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Friday, August 7, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Scout Camp Still Active After Recent Controversies

Ranger Bob sat gingerly in his chair, moaning about his back injury from moving a piano. He poked at the computer keys. The printer spit out a series of the famous "Ranger Bob speeding tickets."

Seemed as if some days the Camp Kilworth resident caretaker's main duty is issuing those tickets to Scouts who run on trails. Day camp was in session and some 177 Cub Scouts - all colors, shapes and sizes - and a cadre of Boy Scouts - were swarming over the 63 acres at Dash Point near Federal Way.

As he spoke, through the open door of his office he could hear the voices, the distinct crunch of a pack of sneakers on gravel. Then through the slanting bars of sunlight, came the flash of turquoise Camp Kilworth T-shirts and someone carrying the ragtag den flag - just one small group of pint-size speeders marching right past headquarters on a camp hike.

He summoned the group onto the headquarters' porch and before he could say "speeding ticket," the boys launched into their den yell:

"We're the Royal Lizards. Wiser than a wizard. Stronger than a blizzard . . ."

He explained that since he has hurt his back, Ranger Bill would give out speeding tickets today and that the den with the most speeding tickets by the end of the week will have to clean the outhouses. Of course, if no one speeds, Ranger Bob explained, camp director Tom Messall, otherwise known as "T. Rex," after the largest of dinosaurs, would clean them.

After all, it was just another week at camp.

Camp Kilworth - which was willed to the Boy Scouts of America in about 1935 - is one of 10 sites in Washington owned by BSA. Many day camps - like ones offered in Seattle - are held at public parks. That makes Kilworth with its forests, trails, lodges and beach extremely popular. At $29 for five days (and one overnight for the older kids), registration fills up early.

All year long the camp is filled with either Scouts or other nonprofit groups who pay to camp, but on that particular session, Scouts from south King and Pierce counties were among the ranks.

The day began at 9 a.m. with lunches barely stowed on campsite tables before the boys gathered to raise and salute the flag, recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" and the Cub Scout Promise: "To do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, to help other people and to obey the Law of the Pack."

Then they dispersed like rays of turquoise into the woods for archery, for crafts, for hiking, planning a skit for the afternoon under the watch of den mothers and a few fathers - all volunteers.

What for several generations has been the unquestioned method of operation for Scouts, lately has come under fire.

There is the God question: Do atheist Scouts have to promise allegiance to a God they don't believe in? And the gay question: Should admitted gays be included in the Boy Scouts as either Scouts or leaders?

There are ethnic questions, too. While a few Native American traditions are incorporated into the scouting format, it's done as if the people and the culture no longer exist.

And while times have changed since the original handbook included information about military schools and ads for rifles, there is, too, the question of scouting as a paramilitary exercise, complete with boys marching off into the woods to kiddie versions of military drilling tunes.

But, say its thousands of proponents, the organization has strength.

"I wanted to see my son get into it," said Weyerhaeuser program analyst Dave Gosselin, a camp volunteer. "Scouting offers a lot of benefits. It teaches kids self reliance, emphasizes personal development. The programs are very anti-drug and pro community. For example, there's a program in November called `Scouting for Food' that helps fill the food banks.

"Overall, I think there have been a few incidents that have been blown all out of proportion," he said.

"I treat scouting as an organization that has set rules. You shouldn't expect to go in and change those rules," den mom Joy Davenport said.

But most parents felt that if they had boys whose personal beliefs were other than strict Scout code they would quietly accept those kids, as long as the boys made an effort to go along with the rest of the routine.

While the controversy surrounding scouting makes the volunteers nervous, and to some has given it a bad reputation, it, nevertheless, not only survives, it flourishes.

Nationwide there are nearly 4.1 million Cub and Boy Scouts, up from 3.1 million 10 years ago, according to national spokesman Blake Lewis.

Scouting officials attribute that to the nonprofit's focus on community values, emphasis on the family and constructive ways of dealing with peer pressure.

"Scouting is for duty to God, country and self," Messall said. "We take those three things and make them fun."

Camp is part of it.

While the older Boy Scouts have weeklong overnight camps, the thousands of Cub Scouts - seven to 10 who are the mainstay of the BSA - go to day camp and are just as enthusiastic as the older boys.

Ask Ranger Bob, who to the rest of the world is known as E. Edward Conger, retired military, father, author of a book of children's fairy tales and self-acknowledged father figure and guru to the mob at Kilworth.

At midmorning, the group reassembled at the fire bowl where each den came up with a piece of wood - a mock dinosaur bone. Messall, with comic relief from Ranger Bob, assembled a wooden dinosaur on the platform. It was a warm morning and the blue of sky and Sound formed a postcard-perfect background behind them.

The ceremonies were filled with group ritual - the "alligator applause," arms clapping like jaws, the "sprinkler applause," a one-arm version - all symbols of being among the "in" crowd, a camp experience the kids called "awesome."

By afternoon, feet churned eddies of dust into the shimmering summer air. Flushed from heat and exhaustion, den mom Jean Theoharis of Milton smeared paste on the edges of black construction paper, to be used in a skit.

"Let's get this baby on the road so we can go have ice cream," she sighed.

Another den mother, Vikki Carter, Scout book in hand, asked her group what it meant to be physically healthy. "It means not eating cookies and candy for breakfast and sitting in front of the TV all day, right?"

"That's what my mom's first husband used to do," piped one Scout.

Boys in another den were vying to see who could spit watermelon seeds the farthest. One Scout had locked another in an outhouse.

"Do you know what TGIF means?" asked Davenport.

By 4 p.m. the parents, who joined the older Scouts, arrived, along with the dome tents and Coleman stoves.

At the edge of darkness, parents and sons trooped through the woods for Ranger Bob ghost stories around the campfire, shadows and amber light flickering on the faces of Cub Scouts clutching marshmallow sticks.

An owl hooted. The city seemed far away, except for the diluted sky and stars of a suburban night.

Flashlight beams danced on tent walls and voices echoed across the tent-dotted meadow, the humor prevailing.

"Good night John Boy."

"Good night Jim Boy."

Good night Ranger Bob.

-- If you're interested in theBoy Scouts, you can call the Boy Scouts of America at 725-5200. Boy Scouts offers explanatory programs in the fall in various communities. Dates and locations are available by calling the main office.

Or you can call the Girl Scouts of America. That number is 633-5600.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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