DANA MERRYDAY/ THE CHRONICLE - It takes more than mud and rain to dampen "scout spirit" during the annual Camporee event in Oregon.

Over the weekend of May 13-15, local scouts gathered at Oregon Trail Council’s Camp Murname for a weekend event known as a “camporee.” In the history of scouting, this style event was called into being through a suggestion from a Greek scout leader to Baden-Powell in an effort to invoke the newly reorganized world Olympic games.  

The first world gathering of scouts took place in London in 1920. Lord Baden-Powell, founder and chief scout, chose the word “Jamboree” to describe this boisterous gathering of 8,000 scouts from scouting associations around the world. The word has a murky etymology. It seems to have come from American slang of the 1860s and some language scholars claim it comes from the French folk custom of a “charivari,” a noisy, mock serenade to greet a newly married couple, often accompanied by pranks, that was Americanized into a “shivaree.” Others claim it has a connection to the Swahili “Jambo” or hello from Baden-Powell’s time in Africa. 

In any case this first big scouting event was held partly in Olympia Hall, an enclosed glass topped exhibition space completed in 1885. A foot of earth was hauled in and turf was laid so tents could be pitched and model campsites set up that could be toured by the visiting public. Troops were rotated into this demonstration camp while around 5,000 other scouts camped at Old Deer Park on the banks of Thames. The scouts there had to be evacuated when the river flooded overnight. “Be Prepared,” the scout motto, was put into action in this instance.

DANA MERRYDAY/CHRONICLE PHOTO - Troop 140/4140 campsite, scouts take a break from the rain and mud. The author, standing, woke up the first morning with water in his tent - "a rookie mistake."

Many of the same elements that were part of this first big scout gathering are still a part of the National and World Scout Jamborees, which today take place roughly every four years.

The dates are sometimes adjusted due to conflicts, pandemics or other conditions, these jamborees feature exhibitions of scout skills in setting up the campsites, often featuring elaborate gateways, lashed together using rope and pioneering techniques and as well as other examples of campcraft.

Competitions throughout the event focus on demonstrating mastery of scout skills as well as judging the creativity and cleanliness of unit campsites.

On a local level this type of event is known as a Camporee, or by an older term, still occasionally used, “Camporall.”

One of the chief differences is that scout units come together either by districts or overall as a council in their existing troops. For the National or World Jamborees, troops are formed from elite older scouts and leaders selected from local council units.

Disrupted by the pandemic

Covid threw a damper on scout activities, much like other events that featured large gatherings of the public. 

The last district camporee was held at the same Camp Murnane, in 2019 before the bottom dropped out. As the Oregon Trail Council cautiously started to consider operating summer camps and other large gatherings, organizers stepped up to plan the first camporee since the pandemic squashed such happenings.

Camp Murnane is one of the primitive camps owned by the council. The long stretch meadow that had served as an airstrip in WWII and features a program shelter, a water tank, a few Adirondacks (three sided huts which were off limits to units during the weekend), and a few “kybos” or outdoor latrines. 

The camporee was planned by two districts operating together, the Cascade and Greenwood districts in this rebuilding event. It was expected to draw around 100 participants – but close to 300 showed up. 

So did the rain.

The belated winter that the calendar has misidentified as spring had done a number in soaking the ground before the scouts arrived. These soggy conditions prevented any drive-ins to drop gear, which meant packing in everything by hand. Wheelbarrows and carts were pressed into service, and involved many trips by kids and adults schlepping all their troop, patrol, and personal gear to their campsites. 

It wasn’t just the pre-soaking that the scouts had to deal with. Our local Cottage Grove combined units of Troop 140 and 4140 met and loaded up Friday in a driving rain. The precipitation didn’t give up until midday Saturday and added an additional element of competition, trying to keep dry. Even this eagle scout reporter, who got sloppy setting up his tent in the dark after helping get camp in order, woke to water seeping in.

An inspection in the early morning light revealed the source, failure to stake out the rain fly and an exposed bit of ground cloth combined to wick water under my sleeping bag.

A rookie mistake, brought on by exhaustion and carelessness. I wasn’t alone in this department, and when the sun did finally come out Saturday afternoon, several other sleeping bags and other gear appeared on our decorative gateway timbers to dry along with mine.

Surprising turnout

The camporee staff was overwhelmed with the unexpected number of participants who showed up.  

Parking was an issue as many of the groups had brought trailers filled with gear and the muddy conditions turned the small parking lot into a slush pit. The main walking area quickly devolved into a sea of mud along with the patrol kitchens and other high use areas of the individual campsites.

In fact you could call it a Mudoree.

It takes a lot more than rain and mud to dampen scout spirit though.

The judges came around and inspected each campsite looking for such things as a posted duty roster, cleanliness, creativity, and proper scout practices including honoring the ‘leave no trace’ policy. 

While our gateway, which was one of the most impressive if I may say so myself, didn’t save us from getting dinged for leaving our fire burning while we were at the events. Admittedly it would have been a challenge to get wildfire going in such damp, soggy conditions, but a rule is a rule. Leaving an unattended fire is one of the biggest no-nos in scouting so we deserved our demerit. 

Competitive events continued

The events, which covered quite a range, were staffed by unit leaders and other volunteers. 

There was tomahawk throwing where scouts took aim at wooden rounds 15 feet from the throwing line. BB guns were another way scouts tested their marksmanship. 

Other competitions were: splitting a match with an axe, plant identification, knot tying, compass work, lashing together tripods that could hold up a scouts weight, as well as emergency shelters and a “kybo chariot” that was used to transport a scout around a course while sitting on a toilet seat.    

Each patrol was judged on a number of aspects at each station. One thing the judges checked for was proper and complete uniforms (despite the mud), another was patrol spirit. Most patrols carried their patrol flags and proudly shouted out their patrol yells to demonstrate their patrol gusto

Then there was the skills themselves and the overall effort and group cooperation.

Each group received a 0-3 rating on each category and after the competition ended all of the scores were compiled. At the Saturday evening campfire, which each unit was expected to add a skit, song, or story to the program, winners were announced and awarded a ribbon to add to their flag. Best overall troop, patrol, and senior patrol leaders were recognized with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards. 

Our Cottage Grove troop didn’t bring home a ribbon, but many happy memories nonetheless. 

We had gone with the intention to do as well as a small unit could but with the goal of enjoying ourselves and letting the chips fall where they may. Other units came prepared to make every effort to compete and win and it showed. Each group, I think, came away with what they had sought.

Exit strategy

Since Camp Murnane near Lorane is accessed via a one lane road that passes through a section of free range cattle, and shutting the gates behind you is critical for neighborly relations, a special leader’s meeting was called at the conclusion of the afternoon events. 

The question was how to make an orderly exit. For example some of the larger units had parents coming up Sunday morning to pick up their scouts. A lot of conversations had to be held to figure out how to get the mud-splattered gear loaded and out of the sodden valley with no one, hopefully, getting stuck.  

Scouts being resourceful and being bound by the Scout Law, which includes courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, and friendly as values scouts should aspire to, ensured it all worked out smoothly.

Many groups helped one another, practicing another point of the law, helpful. We were one of the last to leave, because we didn’t have far to go to get home and decided that we would let everybody else clear out while we leisurely packed out our camp and loaded up the troop trailer.

After a final sweep to make sure we were leaving only footsteps and no MOOP (matter out of place), we added a few more mud prints on the final trek to the parking lot. It was a pretty drama-free trip past the clumps of blooming Oregon Iris and Scotch Broom back to the pavement and the windy way home.

Building back better

By noon we were back in the Grove and each headed home to dry out gear and wipe off some mud. It was a very successful weekend of getting some outing back into scouting.

The long hiatus of gathering imposed by Covid has hurt the program like it has many other organizations and businesses. The gathering prohibition has been the death knell for some, but for local scouting, we were down but now it’s a time for building back better. 

And as for the mud and rain, the words of the old scout song come to mind: “Never mind the weather, here we are together, hail, hail, the gang’s all here, let the fun begin right now!”

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