Broad Creek Scout Reservation puts youth in touch with nature

For nearly 50 years, the tradition of camping at the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation in northeast Harford County has been passed down from one generation of Baltimore area Boy Scouts to the next.

And before this summer's seven-week camping season is over, about 4,500 Scouts and their leaders will sleep on cots in tents under the stars on 2,200 acres of pristine woodland owned by the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.


They'll gather in lodges to learn about nature and improve their outdoor skills, earn merit badges, sing songs after meals in the dining pavilions and perform skits around evening campfires.

"This is a very, very special piece of property," said Reed Blom, program director for the Baltimore Area Council and director of Broad Creek.


Broad Creek is the only Boy Scout camping facility in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

But it is in need of repairs, Boy Scout officials said. Routine maintenance is expensive and the last capital campaign was held more than 20 years ago.

"This year alone we spent $17,000 to replace tarps and tents," Mr. Blom said. "New floorboards and picnic tables cost $12,000 and that was with all volunteer labor."

So the Baltimore Area Council has launched a three-year "Broad Creek Renaissance Capital Campaign" to raise $3 million for the aging facility. Donations will be solicited from Scouting families and leaders as well as from corporations and foundations.

Approximately $1.5 million is needed for immediate capital improvements such as lodge and bathhouse renovations, pool repairs, and water system and roadway improvements.

Additional funds would be placed in trust to generate income for continued maintenance.

Mr. Blom and his family, whose home is in Forest Hill, have spent many summers at Broad Creek. His wife, Lynn, a fifth-grade teacher at Jarrettsville Elementary School, is a camp cook. Their 15-year-old daughter, Betsy, is a lifeguard and their son, Eric, 13, also likes to help.

The primary purpose of Broad Creek, which has an annual operating budget of $500,000, is to educate youth in the Scouting program. But the facility also regularly welcomes out-of-state Scouts. This summer a troop arrived from Japan.


On weekends from September through May, Broad Creek is used by about 14,000 individual members of Scout and non-Scout groups. The camp is also made available to Baltimore-area police departments as a training ground, Mr. Blom said.

But for most of the summer, three camps -- Camp Saffran, Camp Oest and Camp Spencer -- are reserved for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. Each has a swimming pool and its own pier on Broad Creek's Lake Straus, where the boys can go fishing, rowing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking.

There are basketball and volleyball courts, hiking trails, a 19-station ropes course and a mountain biking course, too. There's even a lodge for handicapped Scouts. And older, more experienced boys may hike into remote outposts of Broad Creek for rugged camping, canoeing and kayaking on the Susquehanna River.

Campers usually arrive on a Sunday afternoon and leave the next Saturday morning. The cost is $165 per Scout if the camp provides food and $125 if the troop does its own cooking. Cub Scouts stay for three days at a cost of $85. Family camp- outs for parents and siblings are also scheduled.

"Broad Creek is 2,200 acres of wandering," said Troop 34 Scoutmaster Percy Myers. "It has a great program and a staff that I trust. The great thing about this camp is that it has things for all ages."

The younger members of Mr. Myers' troop of 15 Baltimore boys enjoy leather work and basketry. The older boys like to swim and study environmental science.


"It's tradition," said 15-year-old Paul McComas, one member of a group of Scouts who was showing a visitor around a 16-tent campsite.

Flaps on the two-man tents were drawn back to reveal each boy's simple sleeping area with sleeping bag and pillow, backpack and a few shoes lined up neatly under a cot.

"I like getting away from everything," said fellow Scout Rob Coghlan, 16.

"It's fun," added Justin Sapp, 14. "You play games with all your friends. We like to play volleyball and we rule the court."

The camp has a full-time health center with an emergency medical technician on staff. Two full-time rangers live on the property year-round to provide maintenance and security.

Each Boy Scout troop or Cub Scout pack provides its own volunteer leaders.


On a recent muggy July day, a group of Cub Scouts and their fathers were enjoying their first full day at Camp Oest. The boys built wooden regatta boats to race while their parents built elaborate pirate ships out of Popsicle sticks.

"It's been great," said Dave Geppi, of Perry Hall, whose 7-year-old son, Tony, is a member of Pack 984. "They keep you busy."

Broad Creek employs a staff of about 100 people for the summer to teach archery, riflery, BB shooting, swimming lessons, environmental science, Native American culture and wilderness survival.

Staff members are enthusiastic and outgoing, many of them in their teens and early 20s. They have their own campsite and Mr. Blom relies upon them for their creative ideas to keep the camp experience exciting for youngsters.

Staff members at Camp Spencer have developed an immensely popular evening program where Scouts carrying glow sticks swim through an underwater obstacle course of weighted Hula-Hoops.

"If they have fun during the summer chances are they'll stay in Scouts and they'll be better people because of it," said 19-year-old Eagle Scout Kevin Griffin, a staff member at Camp Spencer.


"We provide them with the opportunity to advance through the Scouting ranks," said fellow Eagle Scout and staff member Jeff Hunt, who is 20.

"Our job is to provide a safe environment here that will encourage young leadership development," Mr. Blom said. "That's what Scouting is all about."