For the past 12 years, southside Cub Scouts have come to the Pathfinder Day Camp to swim, canoe and learn about nature.
They’ve practiced survival skills, such as building a fire and orienteering through the wilderness. Kids could take aim with a bow and practice archery skills.
Playing with worms and testing pond water, the Scouts have discovered the microscopic and unnoticed qualities of the natural world.
“It gets the kids out in the environment, things they don’t necessarily do anymore,” camp director Robin Bernier said. “Today’s youth like to sit at home and play on the computer, but this is one way they can get out into nature.”
But for the first time since it was founded, the camp has a new home. The Pathfinder Day Camp has relocated to the FFA Leadership Center south of Trafalgar.
Before this summer, it had been located in the Johnson County Park. Budgetary constraints of the camp ended the relationship after last year.
The new location has quickly become home, Bernier said.
“It has a great Scout feel. There’s trees, nature,” she said. “We knew that if we had a chance to bring the camp here, it would bring the camp to the next level.”
Pathfinder Day Camp is the second-largest day camp put on by Cub Scouts in the Crossroads Council, which includes Indianapolis and 23 counties throughout central Indiana.
Johnson County represents the southern border of the district, meaning that, for Scouts living in this area, the Pathfinder camp is their only option. The next closest camp is the Boy Scouts of America Crossroads’ Camp Belzer in Lawrence.
“The only other camp these boys could go through in the Scouting program is on the northeast side of Indianapolis, and that’s just not a realistic drive for most parents,” Bernier said. “If we don’t have this program down here, a lot of these kids aren’t going to get to go to camp.”
The camp was founded in 2002 when then-Scout leader Bill Hougham met with officials about starting something at Johnson County Park. In exchange for a reduced rental rate, Scouts would start community service projects around the park, such as building a chapel, mapping trails and repairing buildings.
But changing economic conditions made the partnership difficult.
Money was being cut from the county parks department budget. In order to continue operating, park officials had to make rental rates more equitable to all groups, even the Scouts, officials had said.
The park does offer discounted rental rates for Scouts, said Megan Bowman, superintendent of the park. Discounted tent camping, use of the park’s Scout building and other facilities are designed to help support the Scouts while allowing the park to pay its bills.
“We’re always very supportive of Scouting groups, encouraging people to come out and work on merit badges, camp, anything we can do to help,” Bowman said.
But the Pathfinder camp already was working on a razor-thin budget, Bernier said.
The camp costs $13,650 each year, according to Michael Johnston, Pathfinder district executive. That includes renting a camp location and buying food, craft supplies, T-shirts, tents and everything else needed to make a day camp successful.
Much of that is generated from camp fees, which are $70 to $80 per camper. All of the counselors are volunteers, and often Bernier and her husband, Leo, have purchased equipment and props. So even small increases in costs would make the camp difficult to operate, she said.
Last July, Pathfinder camp organizers met with the Johnson County Park Board to discuss their concerns over the increasing rates. Board members wanted to keep the camp there, and the two sides were trying to find a way to make it work with both group’s budgets.
When Bernier was introduced to the directors of the FFA Leadership Center, they found that rental costs of the facility fit into the camp’s budget.
“We had a really great program at Johnson County Park, and if things didn’t happen with the economy, we’d still be there,” Bernier said.
With the change in location, camp attendance is down slightly from last year. Instead of 150 Scouts involved in the program, only about 100 signed up for the weeklong camp. But officials also think that the change in school schedules, ending in late May and starting as early as late July, contributed.
“There are only so many weeks now parents can plan things,” Bernier said.
Bernier already is working to secure the site for next summer’s camp. Fire pits are dug and ready to use so the Scouts can learn to cook over a campfire. A tree-lined lake is perfect for canoes and swimming.
“We knew we could offer the type of program we want to and continue on a really good program,” Bernier said.