A Frederick County 4-H camp for children is asking the county zoning commission for permission to lease five acres of camp grounds to promoters of a weekend war game that would feature adults dressed in camouflage gear darting around in the woods shooting paint-filled pellets at one another.
The game, called "National Survival Games" started two years ago and is an adult version of "Capture the Flag." The object of the game is to gain control of the opposition team's flag and avoid being hit by one of the pellets. The game is perfectly harmless, according to its creators, Bob Gurnsey, a former New Hampshire sporting goods retailer; Hayes Noel, a New York stock trader, and writer Charles Gaines. Each week an estimated 6,000 persons nationwide, they say, play weekend warrior.
But in Frederick, where farmers still till the undulating hills and live in quiet simplicity, plans to allow a war game to be staged here have left a lot of people concerned about the game's true nature, whether it is as some in the county are saying for "hard-core survivialists" on "Atomic war maneuvers" or just for sport.
"It's hard to understand why a camp for children would want to allow the sort of game where people simulate killing one another," said Charles C. Crum, who lives beside the 78-acre 4-H camp on Bashford Road in Mountville, a southwestern Frederick community.
Crum said he is circulating a petition around his neighborhood opposing zoning that would allow such war games and doing what he can to sound the alarm. Crum said he is concerned about "rowdy types who might change the landscape of his quiet little community."
The camp is next to a Lutheran camp that each summer hosts mentally retarded children. Some residents say they fear children will wander into the war game area and be injured by the paint-filled projectiles. Residents in Mountville like Marion Hoffman, a 4-H member who helped build the 4-H camp says the community is prepared to "have the roadway leading to the 4-H camp cut off if the plan is put into effect." The roadway is owned by a former Mountville resident who now lives in the Midwest.
"Survival games--no way," Hoffman said. "The 4-H club says there will be a lot of shooting going on. Well, I don't care if those guys have squirt guns, I'll oppose the zoning every step of the way."
The special zoning variance was filed by 4-H member Charles Smith, who is also a county commissioner. The matter will be considered in a July 29 hearing. His wife Jane, another 4-H club member drafted the lease for a three-month period to the Blue Ridge Survival Game Co. of Baltimore. The zoning request is now with County Zoning Board member Richard L. Grossnickle. Smith was unavailable for comment.
William Kepler, president of the 4-H camp, said Kyle Swisher, owner of Blue Ridge, came to Kepler's farm a few months ago seeking a secluded mountain spot where the games could be held. Kepler said he led him to the 4-H club because the club was interested in leasing a small part of the property to generate money.
"A number of members weren't crazy about the idea of having war gamers on the property," Kepler said, but they would not object if a friendly sporting game is held there. Kipler said Swisser has been downplaying the fact this is a "survival game." He said camp officials have written a clause in Swisser's contract "that at the first sign of trouble the contract will be canceled."
Swisser said the game "is just harmless fun" and that "so-called hoodlum types tend to think the game childish and silly." Kyle who said he was "a peace protestor during the Vietnam War" and whose "partners are both born-again Christians" said they were surprised at the opposition from some county residents.
If the Zoning Commission approves the permit, Swisser said he will start renting the property to groups of players in August for four-hour periods. Each player will be charged $15, which will include a map of the area, a compass, a set of flags, two judges who will act as game officials, safety goggles and game pistols called "markers." A promotion brochure said the "markers" are actually .68-caliber "007 pistols," powered by CO2 cartridges.
The brochure said the game "tests your animal senses, and nerves and marksmanship ability. . . and demands planning, strategy and cunning. . . as you stalk another player, or are stalked yourself."
But the brochure also warns "the pistol is not a toy" and the "pellets will sting if you are shot. . . and might leave a welt or black-and-blue mark, but real injury is unlikely, unless you are hit in the eye." Players must be 18 or older.
Swisser said there are "survival game centers" in the Washington area and game enthusiasts have formed clubs in Baltimore, Howard and St. Marys counties in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia. He estimates that there are more than 90 survival game sites in 42 states.