For Boy Scout troops, weekend retreats are time spent with many troops from around the area, basking in fellowship, showing the progress they have made with certain task requirements and learning responsibilities.
Saturday, the Chattahoochee District Winter Camporee for the Boy Scouts of America was host to an estimated 150 scouts from Hall, Jackson and Barrow counties learning about and enjoying the outdoors at Scoutland Boy Scout camp in Gainesville.
The scouts range in age from 11-18. The retreat started Friday and ends today.
The theme was orienteering, which entailed the Scouts learn how to read maps and hone their compass skills. Most used their newly acquired skills to complete a 2-mile long course. By completing the task, they achieved a new requirement rank.
They also built wilderness survival shelters of branches and leaves. Once built, a Scout from each troop slept in it to show its durability.
Scouts also earned a polar bear patch for staying outdoors in temperatures below 32 degrees.
“A lot of these kids have been doing this since they were in first grade,” said Bryan Landers, chairman of the Winter Camporee. “My son has friends throughout the different counties.
“This is what the Scouts want. ... They appreciate the comforts of home a lot more because it is 22 degrees outside.”
Landers helped create the course Scouts navigated, calling orienteering a “big” requirement task to help them move in rank.
“You don’t want to make the course to difficult and have the Scouts give up,” he explained. “But you want them to at least get the basic ideas on how to use a compass and map.”
John Monday, District Executive of Hall County, said the weekend retreat is a format the district uses three times a year to bring different Northeast Georgia troops together.
“We add competitions to it to make it exciting,” Monday said. “Once they’ve done this, they can take this back to their individual troop.”
Monday also said the weekend retreats help educate new Scouts and their parents.
“For us adult scouters, this isn’t a hobby but a passion,” Landers said. “If a boy reaches First-Class Scout, then there’s a 90 percent chance he becomes an Eagle Scout.
“We teach them responsibilities. We want to secure the future of our future community leaders.”
Phil Dennis, scoutmaster of Troop 26 of Gainesville said, “There’s a saying that said, ‘every Scout really deserves trained leaders.’ That’s what we shoot for here, good leadership.”
Luke Avery, 14, senior patrol leader of Troop 146, said his grandmother encouraged him from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts. Once out of the Cub Scouts, he said it was a “tremendous” change, but fun because he began doing things independently.
“It’s a wonderful experience, although it’s cold and you feel like you’re going to freeze your butt off sometimes,” Avery said. “You learn a lot of the stuff people used to do back in the old days.
“It’s just a fun experience. You get to be around friends and family. With the orienteering classes, you learn a lot of helpful skills. If you’re ever lost or something, you can find your way back, if you know what you’re doing.”
Kyle Patel, 15, vice-senior patrol leader of Troop 146 said he joined Scouts in fourth grade because he saw someone make a fire and told himself “I want to be able to do that.” As he joined, he found out there was more to it than building fires, including skills to help him in many situations.
“The weekend has been going great so far. We’ve pretty much learned it (orienteering) and now we’re going to apply whatever we’ve learned,” Patel said.
“It’s cool because it has a real-world application to it. And then we all get to be with our fellow Scouts, which is always fun on any campout, because we get to be together, like family.”