Theme Park-Like Camp for Cub Scouts Built on Old Disney Site

Savas Casaola sorts through the rebar yesterday at the site of Camp William B. Snyder for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Savas Casaola sorts through the rebar yesterday at the site of Camp William B. Snyder for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The Boy Scouts of America is planning to open a $17 million camp catering to Cub Scouts next month on the site near Haymarket where the Walt Disney Co. tried to build a theme park 12 years ago.

The camp will be built and operated by the National Capital Council, which represents more than 85,000 Scouts and 23,000 volunteers in the District and 16 counties in Maryland and Virginia. It is one of the most expensive scouting construction projects in the nation, officials said, and unusual because of its focus on Cub Scouts as well as Boy Scouts.

"We've never had a facility that's been able to connect with the Cub Scouts," said Alan F. Lambert, the council's Scout executive.

Officials said the Scouts wanted a camp closer to Washington so that Cub Scouts, the organization's youngest members, could enjoy an overnight camping experience. The council's closest camp is in Goshen, Va., which is an inconvenient three-hour ride from Washington for 7- to 10-year-olds, who require more supervision and tend to get more homesick than older Scouts, Lambert said.

The scheduled opening of Camp William B. Snyder is May 6. Snyder, a former Geico chairman, is a longtime member of the area Scout council board and was instrumental in securing the land for the project.

The camp sprawls over 350 acres once designated for "Disney's America," a U.S. history theme park Disney scrapped in 1994 after protests from residents and preservationists about its proximity to the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Disney sold the site to the Boy Scouts for $1.5 million in 1997.

Camp Snyder will have touches of a theme park, from a 67-foot climbing wall to an aquatics center with water slides. Scout officials said, however, that they tried to preserve much of the site's natural state. The council created more than 100 acres of wetlands that are attracting birds and wildlife that the Scouts will explore.

"It's a positive part of the program to protect wildlife and eco-systems," Lambert said. "It's part of the camping experience."

The camp has themed areas such as the Big Dig, where Scouts can dig up replicas of dinosaur bones and assemble their own skeletons, and the Space Port, where they can explore a simulation of Mars, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Johns, chairman of program development at the camp.

"What a neat experience," he said.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the camp will serve about 1,000 Cub Scouts a week, said Johns. Boy Scouts can camp there on weekends throughout the year.

Johns and Lambert showed photos and drawings of the camp to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors yesterday. Other themed areas include a Native American village with tepees, a fort with a BB gun range and a ship surrounded by blue vulcanized rubber to suggest the ocean.

The adventures will not be the traditional rustic experience the public associates with scouting and camping, Lambert said. He showed a photo of the 600-seat dining hall, still under construction, that looked more like a McMansion. The modern facilities, including upgraded bathrooms and showers, were responses to parents, especially mothers, concerned about how younger children and adult volunteers would fare in the wild, Lambert said.

The Scouts will still sleep in tents, although they are much roomier, fitting six to eight Cub Scouts or four volunteers in each one, he said.

The camp's attractions and its $17 million price tag -- raised through private and corporate donations and general financing -- make it one of the biggest in the country compared with facilities used by the more than 300 councils, said Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America in Irving, Tex. "I have not found another of a larger size in terms of investment," he said.

When Disney dropped its plans for a theme park, Snyder and Ron L. Carroll, who was Scout executive at the time, led the negotiations to buy the land, Lambert said. Carroll died last year.

Snyder, 76, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he missed out on the Scout experience as a child because his local troop disbanded after its leader was drafted to serve in World War II. "My son was in the Scouts when he was growing up and I was a civilian leader," he said. "I think highly of the Scouts as a character-building organization."

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