Shots rang out from the hilltop overlooking Lake Bridgeport as the brave young men of Crew 1872 employed military precision and black powder to fight off invaders.
A mile or so to the east, a group of youngsters relied on strength, agility, some sturdy ropes and all sorts of safety procedures to climb to and rappel from the top of a 36-foot tower.
And many miles toward town, at the Bridgeport airport, a third group of teens visited with pilots as part of a field trip.
Thirty minutes later, most of them reunited to chow down on a lunch of meatball sandwiches at Sid Richardson Scout Ranch’s Lakeview Lodge.
It was all part of the Longhorn Council’s weeklong winter camp that takes place each year between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This year’s winter camp began Dec. 26 and ended Saturday at the 2,500-acre Boy Scout camp on the northwest side of the lake.
“The one thing I like about this,” Dietz Froehlich of the Fort Worth-based Longhorn Council said, “is that while you have so many kids out of school and so many parents working, here’s an opportunity to get kids out of the house and away from electronics.”
The Lakeview Lodge dining hall was wall-to-wall with kids.
“We have 101 Scouts and 36 adults, the largest we’ve ever had in the years I’ve been here,” said Camp Program Director Matt Creason, a third-year staffer who, like the other adults, volunteers his time.
As is the case with their summer camp, which attracts from 300 to 700 campers each week, winter camp draws Scouts from near and far.
Longview, Houston and Temple Scouters were some of the farthest-traveling youngsters. Boy Scouts range in age from 10 to 18, while Venture Scouts (formerly called Explorers) are for boys and girls age 14 to 21.
“It’s our third year to come here for winter camp,” says Roxie Allen, an adult leader from Troop 179 in Cypress, a suburb of Houston. “Our council camp in Houston has 1,000 kids at winter camp, and that’s too big.
“Plus, here they have special classes you can’t do anywhere else.”
The ranch offers the Aviation merit badge with a special aid – F-16 simulator cockpits that allow Scouts to fly missions individually or as opposing teams.
“I’ve enjoyed the aviation flight simulator the most so far,” scout Cameron Crawford of Fort Worth’s Troop 330 said.
“The government designed the software for Air Force and Navy pilots to learn on instead of going out and crashing planes,” explained Froehlich. “We have 16 consoles.”
Other programs singled out by Allen as hot-ticket items for her troop were Cavalry and blacksmithing.
The Cavalry program is run by Brian Glass, the adult leader of Crew 1872, which is the council’s Venture Crew devoted to re-enacting life for the U.S. Army soldiers based at Fort Richardson, near current-day Jacksboro. In 1872, with a population of 666 officers and men, Fort Richardson was listed as the largest U.S. Army installation in the United States.
Campers in the Cavalry program live and eat apart from the other scouts in frontier conditions simulating the 19th century period. After learning safety requirements of their black powder rifles and the basics of the 1872 army, they battle it out in the rocky underbrush with adult re-enactors.
Their final night was spent on a field trip to Jacksboro to sleep in the soldier barracks at Fort Richardson State Park.
Winter campers at the ranch sleep in dormitories, which is another recruiting plus.
“We don’t want our kids to have to suffer in cold tents like they do at most winter camps,” Froehlich said.
“And to me this is better for them: When you’re in a tent, you’re in there with your buddy. But when you’re in a dorm, you’re in a dorm with eight or nine other kids, and you have to learn to deal with people you don’t know.”
That’s one difference from summer camp at ranch, where campers sleep in two-man tents in their troop campsites. Another is the merit badge selection and a third is the instruction.
While 74 different merit badges are offered in the summer, this camp only offered 30.
“We try to tailor it to the kids’ needs,” Creason said. “Plus, this is a difference at winter camp: most of our instructors are adults with backgrounds in the areas they teach. The kids enjoy it and get a lot out of it.”
Corey Sanders, a 12-year-old from Saginaw’s Troop 134, signed up for five merit badge classes – riflery, communication, citizenship in the nation, emergency preparedness and first aid.
“I thought winter camp would be fun,” he said when asked why he came, “and I need to knock out some Eagle-required merit badges.”
Michael Jones is scoutmaster of Troop 216 in Fort Worth.
“This is our third year to come here for summer and winter camp, and we really love it,” he said.
“Right now the kids don’t understand the value of what they’re doing. But by the time they’re adults, they’ll look back and say ‘Wow.'”