As summer rolls around each year, Camp Cedars southwest of Fremont comes alive.
That annual tradition continued on Sunday as more than 400 Boy Scouts and leaders arrived for the first week of summer camp, which began with an opening ceremony that evening.
The weeklong camps run Sunday through Saturday and will continue weekly through July 21. By the end of the summer, more than 1,600 Boy Scouts from six states will have spent a week learning about and enjoying the outdoors at Camp Cedars.
“We have them come in from 16 councils in six states, the farthest is Austin and Dallas, Texas,” Assistant Camp Director Ralph Morocco said. “We also have scouts from Denver and St. Louis, so some of them make quite a trip to be here.”
One group of scouts that made the trek from out-of-state is a troop from Edmund, Oklahoma, that is led by scout master Keith Swanson.
“We come up from Oklahoma for this camp, because this is the best one that our boys like,” Swanson said. “We’ve been to Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri and we’ve been up here three times in the last seven years.”
Camp Cedars has been a place that Swanson has been coming to for a long time. Although he now calls Edmund, Oklahoma, his home, he is originally from Oakland, Nebraska, and led his first troop through the week-long camp when he was just 21-years-old.
“This was my home camp when I grew up, and I brought my first group of 24 boys when I was a 21-year-old scout master,” he said. “So I’ve been bringing scouts up here since 1979.”
Although the facilities are impressive at Camp Cedars, Swanson says it’s something else that keeps bringing him and his troop back.
“It’s the staff,” he said. “The facilities are great, too, but we go other places with great facilities. So it really is the staff here that the boys enjoy so much.”
During their week at the camp, scouts take a variety of merit badge classes and participate in a plethora of activities including horse riding, canoeing at the camp lake, climbing and rappelling a 60-foot tower, shooting sports, crafts, campfire cooking and more.
After scouts wake up from their tents – canvas coverings on elevated wood platforms – the day begins at 7:15 a.m. when all scouts meet for flag raising, followed by breakfast at the dining hall. The scouts then “go full blast” until about 9 p.m., Morocco said.
On Wednesday, one group of scouts was trying its hand campfire cooking. Scouts learned how to make pancakes, macaroni and cheese, as well as eggs and bacon using an interesting technique.
“We are making bacon and eggs in a bag,” camp counselor John Simmons said.
During the exercise campers cracked eggs and laid strips of bacon inside white paper bags and then placed each bag on a barbecue grill over an open fire.
“What you do is grease up the bottom of the bag and you lay it down and crack an egg on top, so that is enough moisture to keep it from crinkling up and burning,” Simmons said.
One trick to cooking bacon and eggs in a bag, according to Simmons, is to keep the bag away from direct flames.
“If you get flames with it, it’s a giant fire and your food is lost. So you keep it on indirect heat,” he said. “The phrase egg on your face is a little bit more real when we’re doing this.”
Simmons, from Omaha, is serving in his fourth year as staff at Camp Cedars after completing “every single part of the scouting program” throughout his childhood and teen years.
“I like it here because it’s a lot of fun, and where else do you get to supervise making great food over a fire outside?” he rhetorically asked.
Simmons is one of approximately 110 camp counselors who stay on staff throughout the summer.
If cooking bacon and eggs in a bag isn’t enough to get a campers blood pumping, Camp Cedars also offers a variety of shooting sports where campers can use shotguns, handguns, BB guns and bows and arrow to shoot at clay pigeons and targets at the Protzman Arena, and Scott Family Shotgun Range.
Camp Cedars also boasts the Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) ropes course, a full equestrian program, ATV safety program (summer), a lake for canoeing, rowing, stand up paddle boarding and fishing, and the 60-foot high Storz Tower for climbing and rappelling.
On Wednesday, one group of campers seemed to be having trouble with their canoes at Camp Cedars lake, as three or four groups' canoes looked to be filling up with water.
But, the sinking of the canoes was actually a swamping drill being completed by the scouts as part of their training for a Canoeing Merit Badge.
The scouts had to sink their canoes while out in the middle of the lake, and then “unswamp” it while still in the water using a technique known as T-Rescue.
Whether the emergency is simulated or real, Camp Cedars is prepared.
The facilities at the camp include five tornado shelters, which already got some use on the camp’s second day of hosting scouts this year.
On Monday, as severe thunderstorms and tornadic activity came through much of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, scouts at Camp Cedars were safely inside.
The tornado shelters at Camp Cedars are multi-purpose in nature.
“We wanted all of our storm shelters to be multi-purpose buildings, so instead of a bunker that all the kids are kind of afraid of, it’s a building they go in all the time and are comfortable with,” Communications Specialist and Special Projects Director Lisa Russell said.
One example of that is the Haddix Trading Post and Scott Storm Shelter, on the second floor is the Haddix Trading Post where campers can come for snacks, drinks and other sundries and the basement features a large tornado shelter and medic station.
“We want to get them in an hour before the storm hits, so we put in board games, video games, cards so they can go in and goof around and not worry about being safe until the storm passes,” Russell said.