Brothers serve as mentors to young campers


Camping means many different things to many people. It could include staying at a lodge or resort where they can enjoy meals cooked by talented chefs.

There are hundreds of types of self-contained bus-type recreational vehicles and pull-type camping trailers that contain the many conveniences found in a person’s home.  

And, of course, there are tents such as the pop-up tent, ridge or dome tents and the backpacking tent.  

No matter what type of camping a person prefers, the baseline for camping is usually to restore the spirt by escaping the everyday urban and suburban existence to a more calmer life that is often forgotten — and to enjoy nature in all of its wonder, whether it be in the woods, Ozark Mountains, along the many rivers and lakes or just in a peaceful meadow covered with wildflowers and the stars overhead.

Like most outdoor activities, such as hunting and fishing, the camping desire usually starts at a young age and is taught or mentored by an older adult, such as a parent or grandparent.  

Unfortunately, there seems to be a decline in the youth participating in these outdoor activities. The influences that take away the interest of the outdoors include computer games, social networking, organized sports and television.  

The loss of a mentor is also a huge contributing factor. Parents struggle every day to provide food, shelter and safety for their family and that makes it difficult for them to find the extra time, money and energy in their everyday lives to take time off for a four- or five-day camping trip.

Brothers Colton and Sam Cluff, who live in Franklin County, Mo., have always enjoyed the many activities and learning experiences that the outdoors has to offer. 

They were introduced to the outdoors and mentored by their father. The brothers are now in their early 20’s but their outdoor education started when they were 11 and joined Boy Scouts of America.  

Both brothers took the scouting program seriously and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

With the turmoil that is present within the Boy Scouts of America organization, and the seemingly lack of interest in young men getting involved in outdoors activities, the brothers felt a need to get involved.

Colton and Sam both felt an obligation to pass on the teachings that their father and the scouting program instilled upon them about the outdoors, being a steward for conservation practices and to be a good and responsible person. 

They asked their church to sponsor a program that young men can join so that they could teach and mentor the things that they have learned about the outdoors and nature. 

They simply call this new program, “The Young Men’s Program.” So far the program has been extremely successful.  

There are about 16 to 18 boys between the ages of 11 and 18 who live in the Union and Washington (Missouri) area that are involved in this outdoor program. 

Any boy can join the Young Men’s Program if they have a desire to learn about the outdoors and to develop a camaraderie with other boys who have the same interest. 

Camping is the main activity for the Young Men’s Program and some of the many places that they have been camping include: Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, Beaumont Scout Reservation, West Tyson Park, Onondaga Cave State Park, Greensfelder Park, S-F Scout Ranch and private farms.

Colton said that they most frequently camp at established campgrounds like the ones listed above, but they also try to go on a primitive campout at least once a year. 

Primitive camping is when there is no electricity, running water, bathroom facilities and no neighboring campers. 

The brothers also get the fathers involved in their son’s activities. Every fall they hold a father-and-son campout with men and boys from the St. Louis area.  

Boys of all ages attend. The youngest age on these campouts is 11, but last fall Colton took his 10-month-old son. 

“It was a great experience for me to be out doing something I love with my son,” said Colton. “Landon, although young, had a great time playing outside in the grass with the boys and watching the fire.” 

The older boys also enjoyed sharing this new experience with Landon.

Colton and Sam also take a group of boys on a two-day camping outing between four and six times a year, as well as a week-long campout at least once a year.  

For many of the boys in this group this is the first time that they have been camping, and it was an exciting experience for them.

Some of the most interesting experiences the boys have include cooking their own food. The boys cook their food on their own, separate from the adults. 

Cooking is most often prepared on a propane fuel camp stove and every once in a while over an open fire. Meals include tin foil dinners with meat and vegetables, spaghetti, steaks, bacon, eggs, pancakes, breakfast burritos, and dutch oven cobbler as often as possible.  

The most favorite food that these young campers like to eat is bacon and pancakes. There are also some foods that are not a favorite of the young campers.  

Colton described a time a few years ago when they planned a campout in which every boy was supposed to bring a can of stew of their choice, and they would put everybody’s can into a pot and cook it together as one big stew. 

Although they were directed to bring a “stew,” there were at least a couple boys who brought a can of chicken noodle soup. They threw it all together and called it “scout stew.” 
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“We never made scout stew again,” Colton said. 

Colton and Sam work very closely with the boys who are going on their first camping trip. They try to keep the equipment very basic for their first time out. 

They ask each boy to bring a sleeping bag, pillow, warm clothes in the winter, and always a fresh pair of socks.

They will provide most everything else. It is their intention for the first-time camper to enjoy the experience rather than worry about what he needs to bring.  

The biggest surprise for the first-time campers is how cold it can get at night in the woods.

There are a great many activities that these young men participate in during these campouts. The group is always taught some valuable skills, such as how to build a good fire.  

They learn how to get a fire started and about the different ways to build a fire, depending on whether that fire is for cooking or warmth. 

The boys also have supervised competitions, such as target shooting, javelin throwing, weightlifting and hand-wrestling matches. 

The campouts are diversified as much as possible, focusing on a specific skill such as fishing, fire building, first aid, basic camping skills and cooking.

The boys have a great deal of fun but there are some dangers to be aware of when camping with young men.  

Some of the dangers they may face when camping include burns from fires, heat-related illness, and injuries from the tools that are associated with camping. 

The boys love to have fun on these outings so there’s always the danger of someone getting hurt while running in the woods and down steep hills, but  Colton and Sam believe that one of the most important things is to simply let them be boys.

“Snipe” hunting is a very popular activity for the first-time camper. Colton tells this story.

“One of my funniest camping memories was from a time when we were camping down at S-F Scout Ranch,” said Colton. “It was the first week-long campout for a couple of the boys, Clark and Dalton. One night, as we were sitting around the campfire, we told these boys that it was time for their first snipe hunt.

“We vaguely described these little creatures to the boys and taught them about the best methods for catching one. A few minutes later we all headed to the woods with black trash bags to hunt some snipes.

“These boys laid out in the trees for about an hour, holding open their trash bags and softly shaking the bag at the same time. We taught them that this was the best technique as it attracts the snipe into the bag. 

“When they finally came back to camp, disappointed that they had not caught a snipe, we told them our wonderful stories of the three snipe that the more experienced boys had caught. 

“We told them that they were being kept alive inside one of our coolers, but that they could not see them until the morning. All night they were mystified by what these little creatures might look like. Sadly, by morning, the snipes had escaped.” 

The boys might not have seen a snipe but they have come across lots of deer, raccoons, even several groundhogs and opossums. They always try their hand at tracking and watching as many animals as they can.

Colton and Sam enjoy working with these young men and seeing them go from one stage of knowledge to a much higher stage of knowledge in such a short amount of time.

The biggest thing these boys enjoy, from the feedback that Colton and Sam have received, is just the time that the boys are able to share with each other when they are sitting around the fire.  

The biggest complaint from these boys is usually that these outings end too soon.

“They love these campouts and everything we do on them,” said Colton.

Parents have expressed that they love the good that these campouts do for their kids. The parents they work with want their kids to be involved in wholesome activities that they enjoy — and camping is one of those. 

Colton and Sam always thank the parents for letting them take their boys out camping and letting them enjoy some time with their youth while also being able to teach them and help them grow in ways they may not otherwise have the opportunity to.  

Colton said it is hoped that most of these young men will continue to enjoy being in the outdoors and go camping as often as their lifestyle allows.  

The future of the outdoors — be it camping, fishing, canoeing, hunting, hiking or just basic conservation practices — depends on the youth of our great state and the parents, grandparents and mentors who take these young people under their wing to show them what wonderful things the outdoors has to offer.  

If you know of a young man who would be interesting in getting involved in camping activities, contact Colton or Sam Cluff at 

And let them show the young men what the great outdoors has to offer.

(Bill Wakefield runs the Traveler’s St. Louis office and can be reached at

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