In a small town just north of downtown Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania, USA, you will find quite an oasis of wilderness, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Nestled into a small valley within the town of Sharpsburg, with a major highway running in front of the mouth of the valley, lies a Boy Scout camp called Guyasuta.
Camp Guyasuta was opened in 1918 as one of the first Boy Scouts of America camps in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. Named for the great Native American Chief Guyasuta, who was a personal friend of George Washington and the uncle of the famous Cornplanter. The land was given to the Boy Scouts by the former occupant of the land, Mary Darlington, who had been forced to vacate the property during World War I when the US Federal Government took over the nearby railroad lines as part of the war effort. She gave the organisation over 100 acres, which were officially bequeathed to them in her will when she died in 1925.
As time passed and the area continued to grow, Camp Guyasuta soon found itself encompassed by urban and suburban areas. Today the camp is approximately 150 acres in size and has many amenities and facilities, including three lodges, a mess hall, an education centre, cafeteria/conference hall, large pool, basketball court, Adirondack (lean-to) shelters, numerous trails, tenting sites, pavilions, canoes, kayaks, archery, BB guns, and of course, their COPE1 Challenge Course, which includes a 1,000ft zipline that is 155ft above the ground.
At the time of writing (2018) the camp is managed by the Camp Ranger Mike Daniher, who along with his wife, Kim Daniher, run the camp and ensure it stays running smoothly. Kim happens to be the granddaughter of the first Camp Ranger, and her father was the Ranger after him. This makes her quite familiar with the camp, its history and needs. She is also a well-known face in the community for the camp. This knowledge and familiarity allows Camp Guyasuta to offer many opportunities and local connections outside of Scouting that otherwise would not be available, such as Wounded Warriors challenge days, Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), special needs camps, school field trips, and more. Camp Guyasuta continues to grow and expand to offer even more diverse options. And even though the highway runs right in front of it, the valley's unique shape and structure virtually cancel out all noise from the road.
Lodging and Accommodations
There are two main lodges in the valley, each with bunk beds and kitchens inside, which can accommodate large groups of campers or other visitors. There is a third lodge which contains a few bunks, but is mainly a mess hall with a large kitchen that is used for feeding small groups and camps when they come. In the McGinnis Education Center there is newer and more upscale lodging for when outside (usually non-Scouting) groups are staying for multiple days at a time, such as the special needs camps. Of course there are Adirondack shelters with built-in fireplaces and tenting sites located all over the grounds.
Every lodge has indoor restroom facilities, and showers are available in the McGinnis Center. There are outdoor restrooms in strategic spots throughout the camp, the majority being fully enclosed and heated except for the more rustic ones further up the valley.
The McGinnis Education Center is the newest building in the grounds. It has a large conference and presentation hall that doubles as a cafeteria. It is outfitted with education and meeting rooms as well as lodging that was designed as a place where guests could stay that was nicer than the bunks in the other locations on camp.
The pool is 100ft long, and over 9ft deep at its deepest. There is a slide into the main pool as well as a kiddie pool for the little ones. The pool is equipped with a ramp so even those who cannot walk are able to get in and out of the pool with ease. While the pool is mainly used for various summer camps and Scouting events, they do often open it up in the summer to the public.
Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience Challenge Course
One of Camp Guyasuta's biggest draws is their COPE Challenge Course. The course consists of both a High Course with the climbing tower, and a Low Course further up the valley, as well as the Big Zipline in the front of the valley.
The Low Course consists of the Initiative Games Field and 15 diverse elements designed to challenge a group's problem solving skills, build communication, increase teamwork, and foster co-operation. Each element is different and has its own central focus that it is seeking to develop. For example, the 'Whale Watch' element is to help the group focus on learning to communicate well with one another, whereas the 'Spider Web' element's focus is on problem solving and co-operation. They are all designed as team building exercises.
The High Course has 16 elements which are all an average of 30 feet above the ground. This includes a climbing tower that has two sides for rock climbing and can accommodate two climbers on each side, a cargo net on another side of the tower, while the fourth side is set up for rappelling. There is also a 700ft-long zipline that starts at the top of the tower that is 55ft above the ground at its highest point. Every element is belayed by trained ropes course staff. The course has some classic COPE Course staples such as 'The Giant's Ladder', where two participants must work together to reach the top, as well as more exotic elements like 'The Power Pole', where a participant dons a full body harness, on top of their normal harness, and climbs 30 feet straight up a pole where they must then jump out to try to grab a trapeze. If they can grab it and hold on, they have the option to see how many pull-ups they can do, with the current record at the time of writing being 34 in a row. Participants can climb the cargo net, any of the rock walls, or simply take the stairs to get on the zipline. For those who use wheelchairs or have trouble walking, there are systems in place for allowing them to still ride the zipline, so that no one is left out.
In the front of the valley where the camp is situated is the Big Zipline. Participants ride from one side of the valley to the other, hike up a short distance to the second launch platform, then ride back. The zipline is about 1,000ft long each way, and 155 feet above the ground in the middle. It is quite the exhilarating feeling when you are racing along so high off of the ground. It may be a bit of a walk to get up to the Big Zip, but it is well worth it.
Other Facilities and Assets
In addition to all of that, Camp Guyasuta has multiple pavilions for picnics and more. They also have both indoor and outdoor archery and BB gun ranges. If biking or aquatic activities are more your thing, the camp has bikes, canoes, and kayaks for use on group outings.
There are multiple hiking trails throughout the valley. Some follow along the sides, while the main trail runs through the centre of the camp and leads to a nice picturesque waterfall further up the valley. The waterfall and creek are fed by a natural spring which bubbles up from the ground, ensuring that there is always water in the creek. This is especially nice if you enjoy creeking as you are allowed to hike right along the creek bed.
Throughout the year Guyasuta holds many speciality camps and other events at their facilities. They host four weeks of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) day camps in July, two special needs day camps (one in the spring and one in the autumn), Cub Scout day camps, their annual Haunted Guyasuta Halloween event, and various field trips and groups that rent the use of the facilities and assets.
Haunted Guyasuta is by far the biggest annual event they hold. Tickets are open to the general public (not just those in Scouting) and they regularly have almost 1,000 people across the six hours the event runs for. During that time they have hay rides (tractor rides) up the valley to and from the pumpkin patch, a complex and highly well done haunted trail, face painting, games, and more, as well as having the High Course open to anyone who would like to try it out, and the Big Zip open for those who are old enough (over 12 years old) for an extra price. It is consistently popular and the nearby towns highly look forward to it.
Boy Scout Camp Guyasuta contains a century of experience, excellence, and tradition. It is a wonderful place to go and spend an afternoon hiking their trails (once you’ve checked in with the Ranger!), attending their events, or even renting the use of their facilities. All in all, it is a nice place to lose yourself and escape the city for a while.
Camp Guyasuta Official Website: www.campguyasuta.org.