A regional airport in the state of Wisconsin is home this week to some 35,000 Seventh-day Adventist young people.
The 2009 International Pathfinder Camporee, held every five years, is meeting this year at Wittman Regional Airport, some 90 miles north of Milwaukee.
"I don't think there's a larger Seventh-day Adventist five-day gathering than this one," Ron Whitehead, executive director of the event told the Adventist Review. He said the bulk of attendees have been preparing for this for years and are attending at their own expense.
Many of the teens are taking advantage of hot air balloon rides, climbing walls, sailing and other activities. For the week, camporee organizers rented out the local YMCA, giving the kids a chance to ice-skate, play indoor soccer and swim. The activities are designed to provide a memorable experience and help kids make new friends while strengthening their faith in Christ.
On Saturday August 15, camporee organizers expect to pass out 40,000 bottles of water to delegates camping in thousands of tents and using an estimated 100 portable toilets 1,000 portable showers, and generating tons of trash daily. For the first time in this every-five-year event for Adventist young people, there will also be an emphasis on recycling.
The event also requires 4,000 chairs and 1,500 folding tables for young people to use in learning one of 121 different "honors," similar to the merit badges of scouting programs.
Though using only a fraction of the land at Wittman, the camporee's size is not inconsequential: participants would have to walk about one mile from the last tent to the farthest point in the event.
Whitehead said it takes 1,000 volunteers to run the "city," not including the local and area Pathfinder directors coming from every corner of the United States and many parts of the world.
One of those shepherding the kids was Alvina Cook of Albertville, Minnesota. She and her husband gave up a week to travel here at their own expense. "We like kids and really want everyone to have the best experience they can," Cook said.
Pathfinders said they're excited about the chance to learn new skills. "I hope to complete four or five honors while I am here," said Mufaro Pazrakawambwa, 12, a Pathfinder from Harare, Zimbabwe.
Ariana Davis, 13, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, was working on completing her Scrapbooking honor, one of six she hopes to finish during the camporee. "It's better to do it here; you are around other people and you are learning more," she said when asked about the advantage of completing honors at Oshkosh. "You meet people from different cultures all over the world here," Davis added.
Along with subjects such as sailing, hiking and scrapbooking are more serious topics such as geocaching, medical honors and international aid. About a dozen kids were spotted in the geocaching class, which utilizes Global Positioning System, or GPS, devices to engage in a high-tech version of hide-and seek. It's also a relatively new Pathfinder honor.
Another 350 kids are expected to complete a two-hour honor in Nursing, said Leslie de Fluiter, 27, an instructor at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The camporee officially concludes on the evening of August 15.