memory Lake at Tuckahoe was a resounding success in its inaugural year in 2018.

Cub Scout Resident Camp, Webelos Resident Camp, and four weeks of Scout Resident Camp are held annually at Tuckahoe. This 1,300-acre property is equipped to offer a wide array of experiences for Scouts of all ages from the youngest Cub Scouts participating in programs in our unique Cub World to our oldest campers being challenged with our climbing tower, Project COPE elements and zip-line!

Tiger Resident Camp and five weeks of Scout Resident Camp make up the camping season at Hidden Valley. Sherman’s Creek runs through our 830-acre camp and provides a great backdrop for first-time campers participating as a Tiger and those seasoned Scouts who choose to participate in the climbing program or ATV experience.

A group of Scouts on the move at Camp Tuckahoe.

2018 Summer Listening Sessions

In 2018, representatives from the Council Executive Board, Council Camping and Properties Committee, Camp Strategic Planning Committee, Commissioner Cabinet, and Council Unit Relations Task Force embarked on engaging unit leaders and parents in discussions about their Scouting experiences in the New Birth of Freedom Council. The objective of the group was to gather feedback in two key areas: summer camp experiences and year-round Scouting experiences.

The group wanted to gain in-person feedback that could be used to strengthen and enhance camping operations at both Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe. It was determined that the ability to dialogue face-to-face with leaders and parent would provide important data that is necessary to help keep programs relevant, attractive, meaningful, safe and fun, feedback that standard paper or electronic surveys are unable to capture.

This report is a commitment to those leaders and parents that participated in these sessions that we heard your concerns and responsibly strive to make all available programs at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe the very best they can be for Scouts of all ages. It is also an opportunity to share with those units that may be finding us for the first time, including units from outside the Council’s territory, that both Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe offer outstanding programs and are continually striving to improve camper experiences.

Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe both strive to provide outstanding summer camp programs.

Listening Session Methodology

Listening sessions were designated, moderated blocks of time where Scout leaders and parents attending the camping session were invited to provide feedback. Some feedback was immediately referred to camp administrators to make changes, while other data was compiled and shared with appropriate parties to make changes for future summer camps.

Cub Scout Resident Camp and Webelos Resident Camp Listening sessions were conducted during breakfast on either the last day or second to last day of camp. These sessions typically lasted between 15 and 45 minutes. Having leaders participate during breakfast gave them the opportunity to participate freely while another parent, leader, or staff member was working with their Scouts.

Scout Resident Camp listening sessions were held at 9 AM on either Wednesday or Thursday of each camping session. These sessions typically lasted between 45-60 minutes. At Scout Resident Camp, morning program for the Scouts began at 9 AM, so while Scouts were in merit badge classes or participating in other activities, leaders were free to participate.

A Scout poses with a fish he caught at Tuckahoe's Memory Lake

Regardless of the session type, a similar format was followed for each session, which included predetermined questions. To simplify, questions were generally designed to spark conversation and begin dialogue in the following areas:

  • What the camp did well.
  • Where the camp can improve.
  • If any suggestion could be made to enhance the camp, what would it be?
  • Why they choose to attend Camp Tuckahoe/Hidden Valley.

In all, a total of 16 listening sessions were held with unit leaders and parents throughout the course of the summer. Each session had at least one member of the committee attend, with someone designated to take notes and gather data. This report represents the most significant and actionable items of the collected data.

Additionally, participants in our listening sessions were invited to share additional comments with us at an email address that was specifically set up to gather feedback. These emails were reviewed by both staff and volunteer members of the committee.

Scouts learning to belay a climber at Hidden Valley's climbing tower.

Data gathered from the Listening Sessions resulted in:

  • Immediate Improvements – from the feedback provided, camp staff were able to make changes from one day to the next during the session and from one session to the next. For example, comments made at the very first Cub Scout Resident Camp session about the check-in process were able to be addressed and adjusted for the rest of the sessions during the summer.
  • Intermediate Improvements – these suggestions have been or are in the process of being acted upon between camping seasons.
  • Long-term Improvements – these are suggestions for capital improvement projects or programming changes that will take more than one camping season to design and implement.
Scaling the Climbing Tower at Hidden Valley.

Strengths of Our Summer Camp Programs

From all of the listening sessions at both camps, unit leaders and parents voiced overwhelming support that the two greatest strengths of our camping programs are our summer camp staff members and the camps’ wide array of program options.

The New Birth of Freedom Council annually employs about 150 seasonal employees to bring summer camp programs to life. Attendees in 2018 made it a point to emphasize the following about our camp staff:

Staff Takes Ownership and Pride in their Camp – No one has more enthusiasm and excitement about summer camp than our camp staff members. Leaders consistently pointed out that the efforts of our rangers and maintenance staffs resulted in camp properties that looked great and were in good repair. Camp staff members were cited for repeatedly going out of their way to make sure that every camper, from the first-time Scout to the most seasoned leader, had the best experience possible.

Experience – Though we don’t return every member of our staff from one year to the next, many of our key camp staff members return summer after summer. Scouts and leaders alike appreciate the strength of instruction and quality of experience from these seasoned staff members. The friendly and enthusiastic nature of our staff allows Scouts and staff to build positive relationships that make Scouts feel welcome and a part of the camp community.

Customer Service – As we will discuss later, our Council’s camps are not perfect, and we are currently developing a comprehensive plan for future enhancements to our camping experiences, but unit leaders consistently shared their appreciation for the degree of customer service they felt from our staff. Before camp, dealing with office staff and registration seemed very smooth. During camp, any program and facility issues were effectively dealt with in a timely manner.

Quality camp programs are part design and an even larger part execution. With the positive comments about the staff, it should come as no surprise that their programs were also a strength. Attendees this summer said the following about our programs:

Great Variety – On the planning side, our staff is always trying to design and offer programs that appeal to Scouts of all ages and experience levels. Cub and Webelos leaders were appreciative of the variety of different experiences for their Scouts as well as the timing and schedule with the program. Our Scout Resident Camp participants were impressed with the breadth and quality of our merit badge programs, as well as the additional programs that happened outside the scheduled class periods.

Canoeing on Tuckahoe's Memory Lake.

Staff Engagement – Whether joining Scouts at their table for a meal or providing instruction, our camp staff are engaged in making a difference for as many Scouts as possible. Especially during our Cub and Webelos Camp programs, we heard how our Aquatics Staff members worked with youth who were initially afraid to get into the water, who by the end of the session, were in the pool having fun with their friends. We heard how our staff listened to concerns and needs of individual Scouts and helped them to do things they never thought they could do, such as driving an ATV.

Value – Given the quality of our staff and the programs available to Scout participants, leaders and parents alike shared that they thought our camps were a good value. The cost to attend camp and participate in that camp’s programs was in line with what participants felt they are getting out of the program.

Scouts enjoying the Order of the Arrow ice cream social.

Experiences – Though advancement is a big motivator in attending summer camp, and as mentioned previously, Scouts and leaders expressed high degrees of satisfaction with all of our camps’ program experiences and that programs are fun and exciting for the Scouts. Packs really enjoy the opportunity to camp in the Castle, Fort, Pirate Ship and Native American Village in Tuckahoe’s Cub World.

The Scouts BSA-age Scouts that attended Tuckahoe raved about the opportunity to use the new zip-line. Campers at Hidden Valley shared how impressed they were with the Dining Hall, especially with the quality of food and the accommodation of special dietary needs. (The Dining Hall is the only experience in camp that everyone participates in three times a day!)

ATV participants at Hidden Valley.

Areas to Enhance the Camping Experience

Our staff and program are great strengths, but we recognize that there are areas that will help to overall enhance the camping experience. Whether a Scout is from the New Birth of Freedom Council or from somewhere else, our goal is to make camp feel like your home camp and we want everything to be just right. In 2018, the following are the key areas that our participants felt that we could do better.

Aerial photo of the swimming pool at Hidden Valley.
Whether a Scout is from the New Birth of Freedom Council or from somewhere else, our goal is to make camp feel like your home camp and we want everything to be just right.

Communications

Whether your unit is five minutes or five hours away, a quality experience requires effective communications. Here are several suggestions we received to improve communications:

Leader Guides – Leader Guides are an important tool in making sure your unit is prepared for their stay at camp. Our Leader Guides have a lot of information on policies and general information, but in 2018, there were issues with conflicting activities and data. If something gets changed after the Leader Guides are published, we have to make sure changes are communicated and that all of our information is accurate and consistent (i.e. the cardboard canoe race)

Promotional Materials – We learned, especially with our Scouts BSA participants, that our older Scouts are often involved in the selection process as to where their troop will attend summer camp. Promotional materials need to be designed and accessible to both youth and adults and they need to be easily available to view and share.

For some unexplained reason, Scouts and their families enjoy watching the Scoutmaster belly flop event on Facebook Live.

Social Media – Scouts and families loved the Facebook Live Scoutmaster belly flop at Hidden Valley, but in reality, our camps only scratch the surface of what is possible with social media. Using social media as a promotional tool would help units get to know our camps better. Using social media during camp itself is a great tool to keep everyone connected. Our leaders felt we need to embrace the technologies that are available to us.

In-camp Communication – Our camps are 830 acres and 1,300 acres of fantastic forest and camping areas, but with that size comes the challenge of communicating during camp. Again, our leaders feel that services such as a text messaging service could help to deliver or reinforce important messages, alerts, or schedule changes, while utilizing the video screens in dining halls and other buildings would be a great way to share schedules and post results of things that have happened.

Information provided at listening sessions was extremely valuable in making improvements during the 2018 summer camp season and in planning for the future

Infrastructure

In support of the staff and the program is the physical camp itself. Leaders and parents provided valuable feedback on ways we could enrich the camp experience.

Tents, cots, and general site maintenance – Though few Scouts say the main reason they are going to camp is because of the tent they get to sleep in, there are Scouts that say “I don’t want to go to camp because of the tent I have to sleep in.” The need to replace/repair tents, cots, and tent platforms was a consistent theme throughout much of the summer.

Trails and Signage – With the size of our camps, numerous trails are necessary to get people from point A to point B. From those who are not already familiar with the camps, we received some great suggestions to add additional signs to reduce confusion or the chance to get lost. In addition to more and better signage, the development of a separate camp program area map, and not just a general camp map, was a great suggestion to help minimize confusion. Third, not all trails are created or maintained equally. In addition to a program map, leaders suggested having a ranking system for trails rating the difficulty/ease of hiking trails and the ability to do service projects at the camp in helping maintain trails, especially those that are off the normally-traveled roads.

Additional signage at our camps will make it easier for campers and leaders to find their way.

Progressive Maintenance – As stated in the strength session of this report, our staff does a great job responding to maintenance concerns when things are broken, but our leaders noted that if we had an overall plan for upgrading, improving, inspecting and repairing, some things would last longer or never get to all-out need of replacement so quickly.

Vehicles in Camp – There are a certain number of vehicles that are necessary to the operation of any camp, but there were multiple concerns about the number of personal vehicles in camp, especially during flag ceremonies and chapel services.

Enhancing our facilities at our camps will be necessary to welcome a growing number of female campers.

Preparedness for Girls – This summer we welcomed our first girls to Cub Scout Resident Camp and Webelos Resident Camp at Tuckahoe. Every week there were questions about both camps being ready for more girls attending all programs in 2019. Most considerations were for changing areas at the pool, as well as bathroom and shower facilities.

Facilities and infrastructure are important ingredients to our campers' overall experiences.

Administration

There are multiple entities, individuals and committees that are responsible for the administration of our camping programs. Below are some concerns that those administration support functions can do to enhance our program.

Counts and Capacities – The first week of Scout Camp at Hidden Valley and the first Webelos Session at Camp Tuckahoe were both full well beyond the capacity of the camps, while the fourth week of Scouts BSA at Camp Tuckahoe had fewer campers than staff members. Counts of campers at those extremes have adverse impacts on the program, camper experience, and the staff.

Communication to Audience – For Cub Scout leaders and parents who are likely to be coming to summer camp for the first time and for those units that are coming from outside of the New Birth of Freedom Council, our language, documentation, and processes could be clearer. There is an assumption of a certain amount of knowledge at our camps or about Scouting itself that these leaders don’t possess. For instance, understanding leadership requirements, fees, and how to register multiple leaders coming in and out of camp for the week was a common concern in all camp programs.

Success on the archery range.

Utilizing existing resources – Our camp staff members bring a tremendous amount of experience and enthusiasm for working with our Scouts. Our Scout leaders and parents also bring expertise that could enhance our programs. Cub and Webelos leaders asked about ways that they could help, especially in areas such as archery where shooting stations and opportunity are limited by the number of range instructors. Scout leaders at both camps believe they can lend their skills to the First Year Camper programs, merit badge instruction and helping to facilitate adult leader training during the week. Leaders asked if there could be a way to connect needs of the camp with those adults in attendance and who are willing to volunteer.

Standard Operating Procedures – Early in the summer at both camps, there were concerns raised about having adequate equipment for each program area. For example, a question was raised about the number of arrows necessary at the archery range to successfully run the program. After following up, it was determined that there was more than enough equipment available, but the lack of a standard operating procedure that clearly outlined the correct amount of equipment to operate the program would have helped to make sure the staff member knew exactly what they needed.

Webelos Scouts pose for a group photo at the entrance to Tuckahoe's Cub World.

What We've Already Done

Our leadership team compiled all of the data from the summer and sorted it into a manageable form and distributed information to the appropriate individuals or committees that could use the data to begin working on next summer and beyond. We also communicated with each of our units that attended camp in 2018 and shared with them that we heard what they had to say and have taken steps to improve our processes. Below are excerpts from that letter about what we have done:

Communication: This multi-faceted issue impacts your camping experience. Our committee is looking at various ways we can share information promptly and efficiently with the following being our first steps:

The challenge we faced is that we wanted to offer the camp experience to as many Scouts as possible and as a result, our camps exceeded capacity. In order to avoid this situation in the future, we have implemented a new registration and deposit structure which more effectively manages camp capacity. Registration will still be on a first-come first-serve basis, but the revised procedures and payment deadlines will provide information at an earlier date on the actual number of campers attending.

We are in the process of planning our new programs for the 2019 summer camp season. Specific information as to the advancement opportunities, social activities and new programs at camp are available much earlier than in years past and can be viewed from our website. This includes updated camp promotional videos for units to watch and share. Please review our competitive camp fees, camp videos, and the full list of activities and advancement that we will be offering at camp.

We are in the process of updating our summer camp leaders’ guides. Our goal is to make sure the information is user friendly, up-to-date, and can be readily updated (with notification to you) if a change becomes necessary. Our ultimate goal is to have information in a format which you can load on your mobile device.

We are also looking at new communication tools, like a texting program, so if an emergency or program change would occur at camp, you could be immediately notified.

Trails: We heard your comments about how we can do a better job of clearing and marking our trails and that is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019. We are looking to add additional signage, assigning volunteers to walk the various trails, clear those that can be done quickly, mark the trails, and indicate their length and degree of challenge. Our long-term goal is to provide you with a better trail map so when you are planning your hikes, you can select the appropriate trails for your unit.

Vehicles in Camp: We heard your concerns regarding the number of non-camp-owned vehicles traveling throughout camp. Our camping committee is reviewing our existing vehicle policy, modifying as necessary, and asking all camp personnel to enforce that policy. The policy will also restrict non-emergency traffic during specific activities. Camp Staff will close appropriate roads during these critical activities.

Multiple leaders in camp: We know that due to work and family commitments, some units have to “swap” leaders during the week. We learned the current registration process isn’t as user friendly as it should be in order to register these replacement leaders. This led to some frustration and created some challenges in providing medical forms and youth protection documentation. We are working on solutions and will be sharing the new procedures soon.

This report is a commitment to those leaders and parents that participated in these sessions that we heard your concerns and responsibly strive to make all available programs at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe the very best they can be for Scouts of all ages. It is also an opportunity to share with those units that may be finding us for the first time, including units from outside the Council’s territory, that both Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe offer outstanding programs and are continually striving to improve camper experiences.

Conclusion

2018 was a great camping season for the New Birth of Freedom Council, but more importantly, was a great time for all of the Scouts and Scouters that chose to spend part of their summer with us. Our goal is to continue to build on our strengths, while incorporating the enhancements outlined above to provide the best and most memorable summer camp experience possible.

Thank you to all of the leaders and parents that took part in our listening sessions this summer. We value your commitment to Scouting and passion for helping us continue to meet the needs of your Scouts. If you participated and are concerned that your comments don’t appear in this narrative, don’t be alarmed, we heard you! There is a volume of comments, both positive and constructive, that we have shared with the appropriate staff and volunteer committees. This report summarizes the most-often cited comments that we heard across all of our camping programs.

The last overwhelming comment from the listening sessions was that the sessions themselves should continue into the future. Our committee wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment and looks forward to listening next summer and sharing with you more of what we were able to do thanks to your suggestions and input.

Listening Session Committee Members

  • Randall Cline - Council Vice President, Program
  • Thomas Steckbeck - Council Commissioner
  • David Wyrwas - Council Vice President, Camping
  • William McQuade - Council Vice President, Administration
  • Todd Weidner - Council Director of Camping
  • Christopher Styers - Assistant Scout Executive/COO

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