Summer Camp

Summer camp was the highlight of the year for our Troop.  A 1965 Camp Bulletin states that Troop 273 started a summer camp program during 1955. The Troop went to Camp Newcombe, Wading River, New York for their first summer camp (Camp Newcombe was closed in the early 60's). Tom Costigan was the Scoutmaster for the first Summer Camp and Uncle Al was the Troop Committee Chairman. In the early years of summer camp, the Troop had the following attendance figures: 

1955: 16 Scouts at Camp Newcombe; 1956: 23 Scouts at Camp Newcombe; 1957: 28 Scouts at Camp Pouch; 1958: 42 Scouts at Camp Pouch: 1959: 42 Scouts at Sanita Hills; 1960: 33 Scouts at Sanita Hills: 1961: 31 Scouts at Sanita Hills; 1962: 33 Scouts at Sanita Hills: 1963: 35 Scouts at Sanita Hills and 1964: 38 Scouts at Sanita Hills: For the years that I attended summer camp we averaged in the 35 to 40 Scouts per year on average.

( Note: I have also included a list of all summer camp locations by year which may be found here. Thanks to Mike Trietsch for this information!

Also, maps to most of our camps may be found in our Archives page here).

I went to Summer Camp with Troop 273 during the summers of 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. For the first 4 of those camps, our troop went to area G10 at Sanita Hills, near Holmes, New York. During 1969, the Council took over summer camps at Sanita Hills and ran a summer camp program during 1970, 1971 and 1972. After 1972, Sanita Hills closed down for good. So for my last summer camp in 1969, our Troop went to Ten Mile River. The Troop Leadership wanted to return to more autonomy then the TMR managed camps offered, so after 1970, the Troop used several camp sites including Camp Conron near Holmes, NY.

When I was at West Point, I stopped by Troop 273 Summer Camp for one week during 1974 and served as a leader for my stay.  This was the first year that Bill and the Troop leadership used Camp Conron for Summer Camp. I know Bill Welsch wanted to return to a Troop managed camp after several years of Council managed camps. Camp Conron was perfect for this type of Troop managed summer camp. The Troop would use Camp Conron for the next few years through 1986. Then the remaining summer camps were held at Ten Mile River through the last camp year during 1997.

Before the GNYC took over Sanita Hills for Council managed Summer Camp in 1970, the summer camp programs at Sanita Hills were run by individual Troops. This provided Scoutmasters and Troop leaders a lot more flexibility in running the camp. I know Bill Welsch really preferred this arrangement. For example, all food was bought and prepared by the Troop leadership. So Bill could put together a menu of his choice and serve meals when he desired. In a council run camp, each troop paid by scout for meals prepared at some central dining facility, for the entire camp. Sometimes the Troops would eat at the same time in a large dining hall. Other times, the Troops would pick up their portion of food in mermite cans and bring it back to the Troop camp site. Each Troop was at the mercy of the consolidated, central camp kitchen to eat what they prepared and at fixed hours. And some of those meals were not very good.

At Troop managed camps, in the area of water activities (like Swimming, Rowing, Canoeing), Troops registered for blocks of time each day. Then when we went for “Swim Periods” our own leadership would run the swim area and provide lifeguards. So each Troop had great flexibility in their schedules for meals, swim periods, merit badge training and other activities which was preferred by our Troop leadership. We were not governed by a Camp Director and a Camp Calendar or Camp daily schedule of events. A final benefit to out Troop-run autonomy was Uncle Al setting up a "Camp Store" several times during the day, where we could buy candy and other goodies.

We were also fortunate to get Area G10 each summer. This was an ideal spot for a Troop. The camp was at the end of a camp road, so we were at a dead-end with no thru-traffic. We had a large gravel drive and parking area as part of our site. This was ideal for Troop formations and large evening campfires. We could walk a few hundred yards to get to an inlet of Lake Sanita for fishing. And the swim area was a short walk down the road. The hub of our camp site was a Pulmanette, a rail car that served as sleeping quarters and HQ for our adult leaders. Right next to the Pulmanette was a large green canvas tent (in the Army, we called these GP large tents). This served as our kitchen and our dining hall.

Although we camped out, and pretended to “rough it,” the campsite did have a hot water heater for the kitchen and propane gas for the kitchen stoves. We also had refrigeration for our food stores. Our adult leaders did all the cooking and serving of meals, and us boys generally did KP duty after each meal. I really enjoyed meals at camp: the adult leaders always had a varied an nutritious menu, provided at low cost, and there was always plenty of food.

The Scouts were housed near the dining tent in an area prepped for several GP Medium tents. We would put 6 to 8 cots in each of these tents: the camp provided wood floors for these tents, so it was not like we were camped on bare ground.  In 1968 and 1969, when I was a junior leader, I shared a GP Small tent with a fellow Scout. Again, these tents had wooden floors, so the set-up was quite comfortable.

The great benefit of summer camp, besides being in the great outdoors, was the chance to earn many merit badges during that time. Of course most were nature-themed. We would earn Nature, Camping, Woodworking, Pioneering, Cooking, Fishing, Swimming, Lifesaving, Rowing and Canoeing among other popular “outdoor” merit badges. I remember Tom Costigan working as the Woodworking merit badge counselor. He had a deep voice and showed very little emotion. He also had immense patience trusting us boys with sharp tools as we butchered completely good pieces of wood. It was bad planning that the Troop ping pong table was right next to the tables used for Woodworking.  Tom would leave us to some work and walk off. Some of us would take a break for a quick game of ping-pong. Tom would come back and his low, slow, deliberate voice he would say: “Chop, chop, not ping pong!”

We were always busy during the day. There was no real “down time.” Bill and his leaders did a great job of giving us a full, productive schedule. And we always had an evening Campfire, weather permitting. We sang lots of songs (I’ll provide a list of songs in the Archives) and always ended with the Marine Corps Hymn and Taps. I don’t remember ever receiving a written list of songs with lyrics. The songs were simple enough to learn as we went along.  Some nights we had special events like “The Klondike” or the Ja Di Gon Sa Tap- out (selection to our troops “honor society). We always had a full day and went to bed tired.

I sincerely appreciated Bill’s past service in the Marine Corps and I liked the discipline and military order he brought to our summer camps. In an era where such traditions were quickly going out of style, Bill made sure that we had an appreciation of our flag, our country and our traditional ideals. We were fortunate to have a bugler, Paul Grace, who played very well. Every morning he would blow “Reveille” and in the evening, he would play “Taps.” We formed up every morning before breakfast, we would raise our flag, we would salute and Paul would play “To the Colors.” In the evening, before dinner, we would lower the flag, salute and Paul would play “Retreat.” This became routine for me for the next 5 years in Scouts. By the time I entered West Point, I was an old pro as far as our daily ceremonies to honor our flag and our nation were concerned.  More importantly, Bill instilled in me a sense of duty, honor and country that remains with me even today.  That will never go out of style.

When camp ended, we returned home by bus to our waiting parents in front of SBJL. We were tired and we were happy to be home yet we were proud of what we had accomplished during the past 2 weeks. We eagerly told our parents our camp stories, often exaggerating beyond all reason. Our Mom’s quickly sewed on any new ranks we had achieved: they sewed on the merit badges to our sashes and they sewed patches on our jackets. Thank the Lord that we had Moms back then who knew how to sew: even that has become a dying art.

When I look back now, I realize how much work the adult leaders and junior leaders put into summer camp. As a boy, you don’t understand nor appreciate the time and effort they devoted to our training, welfare and development. But I know now. And words can not express the gratitude that I have for them, for the time, effort and love they provided to make each summer camp a memorable and rewarding experience.  Thank you all!