For generations, Scouts have made the pilgrimage to Camp Wolfeboro to experience the joys of an old-fashioned summer camp. It’s a place where Scouting traditions are of great consequence, and the ghosts of Wolfeboro’s venerable Pioneers are with you during every flag ceremony, campfire, swim test, rifle shoot, and trip to the KYBO. It’s a place grandfathers love to talk about and today’s Scouts love to hate.
Camp Wolfeboro was founded by the Berkeley Council in 1928 in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains on the shores of the Stanislaus River, across the river from family-oriented Camp Baxter. A few decades later, Camp Baxter closed down and its property was absorbed by Wolfeboro, who built new camp sites and remodeled the dining hall and medical shack into a nature lodge and hike shack. Not much has changed at Wolfeboro since then.
The Wolfeboro glass is both half empty and half full at the same time, depending upon your Scouting perspective. Scouts who lean towards the “keep yourself Physically Fit” part of the Oath are happy with hiking into camp, sleeping on the ground, and making their way to Upper Falls for an afternoon of jumping off the rocks into the river. Those that are more inclined to keeping themselves “Mentally Awake” can find the whole experience a little too strenuous for their modern outlook. The conflict is very apparent at meals.
For traditionalists, the ancient Dining Hall is a reminder of a time when Scouts said Grace before meals, removed their hats indoors, and cheered themselves hoarse under the leadership of a Troop Yell Master. (“There ain’t no flies on us…”) The quality of the food isn’t nearly as important as the Scout Spirit that pervades the building – and so what if we have to sit on wooden benches. For others, the Dining Hall is a place of cramped and smelly tables, early and late seatings, repetitive Troop cheers, pounding headaches, KYBO Casseroles, and sanitation issues. (“What is this brown stuff on my plate?”)
And then there is the lake. Screams, bribes, curses, threats, boasts, and an occasional splash are the sounds of the waterfront. The Wolfeboro Swim Test is where the “men” are separated from the “boys” in one slow, numbing, breath-taking plunge. Described as the “coldest water on the planet” by experienced campers, it is not unusual to see Scoutmasters chasing hysterical little Scouts around the small beach area, yelling at them to get into line for their swim test. Older Scouts refuse to bring swim suits to Wolfeboro for fear of somehow being tricked (or pushed) into the water. Adults hide behind trees so they won’t be expected to jump in and save Scouts who are quickly turning blue and thrashing feebly a few yards from shore. Waterfront counselors just roll their eyes and tell stories about Scouts with hypothermia as they order everyone to stay away from their fire.
This year, Wolfeboro Medics were responsible for halting the spread of the dreaded Swine Flu. So they dutifully lined up every Scout and Adult to take their temperature before being allowed into camp. (Please, no jokes about where to stick the thermometer!) Fortunately, there were little plastic sleeves for each Scout to put over the end of the thermometer to guard against the transfer of germs as it was passed from mouth to mouth to mouth. (Gross.) Unfortunately, the two battery-powered thermometers from Rite Aid proved insufficient to the task of taking 300 Scout temperatures in an afternoon. At some point, every temperature began reading exactly 96%, giving Scouts the feeling that they should be experiencing the first signs of hypothermia.
Wolfeboro definitely has enough history and grandeaur to warrant at least one visit. The beauty of the Sierras masks most of the camp shortcomings and complaints from “Girlie Scouts” are easily drowned out by the roar of the Stanislaus River. (Plus, it’s a really great place for backpackers.) So, for me, the Wolfeboro glass is definately half full. In fact, it remains my favorite summer camp experience.
If you have any special memories of Wolfeboro, let me know.