Mention Lake Powell to anyone in the western United States, and chances are he’ll think of fishing, water skiing, broiling in the sun, or diving from rock formations into the refreshing cool of green aqua depths. Mention the reservoir to Scouts from Troop 756 in Mesa, Arizona, however, and the reaction will be completely different. They’ll talk about merit badges!
Sure, the boating, swimming, and hiking were part of their activity at Lake Powell, too. But these Scouts used their week-long summer camp for more than just goofing around. By carefully planning and preparing in advance, they were able to meet some, if not all, of the requirements for Reptile Study, Fishing, Swimming, Camping, Cooking, Emergency Preparedness, Wilderness Survival, Nature, and Water Skiing merit badges, and have fun at the same time. In addition, four young men won their mile swim award. All told, the 12 Scouts on the trip earned 60 merit badges.
The troop met several times before the camp to review requirements for each badge and to encourage each Scout to do as much as possible before the trip. The stake president and other adults accompanied the group to act as counselors who could approve the work completed for the badges and offer advice about proper camping methods.
The bugle announced morning each day at 5:00 A.M. Flag-raising ceremonies, group prayer, and breakfast quickly followed, then cleanup, and if there was time, perhaps a few minutes of early morning fishing. But classes started at 7:00.
The Scoutmaster, Brother Bruce Bosley, had prepared a booklet for each troop member and leader, listing a schedule of classes in merit badge skills along with a schedule of camp chores. The troop was divided into three class groups, allowing students to work closely with instructors. Of course, some activities included the entire troop, like the nature hike, which showed that even in barren country, it’s possible to find the 12 different plants required for a leaf collection in the Nature merit badge.
Wildlife at Lake Powell is abundant, but it was surprising to find a series of mountain lion tracks in a mud flat on the west side of the lake—surprising, but fortunate. The discovery provided a perfect occasion for making plaster casts, another merit badge requirement. The Scouts also learned to make fire without matches, a difficult feat in the wind. They used dried giant yucca plants as fuel and found they burned well.
The troop also tied knots, learned canoe rescue techniques, cooked and ate edible wild plants, and built improvised shelters from Russian thistles.
Training for the mile swim had taken place daily. The four swimmers attempting the distance were accompanied by an adult in a canoe. A lagoon at the end of the lake had been measured as 225 yards wide. Someone said it would take 16 laps to make a mile. It was only after swimming ten lengths that someone else figured out that there are only 1,760 yards in a mile, and the mile swimmers had already paddled along for more than 2,000 yards!
In addition to the merit badge activities, visits were made to Hole-in-the-Rock, a narrow gorge through which Utah pioneers lowered their wagons, and to Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural arch in the world. And of course, there were the usual campfire chats, tall tales, songs, and games.
A full moon shone over the water the last night in camp. Even though sunburned and parched at the lips, nobody was eager to leave.
But families were waiting. In the morning there would be just enough time to tour the Glen Canyon Dam visitors’ center, pack each other into the cars, and head back to Mesa.
The Scouts felt a sense of accomplishment that night. They had had a great time, it’s true. That’s easy at Lake Powell. But they’d also learned to organize themselves and work hard together, and they had memories and merit badges to prove it.