A memoir of camping

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A memoir of camping

Post  Admin on Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:54 pm

A memoir of camping by Gretchen Knapp:

Cresting the hill in mid-fall, you are enveloped in a quilt of changing trees. The shades and feelings are worthy of a Thomas Kincaid painting. In the descent you glimpse a scene that is refreshingly bucolic. The classic white farmhouse, complete with corncrib and barn, is roofed in fog gray, embraced in the season. In fact, at no other time of the year does anyone behold the splendorous homestead. The harsh black, white and granite of winter bleed it away. Lush spring and emerald summer distract the delighted eye with life of nature. Only the pallet of September or October contain the muted richness needed to bring forth an untouched corner of the world. This is the gateway to a place of slower paces and rest from the hectic world.

My family was an extremely active one. A great deal of our time was spent camping. Frequenting many spots, I have many homes away from homes. One of these is a place I think of every autumn. When the realization that the season change is upon us hits me, I become lost in thought. My mind will suddenly yearn for the sight greeting visitors at the entrance to Camp Crowell-Hilaka. The pull is strong, heartstrings taut with opportunities never taken, once in a lifetime experiences over, and a wistful recollection of dreams unborn.

To get there took but a half-hour, by high way or byway. The timing is the same, but I have always loved immersing myself in nature as soon as possible. It could have been possible to ride the path on horseback; the route is so perfect. I almost got that chance, too. The camp masters past and present have been good friends of our family. I was once even offered a job as an assistant, but I could not commute, excepting the summer. I nearly accepted, but politics within the group left a painfully bitter taste in my mouth. This pain has stayed with me. I never got the chance to fulfill my ultimate goal there.

The camp is approximately one mile square of prime acreage in Richland County, Ohio, separated into two parts. Hilaka was the half that was added on to the family estate of Kirby, owners of the well-known vacuum cleaner company. Crowell contains a few remaining pieces of that compound.

The house, mill, and party hall are all that remains on the property. A few miles off lies a second mill thought to be part of the holdings. Kirby house stands as the grandest jewel of the grounds, a modest four-and-a-half-story cabin. My troop always tried to reserve that cabin for our winter campout. We would buy a live tree to decorate, and cook a feast, inviting everyone who happened to be in the camp. We would get all five fireplaces going, tell the classic holiday stories, have a gift exchange, and totally forget our ages. While acting very grown up in the planning and execution of the dinner party inside, outside was for our childishness. Snowball fights and snowmen abounded. The weekend would not be complete until we tracked down the camp’s sleds and toboggans to use on the hills. The campout ended when we took the decorated tree to a needful family. Christmas gifts and food would go with it.

The mill at Lower Lake has the allure of the ghost stories. Three spirits, the classic trio of an unrelated set of woman, man, and child, are said to inhabit this small building. My mother’s childhood best friend is reputed to have a picture with the specters. At the side of the mill is a funnel shaped slope with a sundial at the apex, a place of great amusement. The incline is irresistible, begging to be rolled down.

Garfield Hall was built for Mr. Kirby’s daughter. Her sixteenth birthday celebration needed a location. Thus he commissioned a spacious lodge with dancing in mind. The floor, to this day, moves when danced upon. The sub-flooring is boxcar springs, making it ideal for the pounding of feet. Ingenious and long lasting, Garfield Hall remains a treasure.

Crowell, of course, also includes modern facilities. A slew of campsites scatters the surrounding area. From a spicket in a clearing, to handicap accessible tents and cabins, you find a wide variety of levels in camping. This part of camp also houses the horse barn and Robin Memorial. Robin and a fellow scout are the only casualties in Crowell-Hilaka, struck down by lightening when separated from their troop. The shelter stands where they could not find help, protecting others from the possibility of another tragedy.

The creek and the gas cut connect the two halves of the camp. The gas cut is where the gas pipelines for the nearest town were laid, to join it with the next city. At about fifty feet wide, it blazes a path through the wooded surroundings. This scar in the forest made a prime road in World War II for the Army base lying directly to the south, where they manufactured and tested tanks. The cut runs directly out to the closest main highway. In a small valley it dips down, worn down by the brook. The small waterway links the Upper and Lower lakes and offers lush scenery, when followed. A favorite place in the camp is where the streamlet meets the gas cut. Hidden from sight, the water holds an island just large enough for three small tents and a campfire. One of my mother’s favorite stories is when her troop stayed on that embankment. The moss-covered tuffet has clusters of wild violets shying away from the sun-dappled forest. The entire camp abounds with wildlife and exquisite scenery.

Hilaka, less grand in its past, is larger than Crowell. The main hall, Gund, Upper Lake, and many more sites are on this half. Gund Hall is capable of holding a few hundred people, and has a gourmet sized kitchen for all occasions. In a nearby site, raccoons once awakened me. It startled me so much, I fell out of the tent and rolled underneath it. Unfortunately, when I moved, the coon came with me. Not tangled up in a sleeping bag, it was able to righten itself before rolling down hill. To this day, I cannot live that story down. Behind the hall and through that tent site lays the other body of water. Upper lake has the more commonly used boathouse. Both lakes house abundant wildlife and also have dams. A catwalk, leading to a primitive site and land untouched by developments, however, crosses this one.

I know this land. I can walk the known paths in my sleep. I know more of its legacies than most anyone does. Many memories of mine are held there. It helped raise me, and for that I love it. I can glide through the places otherwise forgotten, seeking to teach those with me so that they may in turn pass on the knowledge. Few people have had the opportunities to find them, but I know where they are, what they mean, where they lead to, and what is gone.


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meories are a treasure

Post  alumni m on Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:26 pm

September 26, 2009

Another day to remember, a group of Girl Scout Alumni, leaders and their former troop members joined together for a walk through memory lane. We stayed at Hilltop cabin, walked the the trails, danced on the spring floor at Garfield cabin, crossed the bridges and enjoyed the nature around us as each of us reminisced about our stays at the different sites during our Girl Scouting years. Camp Crowell - Hilaka hold rich memories for all of us and we were so sad that the Administrative council has slated the property for closure. I am not familiar with the reason but everything always boils down to funding. With the loss of the Lake Erie GS council and it's subsequent merger into the North East Ohio council, perhaps the new union could strengthen the financial system to restore this gem of a property. Once this is lost it will be gone forever. We have enough housing developments already and this prime land should not be forsook to such.

Preserving the past for the future Girls Scouts across North East Ohio should be the goal. Utilizing the Camp facilities for more than just camping could help swing overnight stays back into vogue.

Girls Scout Alumni
Michele Brochu

alumni m

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Crowell Hilaka ?

Post  a friend on Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:15 pm

Dear Admin,
I have so many questions, I hope you can help.

Do you know the history of the Totem pole on the island at Lake Linnea?

What happened to the sundial across from Amity?

Why was Innisfree moved?


a friend

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