By Steven Sutherland
Nov 07, 2015

2015 Camp Adventure Tracks a Huge Success

If you attended a Council camp this year, you might have noticed a some changes and how the Utah National Parks Council is thinking outside of the box. Adventure Tracks were introduced at three pf our Scout camps this summer—Thunder Ridge, Tifie, and Scofield. Turns out, they were a huge success. There was an exciting buzz in the air, around the camps, all summer long.

20150729_104939Adventure Tracks combine technical merit badge requirements, outdoor skills, challenging, exciting activities, and team-building opportunities, that provide well-rounded experiences for Scouts. These two day tracks (Monday-Tuesday, and Wednesday-Thursday) emphasize fun and thrill-seeking, while experiencing the great outdoors in a structured learning environment. The earth is the classroom and laboratory… a perpetual field trip. For example, the Adventure Track “Above and Below” where boys are not only outdoors, but under the stars, where they learn and experience star gazing, weather observation, and earth science. Adventure Tracks allow for youth to connect in a unique way with their Creator, as well as with fellow Scouts, and their leaders.

Here are a few things I overheard from youth:

“This is the most fun that I have ever had at Scout camp.”

“We did interesting activities that were very enjoyable.”

“I want to do more of this when I get back home from camp.  This was really cool!”

Leaders commented on their exit survey:

“We can’t wait to come back next year.”

“This was by far our most enjoyable and stress-free Scout camp experience as leaders. We just needed to drop the boys off each morning, and then they were off and running for each two day adventure track. Thank-you!!!”

20150608_110720Adventure Tracks are classified like ski runs—green, blue, and black diamond (e.g., basic, intermediate, advanced). Green tracks focus on merit badges. Blue tracks are all about adventure and thrill-seeking. They are designed more for older boys who are not focused on merit badges, but who are looking for an extraordinary experience. (Leaders sign up and participate with the boys in the blue tracks). Black diamond bumps the experience up even higher, focusing on multi-day, outpost campouts, and activities.

We offer multiple Adventure Tracks at Tifie, Thunder Ridge, and Scofield. Popular tracks include: Survival, Search and Rescue, Thrill Seeker, Images, Waterlogged, Paddle Straight and Arrow, Crawdads, Above and Below, and Critter Encounters.
Paddle Straight and Arrow, a green track, focuses on boating and archery skills, actually shooting from a canoe at archery targets on the shoreline… Davy Crockett style. Thrill Seeker, a blue track, combines the best of COPE( Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) cubes, zip lines, and challenge courses with an exciting climbing and rappelling package. Our black diamond adventure tracks can include a series of custom-designed activities (planned out by the Scout leader and Scout camp director) including fishing, climbing, rappelling, mountain biking, and backpacking.20150516_144324

You can get more information about our Adventure Track’s by going to each camp’s website on the Utah National Parks Council website utahscouts.org, click on “Camping tab, select the camp you are interested in on the state of Utah overlay map, click on “Leader’s Information tab; click on “Program Guide” hot-link.

2015 was a prototype year for launching and assessing adventure tracks. We are all about innovation… providing new experiences, and improving on traditional programs. We have learned a lot from this summer, including great feedback from our camp staff who ran the tracks, and the Scout troops and leaders who participated. New ideas and improvements will make this next year’s 2016 Adventure Track programs even more exciting. We expect 2016 to SIZZLE. We can’t wait to see you there!

steve-sutherland
Author:  Steve Sutherland | Camping Director, Utah National Parks Council, BSA. 801.361.2508

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7 thoughts on “2015 Camp Adventure Tracks a Huge Success

  1. Kevin Wheeler

    Our troop went to Thunder Ridge in 2015, where we experienced adventure tracks. If it was a “huge success,” we somehow missed on that part.

    We signed up so that our scouts would spend 2 days in a blue “thrillseeker” track that included COPES activities and the high ropes course. Scouts were quickly pushed through various challenges, and most of the time were not able to complete the challenge in the time allotted. Although the adult troop leaders were required to sign up (and pay a $40 fee, each – which was never explained, even though I inquired both at our local scout office and at camp. I was told it was something that the council office had decided) with the troop for the troop to participate, this requirement didn’t seem to hold true once at camp, for several individual scouts showed up to participate with our troop, leaderless.

    We also spent 2 days in green “merit badge content” adventure tracks. Because of the larger group size (making it seem that adventure tracks was designed simply to employ fewer staff and save money), there was very little attention given to individual scouts, and those who needed help to pass individual requirements were looked over because the staff had too many other scouts to teach. Half of our troop signed up for the sharpshooter track, where they were supposed to be able to earn Rifle, Shotgun, and Archery merit badges. Because so many scouts from the camp were in their group, they didn’t get to practice shooting, and if they didn’t meet the required score in the one chance they got, they didn’t earn the badge. None of our scouts earned any of the three merit badges that they thought they would in that course – after having to pay extra for ammunition. All of them spent hours just sitting around the shooting range just waiting for a turn.

    Overall, sure – our scouts had a good time, but when it came to advancement and personal growth – we could have gotten the same experience for a much lower cost had we just gone on a hiking/ camping trip on our own.

    Reply
  2. Darren

    Let me first say that I did NOT take my scouts to a Utah National Parks Council camp this past year. The reason was two-fold – first, the camp that I had signed up for had Adventure Tracks, and I was VERY concerned that it would not fit my troop, and second, it is significantly more expensive than my alternatives.

    Also I apologize for the length. But this is not something that I can write in a few words.

    Having said that, I would like to find out what metrics were used to decide that they were a “huge success”. None of my concerns were ever addressed – when I asked about the problems with the, I was just told that I did not fully understand the Methods of Scouting.

    But I do have a brother whose troop did attend an Adventure Tracks camp, and it sounds as if all of my fears were realized. I will try to explain.

    About my issues with Adventure Tracks…

    Understand that I am coming from the standpoint of a Scoutmaster with enough years under my belt now that I do know and believe in all of the Methods of Scouting. Yes, I know that advancement is only one of them. But advancement IS one of the methods of Scouting. I work on the other methods for the other 11 months of the year – I have my boys teaching each other and younger scouts as much as I can, I have them helping to plan out our year, I have them lead as much as possible…and I have been relying on Scout Camp as one of the main ways to get the boys to be able to advance.

    One problem with advancement with Adventure Tracks is the lack of variety and possibilities. I had several scouts who could only find one track where they didn’t already have ALL of the merit badges, and one Scout who was only able to find ONE track where he didn’t already have at least two. So do I have boys like this repeating activities 66% of the time? And even when they did find a track with unearned badges, a lot of the time it was for badges which held no interest for them.

    When I brought up these problems, I was told that this is a perfect opportunity for such scouts to teach others. Yes, this is true, in a perfect world. But I am in a unit where I have a lot of boys that I am struggling to just get to come out to the activities. If I tell them that they are going to be repeating merit badges for over 50% of their time, THEY WILL NOT COME. Yes I know that this is not a good attitude for a Scout. But this is the reality that I work with, and instead of leaving these boys behind because they don’t have the right attitude, I try everything I can do to get them to come. If they are at camp, they are around the campfire where I can teach them things that (in my experience) cannot be taught elsewhere.

    Also – the scout who had such a hard time finding any Adventure tracks that had any unearned badges – he is trying hard to get his Eagle. But he struggles in school – so except for summer, he does not have time to spend earning a lot of badges. We do some badges during the year – the ones that the boys decide that they want to do, and through some encouragement from the Scoutmasters, they even do some required ones. But this is NOT enough for him. He had been looking forward to camp as a way for him to complete almost all of the rest of the badges that he had left to earn.

    I see no problem with using Scout Camp as a way to advance.

    I understand what they are trying to do. But every single thing that I was told that Adventure Tracks were trying to occur CAN BE DONE WITH A MORE STANDARD MERIT BADGE PROGRAM. If you do nothing but send boys to merit badges, then yes, this is a problem. But this past year, our boys averaged 5 COMPLETED badges each, with 2 required badges among them…and we did service at camp, we had a LOT of inter-troop mingling, we had them take advantage of other activities during their free time, and nightly we had a fireside service that was AMAZING. They were able to gain insight into their relationship with each other and with God. They grew, significantly, with their camp experience. They went home better than they were when they arrived.

    About my Brother’s experience with Adventure Tracks…

    Basically, all of my worries about the tracks were realized, and his experiences track with Kevin Wheeler’s experiences. They were exceptionally crowded – my brother tells me that the camp counselors told them that each troop had to send adults with the kids on the tracks to keep track of what the boys did. This means that there was NOT enough staff to be able to do this. He had one boy with the same experience with Shooting. This boy already had Rifle Shooting and Archery, but REALLY wanted to do Shotgun Shooting. However, after VERY little instruction he was not able to hit enough clay pidgeons on his ONE attempt to shoot them, he was not able to move on. So for fully half of his experience, he was pretty much required to sit at the shooting range doing nothing.

    Note that even though he had two of the three badges, he was not asked to help be a leader to the other boys at all.

    About sending leaders with the boys – they had WAY too many boys in different locations for them to be able to send leaders with the boys. They did not bring enough leaders, because they had not been notified that this was the case. And he felt that it is not reasonable for the leaders to be asked to do part of the work of the camp counselors. The Scoutmasters and other assistants are already doing this without pay, and taking a significant number of their vacation days to do so. Cutting down on camp staff to save money (and nothing at this point will convince me that this was not the motivation behind the Adventure Tracks) and then expecting the Scoutmasters to pick up the slack does not seem reasonable.

    So…my final thoughts…

    The last straw is the fact that UNPC camps are expensive. I was able to take my boys out of the council – a 3 hour drive – for $20 LESS per boy, and that is after factoring in the extra out of council fees. The experience that we had was exactly what I was looking for. And the positive comments from the boys in this article about Adventure Tracks? Every single one of my boys had exactly the same positive things to say – it was the best week ever, they learned some new things that they want to keep doing, they want to go back to this camp every year, etc. On and on. To say that the positive comments were because of Adventure Tracks is just plain false. If you take boys out into the woods for a week, they are going to enjoy it. And if I can give them the fun outdoor experience, with the same (or more) fun, with at least as much leadership, with using the Patrol method, with making sure they are wearing their uniforms correctly at the appropriate times…in fine, with fulfilling at LEAST as many of the Methods of scouting…and then add on to that WAY more advancement opportunities, while removing the sitting around and boredom that would have occurred with the Adventure Tracks…all while NOT having to tax myself and the other leaders further…

    Why in the world would I not choose to do so?

    So until things are changed at the UNPC camps – I will be taking my boys out of the council for summer camp. Cheaper camp, amazing experience, at least as many of the Methods of Scouting, plus a much richer program for each of the boys to tailor their experience to exactly what they want and need? I do not see any downside.

    Reply
    1. Steve SutherlandSteve Sutherland

      Darren,

      Thank you for bringing up your concerns. It is important that we take seriously the feedback that you received from your brother and his troop. We are sorry that their experience wasn’t better. The majority of responses we received were very positive.

      2015 was very much a prototype year as we introduced Adventure Tracks. Like any company that launches a new product or service, there is always fine tuning, continuous improvement, and new development that needs to take place. We have organized an Adventure Track development team to assess our current track system and implement positive changes. Your points are well taken. I would like to share your feedback with members of our team. It is comprised of camp and program directors across all of our council camps.

      Feedback from leaders and troops came through:
      -Post camp surveys
      -Daily Scout Master meetings
      -Conversations with leaders and boys throughout camp week
      The overwhelming majority of comments that we received were very positive—boys having a great learning experience and an exciting week; and leaders feeling less stressed about having to keep track of all their Scouts continuously. One of the most common remarks that I heard from leaders was: “We can’t wait to bring our boys back up next year.”

      Why Adventure Tracks? Part of the early origins of Adventure Tracks came about from assessing post camp surveys from both leaders and youth. There were leaders that stated that the highlight in camp was the number of merit badges each boy achieved. When Scouts were polled, merit badges typically were not mentioned as a highlight; instead, it was things like: crawdads, lightening, cloudscapes and stars, fishing and going on hikes. Merit badges are important to us. Likewise, so is the overall camp experience.

      The overall camp experience includes what we call The Six Pillars of Scouting. We reviewed and stressed The Six Pillars with leaders at our daily Scout Master camp meetings each week. The Six Pillars were the result of a survey conducted by a marketing consulting firm. It was compiled from a large sample size of Utah Valley ecclesiastical leaders (stake presidents and bishops). We received feedback on what they felt the most important outcomes of Scouting needed to be. The results back included:
      Pillar 1: Testimony–developing a testimony of Christ and of the gospel.
      Pillar 2: Service—serving through charity and doing a good turn daily.
      Pillar 3: Mission Prep—teaching resilience to difficult experiences.
      Pillar 4: Confidence—learning to do hard things and lead.
      Pillar 5: Life Skills—preparing to be husbands, fathers.
      Pillar 6: Integrity—understanding true nature as sons of God.

      Adventure tracks are designed to touch on the Six Pillars of which Advancement is one component of a multi-faceted outcome. We will continue to stress merit badges in our Green Tracks. We hope to continue to improve on our Adventure Tracks so that we can strike a good balance between merit badges and having a fun, challenging experience. We want each Scout to have a positive camp experience which they will always remember.

      The term “one size fits all” certainly doesn’t apply to Scout camps. For some troops, and your brother’s troop may be one of them, a traditional merit badge Scout camp, is the best way to go. I spoke to many leaders and parents prior to 2015 camp season. Some of them had similar concerns to your brother’s and we agreed that a non-adventure track like Maple Dell would be the better way to go.

      We want leaders to be part of the programs that we offer for our Blue Tracks (these are non-merit badge tracks). They participate with the boys in all of the activities and experiences. Green Tracks are being set up solely for the boys and do not require leaders. Leaders are not expected to participate unless for some reason they are an expert in that particular track and can add value to the program that week. We will need to ensure that there is sufficient staffing for each Adventure Track. The intent is not for leaders to augment.

      Merit badge blue cards should be either held by the track directors until the end of the week; or, signed and given right back to the Scout at the end of each day. The leader should not be required to be at the actual adventure track managing blue cards. The intent is that he can hand them out and receive them back from the boys at the troop camp site each day. We will insure better continuity across all our camps for 2016.

      Thank you again for your concerns and suggestions.

      Reply
      1. Darren

        Steve,

        Thank you for that response. That was the best description of Adventure Tracks that I have seen, and the only one with such sold reasoning behind them. I sincerely hope that as you continue to adjust them that they will become more in line with what would fit my troop.

        I am right with you on the 6 pillars that you described. I LOVE the idea. I do everything that I can to make sure that these are what is being emphasized whenever we have an activity – most especially at Scout Camp. I’m happy to know that this is the motivation.

        Thank you for acknowledging that Adventure Tracks may not be for everyone.

        I am still concerned that the camp experience that you are describing does not track with what I have been told by those who experienced Adventure Tracks. Granted, my sample size is VERY small, and you have a large amount of feedback to use. But a first-hand account very nearly always trumps information that I do not personally have.

        When you say that scoutmasters are not required to go with the Green Tracks, you may need to inform your staff of this. That was a major complaint that my brother had, was that they were told by the staff that they needed to send adults with the boys to keep track of everything that they did.

        Another issue which I hope would be addressed is the overcrowding of the tracks. If there is not enough time for each boy to complete his tracks, then there is a problem. Boys who paid for shooting sports were not allowed to complete them, or in the end even use the ammo that they paid extra for.

        Finally – and this may be the deal breaker for me because of how tight my budget is – the fact remains that the UNPC camps are expensive in comparison to camps from other councils, even when factoring out of council fees.

        But I will keep an open mind and see what comes. If would help if the updated Leaders’ Guide and Program Description documents were released soon – as in the next few weeks. I have to make a decision quickly here to reserve a spot at a camp, and without further information it will be hard to make an informed decision.

        But again, thank you for your response. In the end, we’re all in this for the boys, and I can see that you are trying your best to create a great camp experience.

        Thank you,

        -Darren

        Reply
      2. Ammon Thompson

        hey Steve,
        thanks for posting how we did on our adventure tracks. i think the scouts really enjoy it. I even had fun working and getting to know you. I hope i get to work with you next year!!!!

        Ammon Thompson

        Reply
  3. Dave

    I agree with the other commenters. Adventure Tracks were a major reason why I pushed my LDS unit drove 7 hours out of council to another camp that was much cheaper and offered more programs. Our boys are at vastly different points in their scouting careers, so attending an Adventure Track camp would have been a massive waste of time and money for the boys near completing their Eagle.

    I expect my older scouts to pass down their knowledge of outdoor skills, but I won’t make them sacrifice their summer camp experience to accomplish that goal.

    Reply
  4. Josh

    The adventure tracks were a huge flop at Tifie for us. Maybe it was because we attended the first week of camp and things were not organized yet, but we payed good money and didn’t like what we got. The staff was not ready, the “Adventure Track” was nothing more than 3 merit badge classes in the same location. They would teach one class for an hour, change gears and teach another class… etc. A lot of my boys re-did stuff they had previously done because of this and there was really no tie-in together for the badges.

    We came home from camp with very few completed badges. A LOT of partials. I think the idea is good, but the execution was terrible.

    Reply

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