We just returned home from a fabulous week of Boy Scout summer camp at Camp Gamble. If you are looking for a summer camp for next year with plenty of activities for all of your Scouts, I highly recommend Camp Gamble.
Camp Gamble is located at S bar F Scout Ranch near Farmington, Missouri. S bar F Scout Ranch is a 5,200-acre property operated by the Greater St. Louis Area Council. In the center of The Ranch is Nims Lake, a 270-acre lake which is the largest privately owned man-made lake in the state of Missouri. The campsites are spacious and wooded. They are not located too close together, but everything remains within easy walking distance of the lakefront, where much of the program takes place.
Camp Gamble Review
There are many different aspects to consider when choosing a summer camp – merit badges, facilities and meals, camp staff and support, additional program opportunities, and more. I’ll cover all of these. Since Camp Gamble is locate on Nims Lake, I’ll mention many of the aquatics opportunities available.
Scouts like to earn merit badges at camp. At Camp Gamble, our Scouts had the opportunity to earn Archery, Astronomy, Basketry, Camping, Canoeing, Climbing, Cooking, Environmental Science, First Aid, Fishing, Forestry, Horsemanship, Indian Lore, Kayaking, Leatherwork, Lifesaving, Mammal Study, Motorboating, Orienteering, Pioneering, Rifle Shooting, Shotgun Shooting, Small Boat Sailing, Space Exploration, Swimming, Water Sports, Wilderness Survival, and Woodcarving. Multiple sessions are offered for most badges and all of our Scouts were able to get into sessions for the badges they wanted to work on.
Aquatics is often the focal point of summer camp. What Scout doesn’t want to get wet on a hot summer day? Nims Lake is an incredible asset for the Greater St. Louis Area Council and they have been working to make the most of it. They have had the standard swimming, canoeing, and kayaking options of course. Last summer the council added stand up paddle boards and a floating “iceberg” which Scouts can climb up and slide down. This year, Camp Gamble had two new speedboats for water skiing and a number of small two-man sailboats.
These improvements in the aquatics program make Camp Gamble a top Midwest destination for troops who are looking for lots of ways to get wet at summer camp. And the variety of offerings mean that Scouts can come back and experience something new each year.
First Year Camper Program
The first year camper program at Camp Gamble is called Voyager. We had five Scouts participate in the program. They completed many of their Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class requirements and earned the Swimming and Woodcarving merit badges. In addition, there were several special activities just for the Voyagers, including a pontoon boat ride across the lake so they could hike to Castle Rock. Our first year Scouts really enjoyed the program. It had the right balance of instruction with time for things like free swim and free boating. And it helped them learn about camp life during their first summer camp experience.
Older Scout Program
Camp Gamble offers a special program for the 14 and older Scouts. Options included kayak polo, mountain biking, rock climbing and rappelling at the S bar F climbing cliffs, water skiing, horseback riding, and more. One evening there was a special hamburger cookout and tailgate party for the older Scouts. They can choose which activities they want to participate in. Our Scouts chose to do some of the older Scout program and to work on a couple of merit badges. This program offered some different options for Scouts who have been to camp for several years and have many of the badges to experience some things the younger Scouts are not ready for.
The Ranger program is another special program offered for older Scouts at S bar F. Scouts leave their troops on Sunday evening and spend the week backpacking on the far side of the property. They return to their troops on Friday evening. Participants experience something different each day. They might do some black powder rifle shooting, climb on a ropes course, sleep on Castle Rock, or swim in the Little St. Francis River. We didn’t have any from our troop participate in the program this year, but JD (my oldest) did it a few years ago and loved it. He really enjoyed the challenges and teamwork aspects of the program also. This backpacking trek might be a good preparation for Scouts who are planning a trip to Philmont. “Rangers Rule the Ranch!”
There are other special opportunities at Camp Gamble. Troops can request a troop shoot, an overnight canoe float, an evening out and about float, or an overnight hike. Troops also have an opportunity to visit Huck’s Cove, a small water park on Nims Lake. Huck’s Cove has two water slides, a rope swing, a zip line, and other fun features. This is something our Scouts always look forward to when we go to summer camp at The Ranch.
Wednesday night at Camp Gamble was water carnival with stand up paddleboard races, a sandcastle building contest, limbo, an iceburg climbing contest, a glowstick dive and more. The camp also offers a top shot competition for the marksmen in your troop. And of course there is the Mile Swim on Friday.
Order of the Arrow
I have seen a number of Order of the Arrow call out ceremonies over the years, but the ones on the shore of Nims Lake are still my favorite. I can’t do it justice, so I won’t try to describe it here, but take my word for it that it is a beautiful ceremony. My youngest, ZM, was very excited to be called out this year.
Meals and Facilities
Meals are prepared on the campsite using the patrol method. If you are used to eating in a dining hall, this might sound difficult, but it really is not. Even our first year Scout patrol was able to manage cooking their own food. At each meal time two Scouts walk to the commissary with a basket to pick up food. The rest of the patrol prepares fire and water back at the campsite. By the time the Scouts return to the campsite with food, the charcoal fires are ready to go and the meal is usually ready in 15 to 20 minutes.
The menu is kept simple and our Scouts sometimes bring a few extra ingredients or seasonings to make their food the way they like it. Food was plentiful. You can bring your own patrol cooking gear or you can use a camp patrol box. Don’t be intimidated by patrol cooking at summer camp. This is a really good opportunity to help develop the patrol method in your troop.
The camp provides standard canvas wall tents with floorboards and cots. Each patrol has it’s own dining fly, picnic table, and charcoal stove. There is a latrine, wash stand, and water spigot for each campsite.
Modern showers and bathrooms are available for adult leaders. In addition, one of the youth shower-houses has been recently converted to modern showers and bathrooms for Scout use also.
Camp Staff and Support
All of the things I have mentioned to this point are important, but you can’t have a quality camp experience without a quality staff to run it. We found the Camp Gamble staff was very enthusiastic and helpful. Merit badge instructors seemed very knowledgeable about their areas and the aquatics and boating areas were well run and safe. Our Voyager participants really enjoyed their counselors as well. The camp was well administered, with leaders questions and concerns being addressed in a timely manner.
I wish I could mention each and every one of the staff by name, but my memory is not that good. Suffice to say that our experience with staff was very positive and that we kept hearing different staff members’ names mentioned and how cool they were. One of them did a very lively rendition of Happy Birthday for one of our Scouts which was quite a hit. Opening and closing campfires were both high energy affairs with lots of great skits, songs, and cheers. Then as is appropriate, the campfire programs became more quiet at the end with singing of various camp songs. Both campfire programs were very well done.
I would especially like to thank our troop counselor Bryan H. We had a lot of equipment needs and during our first day he managed to round up everything we needed. My husband mentioned that stuff just kept showing up at our campsite seemingly out of nowhere. Bryan visited our campsite frequently to check in on us and answer questions. And our Scouts really enjoyed interacting with him. He even helped our older Scouts clean up the “landfill” a few of them made behind their tents, which was very nice of him.
I’d also like to thank the camp director Ryan and Bobby the speedboat driver from Scotland for helping us start our van when it was time to go. I’m sure they were very busy with a new group of campers coming in a few hours, but the arrived quickly with jumper cables and helped us get on the road. This is just another example of how positive and helpful the entire staff was.
As you can see there is plenty to do at Camp Gamble for Scouts of all ages and the staff puts on a really great program. I highly recommend it for your troop’s summer camp next year. In fact, in the past our troop has done a three year camp rotation, going to camp at S bar F, another council camp, and then out of council. But becaise we had such a great time at Camp Gamble and considering all of the improvements at camp, I am going to recommend to our committee that we consider returning there next year.