New Scout execs bringing Camp Barnhardt into the 21st century

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 9, 2012

By Hugh Fisher NEW LONDON — On Sunday afternoon, the newest wave of Boy Scouts from around the Piedmont arrived at Camp John J. Barnhardt, the 1,000-acre reservation near Badin Lake.
The hot afternoon air is broken by the sounds of trucks and cars pulling in with supplies, Scouts talking as they march to their campsites and the loud splashes at the pool as they take their swimming tests.
In the midst of it all, Jeff Rasmussen and Billy Hoyle are watching the camp run like a well-oiled machine.
Rasmussen, 26, Scout executive for Cabarrus County, is this year’s camp director. He started work in February.
Hoyle, 23, is his friend and colleague, a Scout executive for Rowan. He’s even newer to the job, having arrived on June 10.
But they’re already experts in their field. Together, they bring decades of experience as Scouts and professionals in recreation and education.
For the six weeks of this year’s summer camp, their task is to keep Camp Barnhardt running safely and smoothly.
Long-term, they’re leading Boy Scouting into a new era.
“I finished college with the intent of going into the recreation field, with the Parks Service or the Forest Service,” Hoyle said.
But, having been a Scout and later worked as a volunteer, Hoyle found an opportunity for a career as well.
“I can’t think of a better way to give back to a program that gave so much to me, than to be employed in that organization,” Hoyle said.
Rasmussen, who requested to work at Camp Barnhardt, had previously volunteered at Camp Bud Schiele in Rutherford County.
“I’ve been in scouting since I was a Tiger Cub,” Rasmussen said.
Tiger Cub, Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting carry boys from elementary school through age 18.
With those years of experience, his role isn’t an unusual one for a man of his age.
“Normally, people come right out of college into the executive position,” Rasmussen said.
For others, he said, it’s a second career.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a standard. You’ll get somebody who’s fresh out of college or trying something new,” he said.
Overseeing the camp
Their job at Camp Barnhardt is to supervise the staff of about 60 paid employees and a host of volunteers, plus the scoutmasters and parents who come to camp with their troops.
They’ve spent weeks preparing themselves and their staff, coordinating with volunteers and getting assistance from friends of Scouting.
Among others, Rasmussen said, they’ve gotten help from members of the Order of the Arrow — “Scouting’s national honor society,” he said — and other volunteers who help maintain the buildings and trails in the off-season.
“I’ve got 11 summers of camp under my belt, but I’ve only run an individual area,” Rasmussen said.
“I can’t give enough credit to the staff we have,” he said. “They work very hard, tirelessly, for modest compensation.”
“Billy and I are here as the professionals, but there are so many moving parts.”
Their season at Camp Barnhardt includes a residential camp for Webelos, the older Cub Scouts preparing to transition into Boy Scout troops.
Then, week after week, troops from around the area descend on the camp for outdoor activities, skills training and merit badge courses.
“We’re writing up lesson plans, figuring out what supplies need to be ordered,” Rasmussen said.
Hoyle said their job is to support the staff: “What sort of specialized training do they need? What certifications should they have?”
It helps that the two have worked together before. They met in 2004 while studying at Appalachian State University in Boone.
“But I was Jeff’s supervisor there,” Hoyle added, grinning.
Rasmussen is currently working on a graduate thesis on Boy Scouting in North Carolina.
Hoyle, who worked with at-risk youth, came to work in Scouting out of a desire to change more young people’s lives for the better.
Before he knew Hoyle would be working with him, Rasmussen said, the two had planned to share a house in north Kannapolis.
Hoyle’s wife was looking for work in Rowan, he said, and he figured that Rasmussen’s place would be free during camp.
As it turned out, the two are spending most of their time in the “great outdoors.”
That, Rasmussen said, is the historic draw for Boy Scout camps — a chance to get away from “civilization,” to learn new skills and enjoy being out in nature.
New program
“We are offering one new program for the summer, called the Mountain Man program,” Rasmussen said.
It’s meant for experienced Scouts who don’t need to focus on earning merit badges to advance. Activities include blacksmithing, hide tanning and leathercraft, black powder shooting and canoeing.
First-time Scouts take part in the Nighthawk program, which focuses on basic outdoors skills.
For everyone in between, there are 65 different merit badges offered.
“I couldn’t name them all if I had a pencil and paper!” Hoyle said.
Among the newest programs are the Kayaking merit badge, which is brand-new to Boy Scouting as of June 1.
Other categories include personal fitness, archery, handicrafts and sciences.
Some merit badges have been updated to fit the times. Case in point: the former Atomic Energy merit badge is now called Nuclear Science, and features up-to-date scientific knowledge.
“That was the last merit badge I earned as a youth,” Hoyle said. “And every time I turn around, I hear about CERN, the Higgs Boson particle — that’s a thing, now.”
And there’s the biggest challenge, they said, to getting this generation involved in Scouting.
“Our biggest competition as Scouts is video games,” Rasmussen said.
When he was younger, Hoyle said, “I was interested in learning about wilderness survival.”
“But if young men today want to learn more about atomic particles and so forth, then that’s what they need to learn.
That’s why, as Rasmussen said, there’s no official ban on Scouts bringing their phones and other electronic devices with them to Camp Barnhardt — although, he said, individual troops might have their own restrictions.
Making the camp more modern
On the other hand, he said, there’s a project underway to bring the Internet to every campsite.
“We want to wi-fi the whole camp,” Rasmussen said.
“The goal is to reach the Scouts on whatever level we can reach them at. Outdoorsmanship is still important, but if this is what it takes to reach Scouts, we’ll do it.”
In April, the Central Piedmont Council of the Boy Scouts of America began a $6 million capital campaign for Camp Barnhardt.
Camp-wide wireless Internet is one part of that campaign, as are new bath houses which will feature flush toilets and hot running water.
Right now, cold showers and pit latrines are the norm.
Also planned are a new dining hall to replace the camp’s first indoor dining facility, constructed in the mid-1990s and situated on the far edge of the grounds.
“From our furthest campsite, it’s a one-mile walk to the dining hall,” Rasmussen said.
“At this point, with our numbers and membership, if the camp’s going to expand we need more dining space.”
Plans call for the new dining hall to have a trading post, snack bar and recreation area underneath.
The current building will be converted into classrooms for leadership training, as well as a Scouting museum, he said.
Rasmussen said the campaign has already raised $2.3 million.
“Our goal is to be able to reach as many Scouts as possible,” Rasmussen said, “and to be on the cusp of a fundamental change to the camp and our ability to serve those Scouts is very exciting.”
“When I started, the gears were already in motion,” Hoyle said.
“Initially it was sort of daunting to see this $6 million goal looming over our heads.”
But the response and willingness to give to Scouting has amazed him, Hoyle said.
And, he said, adding modern conveniences to Camp Barnhardt won’t take away from the camp experience. “It’s more normalcy,” Hoyle said.
Wireless Internet access will also allow more educational opportunities, Rasmussen said.
Imagine, he said, having an application for iPhone or Android devices that allows Scouts to scan a code on a tree or trail, then learn more about it.
“It’s just something new, something different and up to speed with the generation that’s in Scouting now,” Hoyle said.
The improvements will also help support off-season activities, such as the Cub Scout Gold Rush in September which is expected to draw over 1,200 Cub Scouts and their parents.
And there will continue to be primitive camping experiences available at Camp Barnhardt, Rasmussen said.
For local Scouts and leaders, Camp Barnhardt is still the highlight of summer.
Scoutmaster Craig LaDue, of Troop 103 of St. James Catholic Church in Concord, brought five boys and two volunteer leaders to Camp Barnhardt.
They were joined by a provisional Scout — one whose troop didn’t come to camp as a group.
Rasmussen greeted him and his father, learned they live in Concord and walked them down to Troop 103 to introduce them.
“You hope they’ll make friends, maybe find they go to the same school,” Rasmussen said.
Gaining knowledge
For LaDue, Camp Barnhardt is a great opportunity for his Scouts to gain knowledge and advance through the ranks. “There’s good leadership, they’ve been a big help,” LaDue said. “It’s a good experience for the boys. They’ve got a lot to learn here.”
His son, Allen LaDue, enjoyed Camp Barnhardt so much that, a year after earning his Eagle Scout award, he’s back to help out as a camp commissioner — assisting troop leaders and keeping Scouts safe.
Montell Myers, of Troop 103, said he’s looking forward to working on merit badges, “and another year of camping experience.”
Harold Driver, scoutmaster of Troop 350 based at St. James Lutheran Church in Rockwell, has 17 Scouts at Camp Barnhardt this year.
“That’s the biggest group in the last couple of years,” Driver said.
A scoutmaster for over two decades, Driver said the camp staff helps keep the young men interested in what they’re learning, making it easier to lead them through the week-long summer camp.
And, Driver said, the capital campaign is good news for Scouts.
“It would be nice to have a dining hall more centered in camp,” he said.
“After 17 years of this one, I’m used to the walk, but in the middle of July with all the humidity, it’s quite a walk.”
Despite the hard work, and the 105-degree heat, Rasmussen said this year’s camp has gone off without any major challenges or setbacks.
“We’ve been very effectively enacting heat safety protocols, keeping Scouts hydrated,” Rasmussen said.
“(The heat) has been an issue, it’s been a concern, but we took the proper steps to make sure we could offer the same program and keep everybody safe doing it,” he said.
“We take youth protection very seriously out here as well,” Rasmussen said, “and we’ve been doing an excellent job this summer.”
It’s a long, hard summer job, no matter how rewarding — not always a picnic, by any means.
“I’m taking a vacation right after camp!” Rasmussen said.
But then, both will jump right back into fundraising and membership drives, as well as more training.
Rasmussen, whose background is in education, says he’s not sure just where his career will take him down the road.
“I came into this as a place I could meet my personal goals and make an impact on the community,” he said.
Even so, Rasmussen went on, “whatever happens in my life, Scouting is going to be a part of it.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.