This week, when the daytime heat index was well over 100 degrees, Mitch Bollenbacher became even more concerned than usual for the safety of the 200 Boy Scouts attending summer camp at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation.
Bollenbacher, in his first year as camp director, said conditions this week were the hottest he has ever experienced in his six years working at the camp. He and his 40 counselors worked hard to ensure that no one became overwhelmed by the scorching heat.
"Hydration is the biggest issue," Bollenbacher said Friday. "We've really been pushing the kids to drink as much water as possible and to take it easy during the day."
Admittedly, that can be a tall order for Scouts who attend a week at the camp to participate in outdoor activities such as rappelling, rowing, hiking and other physical endeavors to earn merit badges.
Bollenbacher said a regimen of constant hydration, frequent breaks during strenuous activities and eating meals in an air-conditioned dining hall helps keep heat-related illnesses in check.
"You have to maintain a balance," Bollenbacher said. "The kids are here to have fun, so you can't limit what they do too much. But on the other hand, it's not much fun to end up in the hospital with heat stroke."
Fortunately, the 1,200-acre facility off of Cortez Boulevard, which is run jointly by the Boy Scouts West Central Florida and Gulf Ridge councils, has plenty of open shelters to provide campers with respite from the blistering sun and frequent afternoon thunderstorms.
Scouts Nick Cook, 13, and Todd Little, 12, both of whom are in Troop 404 from Largo, said getting used to the heat is all part of the camping experience. The boys, who spent Friday morning in the Pathfinder program learning the basics of outdoor camping, said that a muggy week spent sleeping in a canvas tent made them appreciate the comforts of air conditioning.
"Having a (portable) fan makes a big difference," said Nick. "Without it, you get pretty uncomfortable."
One of the most popular places at the camp has been the swimming pool. Each afternoon, the Scouts are allowed a "free swim" period to cool off from the day's activities.
On Tuesday, when the air temperature was near 100 degrees, even the pool wasn't enough to cool things down, Bollenbacher said.
"By the afternoon, the pool temperature was right around 98 degrees, hardly refreshing," Bollenbacher said. Staff members set up an aerator system that cooled the water about 10 degrees.
The Scouts, he said, have been real troupers through it all.
"To a lot of them, especially the ones who have never camped outside, it's an adventure," he said. "To them, this is what scouting is all about."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or 848-1435.