At their counselors’ signal, a group of area Cub Scout campers lined their arrows up and let them fly toward the straw targets in front of them.
Elsewhere, kids paddled canoes on Lake Cottonwood in Johnson County Park and did cannonballs off the raft in the middle of the lake. Other Scouts figured out how to find their way through the woods with a compass and start a campfire without matches.
The annual Pathfinder Day Camp has become a tradition for more than 150 southside Cub Scouts since it was founded 11 years ago. The camp has existed thanks to a mutual relationship between Cub Scouts and the Johnson County Park.
Park officials provide space for the camp to be run during the summer at a rate the Scouts could afford. In return, local packs and troops put in thousands of hours of community service clearing trails, rebuilding signs and constructing permanent buildings on the park grounds.
But budget constraints are threatening that mutual agreement. The park no longer can afford to provide such low rental rates, and the Cub Scouts organizers don’t know if they can afford to keep the camp going.
“It’s a partnership between the two of us. We try to help keep the park in nice shape, and a lot of the things that are here we try to work on,” said Leo Bernier, one of the organizers of Pathfinder Day Camp. “We hope that it won’t push us out, but it’s starting to get too much for us to do.”
The Pathfinder 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.
During the day, the camp is broken up into eight areas. Cub Scouts rotate from station to station, practicing archery, learning paddling and shooting BB guns.
The kids get to swim and play sports such as soccer or football. They work on leather or bead handicrafts and learn Scouting-specific skills such as firebuilding and navigating with a compass.
Cub Scouts are dropped off and picked up every day; it isn’t an overnight camp, camp director Robin Bernier said. The camp is open to all Scouts, though it is mostly composed of Johnson County children.
“A lot of the packs that come have come here for years. It’s a tradition for them,” she said. “Look at all of things they can do here. You can’t just move to a different place and have all of these things.”
The camp was founded to give Scouts on the southside a convenient place to work on outdoors skills. Previously, their only option was the Boy Scouts of America Crossroads’ Belzer Camp, located on the northeast side of the city.
Belzer Camp covered all the skills that Scouts need to work on, from nature identification to swimming to shooting air rifles. But getting to it meant driving almost one hour each way, Robin Bernier said.
The Pathfinder Camp was formed when then-Scout leader Bill Hougham met with Johnson County Park officials about starting something on the park grounds. The park featured everything a Scout camp would need — a lake for water activities and swimming, open areas for sports and campfires, and miles of nature trails to hike.
At the same time, Hougham pledged that the Scouts would focus their community service projects around the park. The organization helped build a chapel, restored benches and built pavilions throughout the park.
Different Scout groups have mapped trails, repaired fences around Hoosier Horse Park and repaired buildings.
The Scout Building, constructed using donations from Scouts and Scouting supporters, is one of the facilities that is rented out for $90 per day to make revenue for the park, Leo Bernier said.
“Whatever they need, they give Scouts a call, and we come down and do it for them,” he said.
Discussion set for July
Organizers of the Pathfinder Camp understand why the costs have to go up. But at the same time, it greatly affects their ability to continue, Bernier said.
Revenue from renting facilities at the park, such as using the park buildings for $90 per day or camping for $16 per day, helps fund maintenance, repairs and activities at the park. In addition, part of the park revenue goes back into the county’s general fund to cover county costs.
Rental rates for facilities throughout the park have remained the same over recent years. But the Cub Scout camp is a unique situation with a specific group, park superintendent Megan Bowman said.
The park board will address it at its July meeting, and until they do Bowman did not want to comment further.
With the news about the rental rates going up, the Berniers and other Cub Scout leaders have appealed to the park board. They have argued that they’re a nonprofit group and that the Scouts make a number of contributions to the park.
Through discussions with the park board, the Scouts hope to have an agreement in place to reduce the cost and ensure the camp can go on.
But at the same time, the camp organizers are looking for donations to help with the cost of portable toilets and golf carts to transport them around the camp, Leo Bernier said. Both are necessary for the camp to operate, and the cost will fall on the Cub Scouts for next year.
“We want to keep this going. I get excited by what we can do for the kids. It’s something we’re passionate about,” Robin Bernier said.