Since it opened in May 2022, the new Skip and Alex Lange Innovation Center at the Camp Belzer campus in Lawrence has had an estimated 8,000 kids come through its doors.
The center broke ground on the center, part of a $7 million project, in late 2020. Center Director Rob Tankersley said one of the center’s goals is to introduce kids to Scouting.
“The Boy Scouts of America as the overarching organization, specifically, the Crossroads of America Council here in Central Indiana, has owned the camp here for just over 100 years,” he said. “This facility was originally an indoor center for Scouting activities. And we’re talking about the bones of this facility being better than 80 years old at this stage. So the goal about four years ago was to turn it back into an indoor (activity center). All of those activities and adventures you think of when you think Boy Scouts of America, turn it into a location where that could happen regardless of what our weather would do outside.”
The center also is open to the public, helping introduce young and not-young residents to some of those activities, too, he said.
When you walk in the front doors, the space opens up into a huge activity room. A climbing area with colorful hand and footholds covers one wall and is several stories tall. Up a set of stairs is the sky trail — an elevated ropes course that anyone with vertigo should avoid.
Tankersley said the main floor space can be configured for archery and BB gun practice.
“But then the real interesting twist, and I think the real opportunity, not just for Scouts, but for the community in general, are the two makerspace labs that we have in the back, where we can offer 3D printing and makerspace projects (such as) robotics and drones,” he said.
Summers are busy with youth camp activities, Tankersley said. August tends to be a slow month as kids get back to classes, but then things pick up again with school field trips. He said Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township is a great partner, and they brought about 16 different groups — mostly middle school — to the center last school year.
“But as opposed to the concept of just a field day or a fun day, in conjunction with their teachers and their faculty we built some curriculum reinforcement into the field trips,” Tankersley said. “In addition to being up on the rock wall and experiencing climbing in some situations for the first time, we’re also doing a social studies exercise and working on historical events and timelines.”
He said teachers created tags to place on the rock wall for teams of students to find while climbing.
“The kids had to go up and get all those tags, but then they had to sit down and get them properly arranged down at ground level,” he said. “So the kids that weren’t overly interested in that challenge-by-choice experience (on the wall) still had an opportunity to participate with the organization and the layout of everything.”
A similar learning experience took place on the sky trail, he said.
The makerspace areas include a robotics and drone programming room, and another room for 3D printing, laser engraving and building projects. Those spaces also are great for school field trips, he said, because students can learn a different kind of programming.
“There’s not a kid on the planet (who) can’t pull his phone out and figure out how to pilot a robot or any other video game,” Tankersley said. “But when we don’t give them that option, and we encourage them and/or force them to program it, it’s a very different learning experience.”
There are different levels of drones and robots available for different age groups.
Tankersley said they plan to start a robotics club, taking the programming and building experience available at the center to a new level.
The Lange Innovation Center is not just for kids. Tankersley said it’s available for corporate or business events, as well, and adults attending those events can try out the climbing wall or sky trail, too. The center also hosts a lot of birthday parties, he said, and offered a vertical Easter egg hunt on the climbing wall this past spring.
Tankersley said there’s lots of potential for growth at the center, but he’s happy with where it is just about a year after opening its doors.
The Skip and Alex Lange Innovation Center is open to the public every Saturday fro 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s located at the Camp Belzer campus, 6102 Boy Scout Rd. in Lawrence.
Camp Belzer: A brief history
Camp Belzer was founded in 1918 by Chief Scout of the Indianapolis area, Francis O. Belzer. It originally was named Camp Chank-Tun-Un-Gi. It was renamed in Belzer’s honor in 1940.
When it opened, the camp was one of the first Boy Scout summer camps in the United States, according to usscouts.org.
Belzer had been active in Scouting before then, and in 1910 founded Boy Scout Troop 9. In 1914, he started the Central Indiana Council, which is now Crossroads of America Council, according to an online history of Troop 9.