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Boy Scouts establish fairground camp again

posted Aug 30, 2008, 8:39 PM by Boy Scout Troop 856   [ updated Aug 30, 2008, 8:41 PM by Boy Scout Troop 856 ]
"Camp Excelsior" activities draw attention, as scouting returns in force to state fair.

Declining membership and a lack of volunteers have kept large numbers of Boy Scouts from showing off their skills at the New York State Fair for years. But this year, the Scouts are back in force and intent on letting people know they're still around.

More than 100 Boy Scouts have been working in shifts to sell popcorn, hand out information, lead demonstrations, play games and help people build bluebird houses on a plot of grass next to a reflecting pool in front of the Horticulture Building. They've turned the plot into a encampment named "Camp Excelsior," complete with a monkey bridge, weather rock and even a catapult - although they haven't fired it.

"We're at a point in our organization where it's almost like we have to reintroduce ourselves to as many people as possible because scouting of yesterday is just that - it's in the past," said Tim Herne, event organizer. He attributes the decline in membership to the number of activities youngsters have today, such as sports, clubs, jobs and school. "We have to redefine and make the public know that we're still a relevant part of our society, our community."

In previous years, handfuls of Scouts were at the fair for only a few days. The last year they were at the fair for its entire run was 1928, Herne said.

The Scouts were absent from the fair last year, but about 10 adults manned a two-person booth in the Science and Industry Building to hand out information on scouting programs, said Martin Mau, executive of the Boy Scouts' Learning for Life program.

This year, the Scouts have been present the entire fair. They are from 456 packs, troops and posts in the Onondaga, Oneida, Northern Lights, Interlakes, Ontario and Tri-Rivers districts, which are run by the Hiawatha Seaway Council. Their new outdoor location has the potential for 370,000 people to pass by, according to Herne, the executive of the Interlakes district.

"Oh, my god, it's such an improvement," Mau said of the new location and extra manpower. "We've really gotten some great exposure and we've picked up about a dozen kids that are going to want to join us."

Michelle Reynolds, of Syracuse, said she was passing by the camp when the some rock-climbing photos caught the eye of her son Emmett, 12.

"It was interesting because he was just asking about it (the Boy Scouts) and we just happened to stumble upon it," said Reynolds, who added that she will be enrolling Emmett in the Boy Scouts.

Emmett said he thought the Scouts' demonstrations were "cool, because I like doing stuff with my hands and building stuff."