History of Camp Stearns
by Brent Dalzell
(Stearns alum ‘91-’98, article written in 1999)
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably shared blood, sweat, and tears with about 20 other people for a summer or two in years past. As the Stearns Scout Reservation – Webelos Camp program becomes recognized as a long-standing aspect of the Viking Council program, we should take a step back and look at where we came from. As an alumni of Stearns from 1991-98 I can only provide a snapshot of the camp’s history, hopefully this brief summary of the camp’s past eight years will provide some insight into the recent development behind what camp is today. Many of the changes that have occurred at camp are interconnected. Ultimately, they all stem back to the fact that the program has become increasingly popular as well as the desire to accommodate more Scouts in a summer. (For those of you pre-1984 staff members that have been away for awhile; Camp Heritage was re-dedicated as Camp Stearns in 1984 and Heritage is now a portion of the property within the camp).
I was sixteen when I began working at Stearns in 1991. Camp was already a popular place and the seven week long summer program was full nearly every session. Each week consisted of one 4-day session (both 4th and 5th graders at what is now called Camp Whitewater) followed by an evening off (usually spent at Dairy Queen in Annandale) and then a “Lad and Dad” or “Mom and Me” overnight program. This proceeded in a regular fashion until the summer was over.
In 1992, we still followed a similar routine but the summer was stretched out a bit longer (eight weeks) to accommodate more campers. A decision was soon made to separate the 4th and 5th grade programs. Having separate camps would allow us to offer different programs to 1st and 2nd year Webelos.
1993 was the first year that this separation was tried. All of camp was still run at Crosby Lodge; sessions were merely devoted entirely to either 4th or 5th grade campers. We reduced the number of “Fun with Son” programs offered in order to increase the number of 4th and 5th grade sessions and accommodate more Webelos. Still more sessions were created by adding an additional week onto the summer; the Webelos Camp summer was now nine weeks long.
What happened in 1994 was a pivotal step in developing the program that exists today. An experimental Webelos Camp operated for half of the summer in Camp Gilwell. With Landes Training Center as our main lodge, a small staff operated a separate and independent Webelos Camp while the standard program still operated from Crosby Lodge in Camp Whitewater. The whole purpose of this experimental camp was to determine if it was possible to operate two separate Webelos Camps simultaneously within Camp Stearns. It worked.
1995 marked the first permanent split of 4th and 5th grade Webelos Camp programs as a new 4th grade Webelos Camp took form in Camp Heritage (this original name for Camp Stearns now represents the northeastern portion of the camp property). Camp Heritage started out with a solitary building, Akela Lodge, which served as a staff dining area, first aid room, and Camp Director/Program Director office. A new swimming beach was added to Little Otter Lake, new B.B. gun and Archery ranges were constructed, and camp sites and program areas appeared throughout camp.
The first year of Camp Heritage was a success and permanent structures began to replace temporary ones. Latrines replaced biffies, permanent structures appeared at the ranges, a trading post/commissary building was built (with showers too!!!), and a new office adorns the back ‘lawn’ of Akela Lodge. Slowly, but surely, continuing additions are made to Heritage. This year, there is a new beach house and a much-needed storm shelter/activity building is near completion.
What was a program that saw about 800 scouts (my estimate) in 1991 has now become two simultaneously operating camps that see about 2,700 scouts in a summer. If you include adult leaders, and guests (family night dinner), Camp Stearns Webelos Camp saw almost 6,000 people pass through its gates last summer, and there’s no sign of things slowing down. Registration is always booked with a waiting list and there’s talk of an additional Cub Scout (pre-Webelos) program development at Camp Stearns.
I’ve tried to give a brief overview of some of the developments that have occurred at Camp Stearns over the past eight years but there are many things I have not addressed in this summary. If you have had the opportunity to camp at Stearns with your own son(s) (I’ve met some of you who have) then you’ve had the opportunity to witness some of the changes I’ve described. If not, then there are many things at Camp that you should come see for yourself. Stearns Webelos Camp is a very successful program that provides opportunities to literally thousands of Scouts each summer.This is a program that you helped to build and develop and you should be proud of that.