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A Blonde’s Perspective: Girl Scout camp near Ely

Sitting around a campfire with family this summer and making s’mores brought back many memories of the days when I was a Girl Scout.

Scouting introduced me to the delectable treat of roasted marshmallows and chocolate between two graham crackers. I Googled the gooey treat, usually made around a campfire, to find that a 1927 publication of the Girl Scouts printed the first recipe for s’mores. Why was it named s’more? The Girl Scouts wanted “some more!”

Raised on the Iron Range, I joined as a Brownie in the third-grade and then moved to a Girl Scout. It was scouting that taught me how to set a table and make a bed with nurses’ corners, and hopefully, to be prepared, in order to face the many challenges of life.

I wore the typical Girl Scout uniform – the green dress, yellow scarf tied in a square knot, green beret, and I still have my sash that includes the first badge I earned, the writer’s badge. At the time, I never thought I would be writing for nearly all my life.

But my favorite part of scouting was going to Girl Scout camp during the summer on Fenske Lake north of Ely.

Here’s a little history lesson – the Girl Scout camp was originally a CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps) built in the 1930s, an idea of President Franklin Roosevelt. During the CCC’s nine-year history, over 500,000 single, unemployed, young men (ages 18-25) enrolled in the program and were assigned to one of 2,700 camps in the U.S. Under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service, the work for CCC employees included fighting forest fires, planting trees, and clearing and maintaining roads. The pay was $30 per month, and two-thirds of that had to be sent to their families. As a result of the CCC program, more than 700 new state parks were created.

When the CCC camps closed just before the start of World War II, the camp on Fenske Lake was sold to the Northern Lakes Girl Scout Council. I attended the camp in the late 1950s, where I made new friends, took swimming lessons, learned how to build campfires, made crafts, cleaned the outdoor latrines, hiked, identified trees and leaves, sang songs around the campfire every night and ate s’mores.

I still remember many of the songs, including The Merry-go-round, Kookaburra, Make New Friends, Kumbaya, and, unfortunately, an Asian song with racist tones that was banned by the Girl Scout organization in the ‘90s.

We did skits in the evening to which our parents were invited to attend. I recall playing the role of a donkey in which I had to “hee-haw” and jump so that my feet hit my butt. I can no longer make that move.

We slept in the long barracks with a row of single beds lining the walls. I remember the night I woke in the middle of the night as I had to go the bathroom. However, the bathroom was the outdoor latrine. I didn’t dare to go outside with the creatures of the night, nor did I want to wake the counselors who had their own private room in the back of the barracks. So I relieved myself quietly in an empty plastic waste basket. However, when I stood up, the waste basket tipped over, spilling its contents onto the worn wooden floor. Until now, I never divulged my secret.

The camp closed in the early 1960s. It is now owned by the U.S. Forest Service as a remote campground. The only remains of the CCC camp and the Girl Scout camp are two stone fireplaces with chimneys that were in the mess hall where fresh bread was served every day.

Every evening, we ended the song fest around the campfire by singing the lyrics to Taps — “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hills, from the sky; all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.” We’d start the song by raising our arm slowly and then slowly lower it as the song ended. I always got choked up while singing it, as I didn’t want the day and fun times to end.

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