For most people, the downpour last Friday was probably a nuisance. But for more than 600 youngsters at Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton, it was just another test of their ability to survive in the outdoors.
The campers, all members of Camp Fire Inc., came to participate in a Jamboree for Camp Fire members in the northeastern United States. It was the second Jamboree for the northeastern region and the first sponsored by the Potomac Area Council, which serves boys and girls throughout metropolitan Washington.
For four days and three nights, the campers, from 9-year-old Adventure members to 18-year-old Horizon members, slept on the ground under tents they had pitched, cooked their own meals with the aid of charcoal grills and Coleman stoves and made new friends.
As the campers and their leaders arrived at Camp Wilson on Pohick Bay late last week, they quickly transformed the 176-acre campsite into a sprawling, colorful tent village. Members of each group brought their own tents, their own food, their own camping gear and--if they were lucky enough to remember it--bug repellent.
Most campers enthusiastically described the Jamboree as "lots of fun."
"I'd like to do it again," said Karin Richards, 13, of Dale City after it was all over. "It's fun--you get to meet lots of new people."
Camp Fire Inc. began as Camp Fire Girls, an organization founded in 1910 in Maine. In 1975, it went coed, following the trend of similar youth groups in the country.
Nationally, Camp Fire has about 325,000 members, while the Potomac Area Council has about 3,500 members.
The boys and girls at last weekend's Jamboree represented six states, including Virginia, Maryland and the District.
Kris Flinchum, 12, of Woodbridge, said one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Jamboree was the opportunity to make new friends.
"I think we each met someone from every state," she said. "Every time someone walked by our campsite, we'd say 'hi' and talk."
The activities at the Jamboree ranged from demonstrations by Air Force officials to performances by a Maryland Indian group at the closing campfire Saturday night. But the main attraction for most of the kids was camping.
"I guess it's true that those who stay in (Camp Fire) longest are the avid campers," said Betty Gulick, of Lake Ridge, who has been a volunteer leader 10 years and is the Potomac Area Council's Virginia District director.
Friday's storm proved just how dedicated some campers are.
"You're sitting there trying to cook something, and you see all this cold water pouring out of the sky into your food. It's really great," said 18-year-old Horizon member Nancy Mauer of Bethesda.
Despite the rain, one Dale City group managed to bake homemade bread and some people even donned their swimsuits and washed their hair in the downpour.
The theme of the Jamboree was "togetherness," said Maude Katzenbach, executive director of the Potomac Area Council. Youngsters were encouraged to exchange addresses as part of a pen pal program, and one of the major events was swapping "doodads" from their home states.
Swapping seemed to go on endlessly, and anywhere two or three campers were gathered you could be sure some trading was going on. Some Virginians were trading handmade plastic-and-felt bookmarks and red, white and blue macrame headbands, while other campers swapped "I love N.Y." buttons, Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, and the tops of Maine sardine cans.
There also were scheduled activities, and as Saturday's sunshine dried up the mud, campers crowded around the craft tent.
Although Camp Fire standards did not allow the youngest members, 6-and 7-year-old Blue Birds, to camp overnight at the Jamboree, many local Blue Birds visited the campsite for a day.
At the crafts tent, Adventure members and visiting Blue Birds were making frying pan magnets. With supplies from one of the many boxes piled precariously under the tent, the youngsters took a bottle cap for the pan, a soft drink tab for the handle and bits of colorful cloth for the bacon and eggs inside.
Tabitha Mullins, 8, sat with about five fellow members of the Sunshine Squaws, a Blue Bird group from Manassas who came to the Jamboree Saturday. She proudly displayed her frying pan, and thought hard before deciding what she liked best about the Jamboree.
"I like making the crafts, so far," she concluded.
Teresa Phelan, 6, another Sunshine Squaw, had no doubt about what she liked best. "Everything!"