Troop 130's Trip to Washington DC: how to do the non-camping trip
From June 20-28, the scouts of BSA Troop 130 (Huntington) ventured to northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. for their annual summer camp. The troop stayed in Camp Wilson, a decommissioned BSA camp now incorporated into Pohick Bay Regional Park on the Potomac River, and took subway trains into Washington, D.C. for daily excursions.
The trip included a walking tour of the major monuments and memorials on the National Mall, including a ride on the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. Scouts also completed the 2.5-mile History of Scouting Hike organized by the Capitol Area Council, featuring a stop at the Boy Scout Memorial on the Ellipse near the White House. On Capitol Hill, scouts enjoyed a 15-minute personal interview with Sen. Dan Coats to complete Citizenship in the Nation merit badge requirements. Scouts also competed merit badge requirements for Law by touring the Supreme Court building and for Energy by meeting with officials at the Department of Energy building. Scouts enjoyed participating in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, featuring authentic Peruvian food, music, dancing, and an archery demonstration.
The highlight of the trip came late in the week when scouts presided over a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, a moving tribute made possible through a generous donation by the Huntington Lions Club. The ceremony was made even more eventful by the presence of several dozen Honor Flight veterans who came to visit the Tomb and stayed for the Troop 130 wreath presentation. Scouts finished their tour of capital area sites by visiting George Washington's historic residence at Mount Vernon, Virginia.
What we did well:
1. We had a great number of adult leaders and even parents of scouts in attendance. This helped considerably when we had to get scouts from place to place on the subway and around the city.
2. To that end, we had a very good division of labor. One of the scout parents headedup meal planning and preparation, and our quartermaster did a great job organizing our trailer and other gear. We also had different leaders to cover different merit badge options
during the week. As always, our scoutmaster did a wonderful job of resolving the little conflicts that sprouted up occasionally and smoothing over the stresses of long-distance traveling.
3. The budget was about right. We asked scouts to pay $250 for summer camp and with a few key donations to our Robbie McCoy campership fund we were able to help a few scouts to find the funds to attend. We also received a few key donations from individuals, civic organizations, businesses to help defray the cost. Several of the adult leaders took responsibility for asking for these donations.
4. We maintained a posture of flexibility with our itinerary, which ultimately necessary given the bad weather. Our first night camping in southern Pennsylvania was swamped by 3-4 inches of rain thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill, so we adjusted dinner plans accordingly (we ate at a pizza place and waited out the worst of the rain). We also cut short a long hike planned for one of the days when the temperature shot up to the mid-90s with a very high heat index.
What went not so well:
1. We probably over-estimated how much merit badge work we could do in light of how much traveling that we had to do to get to various places. We offered 9-10 options and came home with lots of partials to finish up.
2. There isn’t an easy way to move groups through the Metro system, frankly. By the middle of the week we finally worked out a system in which an advance party would head to the station a half hour before everyone else in order to load money onto our Metro fare cards. It was a little cumbersome but the adjustments we made ultimately worked pretty well. I think in hindsight the scouts really liked riding the subway around town so by all means I’d recommend this feature, but its a little bit of a pain in the neck for the adult leaders.
3. As with #4 above, the weather in the region is pretty unpredictable in June. We expected high heat and planned for it, but the rains were really tough on a few of our younger scouts. I think we learned some good lessons in how to prepare scouts for the outdoors with this particular camp. We had to scale back on a few things in order to account for bad weather (campfire programs, length of hikes, etc.). We came home a day early because of persistent rain and couldn’t take a hike on the Appalachian Trail as we’d planned. I think you just have to plan to make these adjustments because they’re pretty much inevitable.
4. If you try to over-book the itinerary, you’ll end up with complaints from leaders, parents, and scouts about lack of time at each particular monument/museum/historic site. On museum days we struggled to balance time on location with the need to be at other places for timed tours or meetings with officials. I think in the end its better to visit fewer sites and tour them more thoroughly than to spread too thin over a great many sites.