Wauwepex Revisited – An old camp staffer returns after 50 years

By Bruce A. Smith

Just got back from camp. Sweet time. Those of us old camp staffers who disregarded the twice aborted 100th Reunion set for today, netted seven of us in total: Cliff Jones and his wife Linda – who was the camp nurse after Ginny Spice. Robert R., Doug W. and I. Plus Brian Petrowski, who manages the new museum, and his volunteer assistant, a fellow named Don, who first camped at Wauwepex in 1956.

I arrived at noon, and joined the others in the newly dedicated Wauwepex Museum, located in part of my old maintenance shack. We kibitzed and schmoozed for an hour, exchanged camp stories, and then Doug, Robert, and I went for a long walk around the camp. Suburban developments now come right up to the camp borders. The adjoining Navy and USG properties to Wauwepex that gave us the sense that our camp was huge, are all sold off. In effect, Wauwepex at 600 acres is now the new Harkness Training Center – the ten-acre spot in Roslyn that was my go-to camp for day hikes and patrol-sized camp-outs when I was coming up through the ranks of Troop 166 in Garden City.

At Hayden Hall in Indian Division, Doug, Robert and I even met one kid with a fishing pole in his hands, walking back from the lake to his home in a development just east of the Fire Road by the Manhasset campsite in Indian.

“Caught two perch,” he said.

The lake is also populated by two-dozen Canadian Geese. We also saw a hawk and maybe an osprey flying overhead. The lake is at least 3-foot lower in elevation than its traditional normal levels. The old swampy inlet by Frontier is now bone-dry and growing grasses.

In general, camp is returning to its natural state. Scouts haven’t had a summer camp at Wauwepex since the late 1970s. In fact, my first summer as a camper – 1961 – saw a thousand scouts every two weeks throughout the summer season. As a result, the central area is now green. Grass is growing in what was once sandy roadways or trails between the Nature Lodge, Craft Lodge, and the Trading Post. The amphitheater is now a grassy slope, as all the benches are taken out. The parade ground is all grass, too. The Lake Road is mostly a sandy trail, with only a few stretches of the old macadam showing. Much of the camp’s trail erosion has been restored. The enormous sandy scar of the old Fire Trail in Frontier looks like it has been completely restored to grass, trees and shrubs.

We even saw a flock of wild turkeys walking calmly throughout Frontier and Pioneer campsites. The new Hickock Hall looks grand, and was even air-conditioned yesterday in the 82-degree heat. I wanted to go for a swim but was outvoted by Robert and Doug, who did not want to risk alienating Kevin L., who is the new Ranger and seems like a nice guy. In the old Pioneer archery range, a vast challenge course exists, with a wooden tower that appears to be 40-feet high. It’s impressive. Pioneer Dining Hall seems to be gone, and is part of the new archery range site, along with a BB-range on the foundation as well.

We saw a number of Frontier and Pioneer campsites that had tent platforms, but no railings or uprights. Just flat platforms lying on the ground. It seemed strange. Surprisingly, the planks appeared to be in good shape, although weathered.

Our Provisional Scoutmaster plaque is still on the Wall of Honor at Hickock Hall, but the printing is so small I didn’t see it at first. It’s on the far-right side as one looks at the wall.

My old boss, Camp Ranger Johnnie Jones also has a plaque on the Wall of Honor. He also has another tiny plaque situated at the entrance to the camp office. It’s not much bigger than the plaques we made for the dining halls, but at least it’s in a fitting place, I say, for a great man. Thanks to his son Cliff, who took care of this needed business.

Indoor shower stalls and single -person bathroom facilities adorn all the campgrounds. All latrines are gone, and even the first-generation of Division-wide flush toilet bathrooms are gone, replaced with clusters of single-person units. I think that may be the wave of the future as gender identities are blurry and integrated. I understand that male Boy Scouts go camping alongside “Girl Scouts-BSA,” as they are called. They are in separate troops, with independent adult leadership, but they do programs together, along with camping. The new toilet configurations avoid transgender issues, too. Helps pee-shy folks, too.

Some swimming takes place, in Indian, which has a floating dock. Canoes and paddle boats were stored on the shoreline, mostly for Cub Scouts, I was told.

Order of the Arrow rituals no longer utilize Indian costumes in deference to the sensitives of local indigenous people. Unless the OA scouts dress in local regalia and have the okay of the local tribes, such as the Shinnecock. Also, no more tap-outs, as some folks feel it is too violent and may cause injury. Locally, the OA is trying to develop a new uniform and rituals, but Don and Brian felt it has been pretty lame so far. Currently, all-black attire is being developed for most OA rituals.

The old maintenance area is cut in half, and the western half is the new Wauwepex Museum. Small, but neat and informative. The eastern half of the maintenance shack is adjoined to the expanded old commissary area, and all of it is now divided into maintenance work stations, a camp office, a small trading post, and a bathroom. It looks a tad untidy, and Johnnie would have had a “shit-fit.”

The old house we used as a dormitory for Pre-Camp and then was used for the Camp Nurse during the season is gone. Leveled. The dirt field in front of it is now a paved parking lot. Kevin told us Wauwepex will be packed to the gills with Cubbies and Dads for the Fall Festival on October 22. We Wauwepex Camp Staffers are supposed to be honored in some fashion, so I will be returning. I’ll even be buying a new scout uniform for the occasion – one that fits – so I’ll be part of the whole regalia. Hell, there’ll be hay rides around the lake and up to Indian and Frontier, so I’m gonna have a good time.

I spotted the new NYS-DEC fishing station is at the main gate, but it does not seem to be used significantly.

Doug joked somewhat about getting us old renegade camp staffers to come back at night and switch the new Schiff Reservation sign at the gate with the old Wauwepex sign that now has been moved from the front gate to the Frontier camping area. Brian said that council got a million bucks for the naming rights to camp, hence the new signage at the gate. Grandpop Mortimer Schiff also paid off the mortgage on Wauwepex back in the 1920s, which earned him a plaque on the parade grounds. So, Schiff money continues to talk.

Doug took lots of pix, so more to follow.

Note: Cliff has penned his own account of his life at Camp Wauwepex, and has shared some of his photos below.

https://themountainnewswa.net/2019/11/04/life-in-a-boy-scout-camp/

The old sign

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4 Responses to Wauwepex Revisited – An old camp staffer returns after 50 years

  1. bfran65 says:

    I tried to reply using the system on the newsletter AND WAS SCOLDED that my email address was not me. It must be me because I received the newsletter at the email address which was rejected. Maybe I was not on the staff of Camp wauwepex but was on the staff of Camp Edey…Please advise how to beat the system….Barry Frankel, pioneer waterfront, Indian waterfront, Program manager Indian and Grand Master of the Order of the Sparrow representing all dishonorable scout campers ( please advise sooner I am in my 82nd year and could drop any day now)

  2. brucesmith49 says:

    Yup, Barry, the system gets cranky. But I see your email. Glad you’re still with us!

  3. brucesmith49 says:

    I had trouble replying, too, Barry, and this is my site! Glad you’re with us! Still!

  4. Roy A. Peters says:

    Just finished reading. Brought back some interesting memories. . .
    I felt my dad smile.
    I will tell my brother John about the reunion. .
    Wauwepex. . . A place of dreams come true.
    A lot of boys became better men , for the time spent there.
    Thank you Bruce for fanning the coals of a great memory. ..
    Be well my fried
    Roy Peters

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