HOPKINTON — The venerable Yawgoog Scout Reservation has withstood World War II, a wildfire, the Vietnam war and an outbreak of norovirus in 2005. This year, however, the coronavirus pandemic has prevented the camp from opening.
Daniel Friel, program and communications director of the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which operates the camp, said canceling Camp Yawgoog’s entire season marked an unfortunate first in the camp’s long history.
“This is the first time in 104 years that the Yawgoog Scout Reservation has not been operational during the summer,” he said.
The pandemic may have forced the closing of Camp Yawgoog, but Scouts from across the country and even around the world are staying connected and engaged through a virtual summer camp.
Described as a “Scouting streaming service,” the new Yawgoog Network will offer eight weeks of activities.
The idea of offering virtual programs was first tested on a small scale with scouting families at the beginning of the quarantine back in March, Friel said. As the June 28 opening day for the camp quickly approached, it became apparent that there would be no summer camp this year, and the Narragansett Council made the sad announcement in mid-May.
“As we started drawing closer and working with state officials in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, we came to the realization that we were not going to be able to have summer camp as we knew,” Friel said. “We had already started the process of looking at ideas of how we could bring our very successful programs to the thousand of Scouts and their families that participate in our programs year after year.”
It was decided that if the Scouts couldn’t come to the camp, the council would bring the camp to them. The challenge was to offer the Yawgoog experience in a virtual format.
“We knew that we really wanted to stand out and we really wanted to do something different, and we wanted something that would go beyond COVID-19,” Friel said. “We wanted to put something together that would not focus in on COVID and remind the Scouts of the circumstances that we’re in, but continue to keep them focused on the great programs and traditions of the Yawgoog Scout Reservation.”
A core group of eight staff members, whose salaries have been paid by a donation of about $30,000 from Yawgoog alumni, are producing the content for the two months of programming.
They have so far completed the first week’s installment, which coincides with what would have been the camp’s opening, and are now working on Week Two.
The first week’s program, broadcast Monday evening on the Yawgoog Network, has a patriotic theme to coincide with Independence Day. Other programs focus outer space and aliens, a wilderness survival tutorial, and on Week Seven, an as yet undisclosed theme which will be revealed as the summer progresses.
Sandy Beach camp director Quintin Reynolds, who came up with the “Yawgoog Network” concept, said the goal was to create programming that reflected the skills Scouts would be acquiring at camp.
“We sat down and we started discussing the priorities that we wanted to deliver to Scouts,” he said. “We wanted them to interact. We wanted them to get outside and use the skills and knowledge that they already have as well and teach them new skills and abilities - things they typically learn while at camp. Using that information, we arrived at the content that we wanted to create.”
Friel said the camp’s rustic buildings and natural setting are now starting to resemble a television studio.
“Our memorial room, which used to be held for formal meetings, has now become a writers’ room with tables all in a half circle with notepads, things all over the walls, content and creative…stuff that we’re working on,” he said. “Throughout the reservation, you have areas that have become film sets, so where we’re filming,…including our chaplains who have volunteered their time, and we’ll be offering daily worship and we’re filming that and putting that out as well. The main office has become an editors’ studio where they’re editing content all day long.”
Registration for the virtual camp was slow at the beginning, but has grown to 600 people worldwide in recent days. The programs are available to anyone who pays the $25 registration fee, including people who aren’t Scouts. There is no registration deadline and the programs will be available until the end of December.
Friel acknowledged that virtual camp could never be the same as the real thing, but it was still a way to keep Scouts engaged.
“We have over 6,000 Scouts that come,” he said, referring to regular summer camp. “That’s not including the parents, the leaders and the families that come through that gate. We know that this isn’t going to be that experience, but at the same time, we want to do our best to bring the joy and to bring the traditions and to bring the program that we know is the best in the country into the lives of the countless Scouts and Scouters from all over the world.”
The Yawgoog Network and registration information can be found at https://www.yawgoog.org.