"This isn't just a Scout camp, this is a priesthood camp. We want these young men to go away with a greater testimony of the gospel and greater faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." – Elder Rex C. Reeve of the First Quorum of the Seventy
When organizers talked about the success of the Upper Snake River Aaronic Priesthood Encampment 1988, superlatives sprouted faster than the lodge pole pines blanketing Targhee National Forest.Organizers said the encampment's eagle banquet was the largest gathering of LDS Eagle Scouts – 1,550 – ever assembled. They claimed the camp had one of the largest skeet shooting ranges in the country, with 22 shotgun firing lines and shells going off on the average of one every three seconds. They also praised the food.
But the best descriptions of this six-day encampment Aug. 11-16 came from the young men themselves.
"It's really neat," said Randy Black, 13, of the Hibbard (Idaho) 2nd Ward.
"It's pretty fun," added Zach Bennett of the Sunnydell (Idaho) Ward.
Held at Teton Peaks Council's Island Park Scout Camp, the encampment brought together nearly 5,000 young men, ages 12 to 18, and more than 1,000 leaders. They came from 32 stakes in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming.
On every day but Sunday, the Scouts could choose from a potpourri of activities, ranging from rowing to rappelling. Specific areas were set aside for Boy Scouts seeking to earn merit badges, Varsity Scouts interested in team competition and Explorers wanting to learn more about cars or careers. In all, the Scouts had nine activity areas from which to choose.
But the activities were only an incentive to influence the young men to attend the priesthood camp, said Elder Harold R. Hillam, a regional representative ?chairman of the encampment committee.
"I don't care if they the ScoutsT learn one single Scouting skill while they are here – just as long as they increase their faith in Christ," said Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy and general Young Men president. "All this is preparation for the work of the Aaronic Priesthood."
Five General Authorities, including President Ezra Taft Benson (see story above), attended the encampment. Three members of the First Quorum of the Seventy – Elders Featherstone; Rex Reeve, president of the North America Northwest Area; and Robert L. Simpson, recently released as a counselor in the Northwest Area – stayed at the camp from start to finish. Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, a counselor in the Northwest area presidency, took part in the first few days of the camp before leaving for a stake conference assignment.
The General Authorities met with Scouts and leaders from each stake in special "Hilltop Experiences." These one-to-two-hour sessions allowed each General Authority to talk and answer questions with small groups in the serenity of the tall pine trees.
Meal times for the Church leaders were spent with different troops, and the General Authorities often could be seen walking through the various campsites, talking with Scouts and shaking hands.
"The encampment helps you to see that the General Authorities are people like anybody else," said Cory Brower of the Ammon 7th Ward.
"And it makes you want to be just like them someday," added Cory's friend, Lyle Pickett of the Lincoln 3rd Ward, Idaho Falls Idaho Lincoln Stake.
The Church authorities spoke at firesides or camp-wide programs held almost every night. Of those, the Sunday morning sacrament meeting may have been the most inspiring for the General Authorities as well as the Scouts.
"Tears just flowed down my face during that meeting," Elder Reeve said. "You could feel their reverence. You could feel the spirit coming from that body of the priesthood.
"The Spirit has flowed here," he continued. "The two groups I had at the Hilltop Experiences Friday sat for an hour in the rain and listened. There were no complaints."
The encampment was divided into three camps named after Book of Mormon prophets – Nephi, Moroni and Alma. Many of the troops had challenged their Scouts to read the Book of Mormon and earn their Eagle rank before the encampment. Most of the congregation at Sunday's priesthood meeting stood when asked if they had met President Benson's challenge to read the Book of Mormon. And nearly a third of the 1,550 Scouts attending the Eagle banquet had achieved that rank within the last year.
All the programs weren't connected to Scouting or the Church, however. The Scouts enjoyed performances by a Dixieland band, Chinese acrobats and a mimic. They watched a laser display and an air show that included the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Daily activities included a handicap awareness trail, staffed by handicapped Scouts; blacksmith shop; river float trip and log race. The activity stations were manned by volunteers, some of them non-members, who donated their time and paid a $100 camp fee.
The two leaders who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the Scouts were program chairmen, Arnold Hillam and Dave Smith. They talked with enthusiasm about being able to provide Idaho and Wyoming Scouts a chance to learn about scuba diving in the middle of a forest and computers in a semi-truck trailer. Scouts were constantly on the move from one end of the camp to the other just to take advantage of the multiple things they could do.
"Any Scout who isn't having a ball at this encampment is probably just sitting in his tent," said registration chairman Mel Richardson.
Even the most persnickety Scouts seemed to agree.
"I don't like camping," said Greg Rockwood of the Roberts (Idaho) 1st Ward, "and I'm having fun."