This past summer I spent a week at the place were I spent a large chunk of my summers as a camp counselor during my teens. Those summers had a huge impact on me as I grew older and I still talk to people I met in those woods 15 years later.
I was curious to see what had changed with time at the camp which led me to contact the Camp Director, Anna Gangsaas, and come to visit with my camera during Staff Week. It was almost like stepping into a time capsule and emerging a into the forest I knew 15 years ago. While a few minor things have changed on the surface the core spirit was still going strong. Young men and women dedicated most of their summer to living in the woods in the Appalachian Mountains to lead young campers and teach them skills and forge memories they would carry with them for the rest of their lives. The traditions and camaraderie I knew still existed.
A truck drives along the spillway towards Camp Bowman. Parts of Bowman, including the original Campfire Hill, were removed for the spillway to save the dam incase Lake Merriweather rose to dangerous levels. Camp Bowman is one of six Boy Scout, Cub Scout, and High Adventure camps surrounding Lake Merriweather on the Goshen Scout Reservation among Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia.
Logan Tarwater kneels down in front of his tent where he will live with one other staff member for up to 8 weeks during the summer. The tents are made out of canvas with a metal frame and sit on raised wood platforms and in recent years have power. Returning staff are quite adept at making the tents feel like home by bringing various items like chairs, flags, drawers, rugs, and lighting.
Bowman Staff sing and pound on the tables before lunch during Staff Week. Songs are a strong tradition among the staff and songs are passed on through the years from member to member with some being decades old. Women aren’t excluded from being members of the staff despite it being a camp for Boy Scouts. In fact, the current Camp Director is 23 year old Anna Gangsaas.
Mark Hornyak works to clean underbrush and debris from the shooting sports field during Staff Week. Because the camp grounds are only used for a couple of months out of the year nature can really start to reclaim some areas. Most of the staff arrive a week before the campers to train up and make everything ready.
Alex Hume is thrown from the docks into Lake Merriweather by other staff members for his birthday, one of many the traditions that have become part of summer life for the staff over the decades. Some staff have come to work at the camp for over 10 years, starting out as a CIT (Counselor in Training) all the way to Reservation Director, carrying along the traditions taught to them during their first years and passing them on to the younger staff.
Aquatics staff float in the swim area sectioned off for Camp Bowman in Lake Merriweather while they wait for the rest of the staff to start their swim qualifications. Even though staff work all over the camp they have to respond to LBDs (Lost Bather Drills) if a camper goes missing at the waterfront. If it is thought there is a missing swimmer the waterfront sounds the alarm with an air horn and staff come sprinting from all over the camp.
Michael Emch pulls on ropes as he and other staff create structures using only logs and ropes in the Scoutcraft and Pioneering area of the camp. While at the camp the Scouts can learn how to build fires, shelter, forage for food, navigation, and other wilderness survival skills as well as the normal summer camp activities such as swimming, shooting, and sports.
Daley Howard, senior Shotgun Instructor, coaches Christopher Orta as a clay pigeon is flung into the air. Daley has been shooting shotguns and other guns since she was a child and has come to Camp Bowman for years to pass on her knowledge to campers. Shotguns is just one of the other shooting sports activities that campers can do including rifle shooting and archery.
The staff yell out the Bowman chant at the top of their lungs before the reservation wide banquet at the end of Staff Week. Rivalries run strong between the camps surrounding Lake Merriweather and have even led to prank wars in years past. Most staff stay at the same camps in returning years but a few have crossed over to other sides. The current Reservation Director is a former Bowman staffer.
The sun begins to set behind the Appalachian Mountains as aquatics staff spread out sand around the swimming area after it was trucked in. Through out the year the rain and elements wash away most of the sand leaving behind a gnarly surface and the staff have to replace it at the beginning of the summer.
Mark Hornyak sits outside of a tent in his pajams in the Staff Site as the sun begins to set over the camp. The staff wake up early to begin their work and go through most of the day together until after dinner when they can finally relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Allen McDanal checks his phone in his tent at night. It was only in the past few years that electricity was run the the staff tents and cell phone service reached the camps in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. It the past, staff had to line up to use a pay phone to call home and lit their camp site with tiki torches and battery powered lanterns.
The sun sets over the Camp Bowman swimming area in Lake Merriweather. In the coming six weeks up 2,400 campers will visit Camp Bowman where they will forge memories they will carry with them for the rest of their lives and the staff are there to be their guides.