First Chairman of the Canoe Base
Executives Committee (1939)
It all really began in 1929 when Ernest J. Morris, then Scout Executive at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, met with the Wisconsin Conservation Commission and sold them on the idea of setting up an Eagle Scout Forestry Camp.
This Camp located on Lost Canoe Lake is situated just across the road from what is now the Canoe Base. One hundred Eagle Scouts from Wisconsin were selected each year to spend two weeks in two camp periods building trails, campsites, and anything else that needed doing.
Ted Shearer, then Scout Executive at Fond du Lac, agreed to spend the month of August directing the Camp. This first year, 1929, was spent mainly in clearing and building the Base Camp.
Both the Canoe Base and Forestry Camps are in the Nicolet National Forest and I became Scout Executive of the Nicolet Area Council with headquarters in Green Bay in 1938.
In August 1938 I went up to visit the Forestry Camp. Ted and I discussed the feasibility of a Regional Canoe Base similar to the one operated at Ely, Minnesota by Region Ten. Ted had become well acquainted with the Wisconsin territory which included many lakes and rivers. So that fall, at the Region Seven Executives' Conference, we approached C.J. Carlson, Regional Scout Executive, on the idea. (Region Seven included the states of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois)
He became quite enthusiastic about it, appointed a committee of Executives, one from each state with me as Chairman. The first task was to get the state to provide the land for a strategically situated base. In the winter of 1939 with Al Claude from the Regional staff and William Kuh from the Regional Committee, I went up to the park headquarters on Tomahawk Lake near Minocqua to meet with Leif Steiro, Park Superintendent, who was instrumental in setting up the Forestry Camp.
His original thought was to set up a Canoe Base on the same lake as the Forestry Camp so with two feet of snow on the ground and no snow shoes, the four of us tramped around the east side of Lost Canoe Lake. The highway was so close to the lake that there was no possibility of a campsite of the required size. In addition, canoeists would have to start with a portage into White Sand Lake.
We were standing there in the snow discussing the problem when Leif said, "I have the solution. Let's go look at the old CCC Camp on White Sand Lake. It's only a mile and a half away." The Camp, with about twenty buildings, had been abandoned since CCC days and the park was using it for equipment storage.
We went over to the Camp and met Scotty (J.A. Scott). He was a park employee who lived there and was a caretaker. Well here was a dining hall and a kitchen fully equipped, showers and toilet houses, pump, water, septic system and any number of buildings that could be used. It was on a beautiful campsite with a long, white sand beach, trees, grassy areas, roads, walks, etc. Leif said he would approach the State Conservation Committee at its next meeting and recommend that the Boy Scouts use the Camp as a Canoe Base. Early approval followed and we were in business.
The next problem was to raise the money to equip the Camp. We assigned a quota of $25, $50 and $100 to each of the 72 Councils then in the Region. About 75% of them responded and we got some contributions from members of the Regional Committee. Believe it or not, we started that Camp with around $5,000. National said that it had to be self-supporting or no deal.
Our first tents and packs were purchased from the Duluth Tent and Awning Company. We bought cook kits from our supply service. We bought canoes with seats in them from the Thompson Brothers Boat Co. in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. They cost us $50 a piece!
Ted Shearer and I agreed to share the directing of the Camp for the first year. My big job was to clean the place up at no cost. Margaret (Mrs. Schwechel) and I went up for ten days as soon as the ice was out of the Lake. All the equipment, canoes, etc., were shipped up.
With Scotty's help we cleaned the buildings we planned to use, did some painting, cleaned the kitchen and the dining hall, worked on the plumbing that hadn't been used for years, put in a dock and built some canoe racks.
The 1940 fee was $14 for a seven-day period. We had 24 weeks to work with. The leader came free with each ten Scouts. The average trail party was four canoes with ten people. The season was short because Ted and I had Council Camps to run. As I remember, we had 16 Councils use the Base the first year. Ted came up around July 20th. We recruited and briefly trained about eight staff members. The first day was a shakedown briefing and planning routes. We had state maps with campsites marked on park property. Later we contacted private owners to secure permission to use other campsites. I came up around August 10, sent out the last parties and closed things up.
In 1941 we did just about the same thing. Poor Ted had the worst end of it this year. The septic system went bad. Much of the pipe was broken. Plumbing broke down. He had to dig up most of the disposal field and replace the drain tile. Scotty, the caretaker, was a jewel. Without his help and work we would have had a much more difficult time.
Then we had a volunteer, Jack Loesch, from Toledo. He came up to Camp in the spring to train our voyageurs and what a job he did and was he tough.
He asked me to make "Wanigan boxes" out of plywood. The idea was to pack the food for the next day and the cooking gear in the boxes. It was carried on a pack frame and it was a murderous load. I still have one of them.
In 1942 we hired our first Director, Ernie Schmidt, a Scout Executive in transition between Geneva, Illinois and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I was Chairman for three or four years.