The woods around the Roosevelt Scout Reservation were silent. No humming computers. No music. Not even the tell-tale clicking of a cell phone texter. Just the chirping of crickets, the crackling of the campfire and the occasional rustle of some nocturnal creature.
This was not the nighttime soundtrack Matthew Halloran was accustomed to.
At home, the 11-year-old Millville Scout puts on his iPod and listens to some of his favorite pop tunes to help him fall asleep. But this technological crutch is not available deep in the woods in Elmer, Salem County.
"I just have to roll over and go to sleep," Halloran said.
At one time, summer Boy and Girl Scout camps were all about independence and survival. No television. No radio. No daily phone calls to mom. Just you, your tent mates and a lot of merit badges to earn. Now, being cut off from technology, even for a week, is more difficult for young campers who have cell phones, iPods and other portable devices available to them daily. While some camps are adhering doggedly to the rules of the past, others are making concessions to the times.
Brian Makos has been coming to Roosevelt since he was a Boy Scout in the 1980s. Back then, when the parents dropped off their sons for camp on Sunday, it was the last contact they had with them until the following Saturday.
Now, Makos is the leader of Millville's Troop 4 Boy Scouts. When they packed up to head to camp last week, he allowed the boys to throw cell phones in with the rest of their camping equipment.
"I wouldn't allow someone to take my child without him having the ability to get a hold of me," Makos said. "But the thing is, there's no place to charge the phones. So we tell them that when the battery is dead, it's dead."
Cell phones are discouraged at Roosevelt, but not banned, camp director Tom Gratton said.
Each troop leader handles it differently, with some locking up the phones in a footlocker and reserving them for emergencies only.
IPods, handheld video games and other devices are still forbidden, but even something as simple as a cell phone can disrupt the daily rhythms of camp.
"When I was a kid, you'd get into a squabble with a boy, and two minutes later you're best friends," Makos said. "Now they get into a squabble and they call right home to mom, then she calls me wanting to know what's going on."
Things are a bit more traditional at the Joseph A. Citta Scout Reservation in Barnegat Township, where even cell phones are off limits to everyone save the camp counselors who have to be on site nearly ever yday from mid-June to August.
"If new Scouts have that cell phone, they have that leash back home," explained camp director Ryan Weisbrod. "If you cut that leash, they have the chance to experience new things and become more independent."
Some of the younger campers handle this newfound freedom better than others.
"I miss my phone," said first-time camper Carlos Cortereras, 11, of Tuckerton. "I'm used to texting my friends all the time."
The best thing the Scout leaders can do is to keep the campers too busy to think about their missing gadgets.
At Roosevelt, the Scouts are on the move from assembly at 7:40 a.m. to showers and bedtime at about 8:30 p.m. Instead of playing the new "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" video game on PlayStation 3, they're doing leatherwork or learning how to cook over an open fire. Instead of gathering around the computer at night to check on MySpace, the Scouts are in the lake competing in the camp's "greased watermelon" competition.
The girls are no exception to the rule.
At the Camp Sacajawea Girl Scout retreat in Vineland, a technology ban is strictly enforced. The only contact the girls have with the outside world is through letters that parents write beforehand and have directors hand out each day at mail call.
"Some people get really homesick, but it's never really been a problem for me" said Rachel Huselid, 13, a West Windsor, Mercer County Scout attending Camp Sacajawea this week. "I miss my iPod more."
Later this summer, Huselid will attend a sports camp in Pennsylvania. During orientation, the camp's directors emphasized to Huselid and her parents that electronic devices of any kind were strictly forbidden.
"They even have ways they can check to see if someone has a phone," said Huselid's mother, Rebecca. "And if they find someone with a cell phone, they are going to confiscate it."
The adults in summer camp often have a tougher time battling technology withdrawal than their charges, now that Blackberrys and iPhones can help them keep tabs on family and work responsibilities. According to Gratton, a wireless network may be in Camp Roosevelt's future so Scout leaders with outside obligations can keep in touch with work without leaving the camp.
Makos brought his iPhone to Roosevelt with him and had to walk from the campsite to his truck each evening to recharge it.
"Back when I was a kid, the (Scout) leaders took the whole week off," Makos said. "Now you have to stay connected."
E-mail Courtney McCann:
Technology free summer
Even if summer camp isn't on your child's agenda this summer, there are activities they can do at home that don't require anything more high tech than a bouncing ball. Check out these Web sites for information on fun, inexpensive sidewalk games.
Games kids play
Rules for hopscotch, marbles, jacks and pickle. www.gameskidsplay.net
Spalding games and rules
Rules to several sidewalk games played with the pink-colored Spalding High-Bounce Ball. www.spaldeen.com/gamesrules.html
Fun games kids play
Includes some variations to the game of jacks. www.fungameskidsplay.com/jacksgame.htm
Land of marbles
Illustrations and a video clip on how to play marbles. www.landofmarbles.com/marbles-play.html
Directions for games such as pick up sticks and dominoes. www.cardinalgames.com
Bocce ball sets
Directions for bocce ball. www.bocceballrules.net