You’ll see them at the major entrances into our hometown–in the Wal-Mart parking lot on the north side, in front of Hawkins Market on the west side, and at the Antique Mall shopping center on the east side–stacks of picnic tables with a For Sale sign.
The tables have been a fundraiser for Boy Scout Troop 507 since 1986, allowing the scouts to earn their own “high adventure” trips–experiences that bring the boys deep into nature and as far as four days away from civilization. But the table project, as it is affectionately known, provides lessons more valuable than the satisfaction of earning a trip to camp. The project also provides lessons in craftsmanship, community service, self-esteem, money management, team building and scouting ideals.
The Picnic Table Timeline
Picnic Table Chairman Bill Schafer is one of the originators of the project. According to him, the success of the table project isn’t necessarily evidenced by the statistic that the troop’s tables are now in 35 different states, but rather that roughly 75 Troop 507 alumni are reconnected to their youth and scouting each year through the project–highlighted by the fact that Todd Schafer (Bill’s son) has taken over as scoutmaster for the troop even though he doesn’t have any children in it.
The troop, which operates out of the First Christian Church in Medina, Ohio, has held its charter for 76 years. Today, it serves forty-five boys ranging in age from 11 to 18.
The numbers, longevity and support speak volumes to the success of the troop and its programs and, though building the tables is a yearlong project, care is taken to make sure the tables don’t block out prime camping time.
The table-building process starts in December when the order is placed for 80,000 pounds of Ponderosa Pine–a wood delivered from Oregon. The troop uses Ponderosa pine because the tight knots of the wood reduce the warp and twist often found in yellow pine. In January the wood is delivered to James Lumber (a local lumber yard), and in February the troop takes delivery and moves supplies to the local National Guard Armory, which has donated the back of its building to the boys for construction and storage of the tables. [Seven boys have since joined the National Guard – a great symbiotic relationship.]
In April, the construction starts.
The tables are built to be hardy, safe and convenient. An adult can stand on one bench seat with no counterweight and the table will not tip. By design, the table fits easily into a pickup truck bed for delivery. Additionally, the tables have arsenic-free, treated wood with a 30-year warranty, warp braces, rounded corners and 16 bolts on each leg instead of the standard eight.
For safety reasons, adult workers cut the wood to the appropriate dimensions, and the boys assemble. To earn money from their labors, each boy is paid in “points” based on job and experience. For instance, a boy who is working on tables for the first time might receive one point per hour. However, a boy with three- or four-years experience acting as a job foreman and supervising the construction might receive 3-1/2 points per hour. Boys may also opt to work in sales or delivery rather than construction of the tables, also earning points. The treasurer keeps an account for each boy in the troop, and the points can be spent on trips or camping equipment.
May is the prime month for picnic table sales, followed by summer holiday weekends. Unfortunately, this past May was very rainy, and the troop is a bit behind in its table sales, so it ended up offering a 10 percent, end-of-the-season special on both the six- and eight-foot tables.
The fruits of this year’s picnic table labors will enable the scouts of Troop 507 to canoe the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Maine, a favorite destination. 2007 will mark the troop’s fifth venture into this permit-only, limited-access primitive waterway plunked in the middle of Maine’s largest forest. Previous trips occurred in 1986, 1989, 1994 and 1999. The troop will offer scouts a nine-day and a two-week trip to the Allegash. The shorter trip will be canoe-only and cover about 60 miles of the river. The longer trip will pick up where the first trip ended and traverse about 100 miles of the river. It will also include a one-day white-water rafting trip on the Penobscot River and two days of backpack camping in Baxter State Park, the start of the Appalachian Trail.
To participate in these grueling trips, scouts must have attained the rank of First Class, be First Aid-qualified with CPR, pass the Boy Scout and/or Red Cross swimming test and qualify for the canoe merit badge. This is not the trip to learn skills!
Boys are challenged to refine skills already learned, to take these skills into areas where few venture, and to survive whatever the fates and nature throw at them. Weekend camping trips are where younger or newer scouts hone skills to the level demanded of high-adventure outings.
On alternating years the troop leaves the canoes behind and focuses on unique backpacking trips. Perhaps the most memorable land-based trip the troop took was in 1988 when they spent 16 days hiking the Grand Teton Mountains. The 16-member group split, with one group hiking north across the Tetons and the other hiking south. They met in the middle to exchange car keys and information. The Teton Mountains afforded the troop spectacular scenery and the opportunity to see several varieties of animal not seen in highly traversed camping sites. Among the animals viewed were buffalo, elk, mule deer, eagles, ospreys and mountain goats.
It may sound clichéd, but the high adventure trips build character the Marines would be proud of. And it all starts with a picnic table project. But this project is more than simple table building; it is a special experience from which proceeds are used to fund additional special experiences.
And what is the best part? When the boys fund their own trips, there is more money in the bank for mom and dad!
Linda Stalvey is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Camp Business, who gave up Washington, D.C., public relations to indulge her passion for parks, the environment and outdoor activities in Medina, Ohio. You can reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.