Preserving Scout camp for new generations

Preserving Scout camp for new generations

Wow, this brought back memories. The Boy Scout council where I grew up is renovating Camp Squanto, their summer camp in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They plan to spend about $3 million building a new dining hall, a welcome lodge, and other improvements.

I spent a couple of weeks over a few summers there in my youth in the early 80s. Usually, I would spend a week with my troop and then a second week with a couple of friends in the “provisional” troop, which was a catch-all group for scouts whose troop wasn’t at the camp.

I remember that my first time there, I had to take my swimming test at the beginning of the week so they would know my proficiency and where I could swim. Unfortunately, the tests took forever and I happened to be the last kid to go. Also unfortunately, they had a problem that year with eels living under the swim docks and a few boys got bit. Nothing serious, mind you, but somewhat painful. It added an air of … challenge to the swim tests. In fact, just before my turn, the boy before me was bit in the arm and had to be taken up to the aid station.

They had a problem that year with eels living under the swim docks. It added an air of … challenge to the swim tests.

The lifeguard who remained looked at me and said, “Well, you’re the last one, so you may as well try it.” Wait, what?! From his point of view, I was the last kid left so the worst that could happen is that I got nipped too. From my point of view … I could get nipped too!

As an accommodation, he allowed me to swim closer to shore and further from the dock. Gee, thanks. As a result it was the fastest swim test on record. I barely even got wet, I swam so fast. I jumped in and did the required manuevers as fast as possible: crawl, butterfly, hold my breath under water, tread water. Mark Spitz had nothing on me. And I did it the whole time with my eyes closed. I didn’t dare open them under water for fear of seeing the gaping maw of an eel coming at me. Did I mention the little buggers were just a couple of inches long? But in my imagination they were six-foot Moray eels.

Oh, I passed, by the way.

Fighting naval battles for glory and honor

One of my years there, our troop partnered with a Scout troop from a neighboring town. The best part of the arrangement was that this other troop had brought a whaleboat to camp. Yep, a real whaleboat with rows of benches and oarlocks and a rudder at the back and everything. Camp Squanto surrounds Fawn Pond and our troop’s campsite that year was located on the far side from the main buildings, including the dining hall. Rather than tramping along the lakeside trail like the rest of the Scouts, we could row our way across in style as a whole troop, a couple of kids to an oar. And as usual, whatever sets you apart from the other boys quickly becomes an object of dispute.

It didn’t take long for it to become a point of competition for the other troops to try to steal our whaleboat from us. One day, at lunch, one of our Scouts burst into the dining hall: “They’re taking the boat!” Our tables were abandoned immediately, leaving overturned benches and half-eaten meals behind, and we rushed down to the nearby dock to cast ourselves at the “pirates” attempting to abscond with our craft. Much pushing and shoving and bodily throwing into the lake ensued, accompanied by shrieks and laughter because it was all in good-natured fun. Of course, we were reprimanded for our discourteous exit from the hall, but I think our troop leaders secretly were pleased with our esprit de corps.

Eventually we awoke one morning to find our boat all the way across the lake, pulled up on shore by the swimming beach, but we maintained that since everyone knew it was impossible for another troop to steal our boat—and none attempted to take credit—that it had to have been moved by the Indian spirits who haunted the lake.

Helicopter hunting

The rifle and archery ranges were located near one another, a bit separate from the rest of the camp, of course, but unwisely they were just under the flight path of the helicopters flying to and from the nearby US Coast Guard station. They often flew overhead just above the treetops, yet in retrospect they were perhaps higher than we reazlied. Now, we all had enough sense not to do anything stupid with the rifles, and the instructors were much too vigilant to allow chicanery with firearms. Yet, they were a little more lax at the archery range. (I’m not sure why that was.) Thus, occasionally some juvenile delinquent (one fellow in particular, now that I think about it) would pause in his attempt to impale a hay bale down the range to fire up at a passing helicopter. I shudder to think of the possible consequences of such recklessness, although I’ve never heard of anything untoward resulting. I doubt the puny bows could even throw an arrow that high. Still, it might be amusing to think of some Coast Guardsman wondering where the arrow sticking out of the bottom of his aircraft had originated.

Obviously, this is well before 9/11. I think such hijinks would not be overlooked today.

Then there were the camp-wide games like capture the flag and counselor hunts. Those were often so much fun as the whole place was turned out and the hundreds of kids spent hours running through the woods and buildings. I recall the time we made one of our fellow Scouts seasick at the dinner table by swaying back and forth while he was eating. The poor guy had a weak stomach and we were merciless. Speaking of food, I can still taste the gallons of “bug juice” (i.e. flavored sugar water) we inhaled and the ubiquitous peanut butter & jelly on white bread sandwiches we practically lived on, not to mention the luxury of the weekly steak dinner. Those were the days when simple food had the allure of a royal feast if only because of the company we kept and the place we ate it.

We spent a weekend up there, playing in the snow during the day and learning to play cards and gamble at night.

It should be noted that it wasn't only a "summer" camp. Camp Squanto offers year-round activities, and our troop took advantage of that one winter. They have a one-room cabin on the lake with a bunch of triple-decker bunk beds, a big fireplace, and a large table and not much else, like electricity. We spent a weekend up there, playing in the snow during the day and drying by the fire and learning to play cards and gamble at night. (I learned many useful skills in Scouting.) We used matches in place of poker chips and I recall that a friend kept lighting up my “bank”. You’d think putting a couple dozen boys in one-room cabin for a snowy weekend would be a recipe for disaster, but in fact it was great fun.

Anyway, I’m happy to know that future generations of Scouts will continue to make memories at Camp Squanto that will last their lifetime. I hope my own sons one day can experience the same.