Camp Flying Eagle, the oldest continuously operated scout camp in Florida, will celebrate its 90th anniversary on Saturday.
Like the organization it serves, the 185-acre camp has evolved since its founding in 1929.
A fundamental change occurred on Oct. 1, when the Manatee Scout District started its first Cub Scout den for girls, ages 5-10. There are now four Bradenton-area female dens.
The district takes another step forward on Friday when it launches its first female troop for 11-18 year olds.
“For the first time in its 100-plus year history, the iconic program of the Boy Scouts of America will be open to young women. Scouts BSA is a year-round program for boys and girls in fifth grade through high school that provides fun, adventure, learning, challenge and responsibility to help them become the best version of themselves,” the Boy Scouts of America says on its web page.
Jim Thielen, the Southwest Florida Council’s vice president for programs, serving Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Collier, Lee, and parts of DeSoto and Hendry counties, said the change was made in part for the convenience of families who wanted more one-stop shop opportunities for their children.
There is also the recognition that there are more recreational opportunities available to children today than during the membership heyday of scouting in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We didn’t have so much competition then, when the choices were mostly Little League or scouting,” Thielen said.
Although scouting faced a long-term decline in participation after the 1960s, enrollment numbers are up in recent years, Thielen said.
“We are in a growth period now,” he said.
Females and males are welcomed equally in Scouts BSA, but they will pursue the ideals of scouting in separate dens and patrols.
Any mention of scouting in Manatee County conjures the name of retired Army Col. B.J. “Red Dog” Maynard, who at 88 remains committed to the program.
“I grew up in the Army and over 37 years I went to a lot of different countries, fought in a lot of countries, some that were ruled by kings or queens, presidents or dictators. We are ruled not by dictators but by a piece of paper called the Constitution,” Maynard said.
“The Constitution tells me what our rights are, what we can do. It also tells me I have a responsibility to be a caretaker for this piece of paper and to train the next generation of caretakers.”
Through scouting, boys and girls can achieve personal growth, learn leadership skills, experience the outdoors and more, Maynard said.
Through all the changes and all the years, Camp Flying Eagle Circuit has offered valuable life lessons to thousands of scouts, Court Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. said.
“What has not changed is the outdoors and the Florida experience,” Smith said.
“So many of us learned to hike, to canoe, to swim and to cook at Camp Flying Eagle. The experiences we had out there went to people’s hearts. A lot of us would not be the same without it.”
The public is invited to Camp Flying Eagle, located at 16009 Upper Manatee River Road, for its anniversary celebration to learn more about the campground and scouting, starting at 10 a.m Saturday. The event continues through 9:20 p.m.
Visitors are invited to take a historical hike through Camp Flying Eagle to see how the facility has evolved to include a modern dining hall, swimming pool, climbing wall, first-aid station, challenge course, restroom and shower facilities, and more.
Also planned are games as well as food and souvenir sales.
In addition, there will be a catapult demonstration at 2 p.m., displays by Singing River Rendezvous, scout-built gateways and an information table staffed by Foundation for Dreams.
Tours of the camp start at 10:30 a.m. Reunions planned include Wood Badge from 3-4:05 p.m., Eagle Scout from 4:15-5:20 p.m. and old staff from 6:30-7:50 p.m.
For more information about the 90th anniversary celebration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.