Old school camp a scouting tradition
DUNMORE, W.Va. -- As the massive Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve takes shape in Fayette County, more than 1,000 Boy Scouts from Michigan to Florida and all across West Virginia are spending part of the summer at the Buckskin Scout Reservation in Pocahontas County.
Known informally as Dilleys Mill after the gristmill that once operated on Thorny Creek near the entrance to the scout camp, the 2,000-acre expanse of woodland abutting Seneca State Forest and the Monongahela National Forest is now in its 52nd year of operation. The placid, backcountry setting of the camp, with its picturesque, cloud-reflecting centerpiece, 15-acre Lake Sam Hill, is fondly etched in the memory banks of three generations of scouts.
"When I walk out of the parking lot and see the lake, it always feels like I'm coming home," said Marty Fertig, assistant scoutmaster of Troop 164 in Eleanor, who spent a part of his 15th summer at the camp this week.
Fertig, like many troop leaders and members of the camp's staff, are former Dilleys Mill campers who, as adults, enjoy maintaining their connection to the camp and its traditions. In addition to introducing Boy Scouts in their troop to the rustic camp, Fertig and other scout leaders and alumni volunteer to perform needed maintenance tasks.
"I love it here," said Troop 164 scoutmaster John Snedegar, also a former camper. In 2007, Snedegar, now a full-time member of the West Virginia Army National Guard, spent the week before his deployment to Iraq at the Pocahontas County camp.
"Two days after I got back from Iraq, I was back here again, with my wife working in the kitchen," Snedegar said. "I didn't want to miss summer camp. To me, this camp has a great therapeutic effect. I think it helped me make the adjustment to coming back easier than any session with a psychologist could have."
Campers sleep in clusters of tents perched atop wood platforms, and either eat in a cafeteria-style dining hall or prepare their own meals at their campsite. Trails link troop campsites to the dining hall, showers and assembly area, as well as to the various activity sites and merit badge classes.
A wide range of outdoor activities and dozens of merit badge classes are available to the campers at Dilleys Mill. Lake-based topics include small boat sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, motorboat operation and swimming. On shore, scouts can choose from dozens of skills and crafts ranging from astronomy and archery to woodworking and wilderness survival. Shooting ranges accommodate shotgun and rifle instruction on rifle, while in tents and wood shelters, scouts learn about birds, reptiles, geocaching, photography, Indian lore and leatherworking.
New this year at the camp is a climbing wall and a huge inflatable "Iceberg," a giant cube studded with handholds and footholds scouts use to clamber to the top, and then slide a ramp into the lake.
Also debuting this year at the Buckskin Reservation is an "Adventure West Virginia" program for older scouts. It includes mountain bike rides, extended hikes, caving at nearby Stillhouse and Sinks of Gandy caves, climbing the sheer Via Ferrata course at Nelson Rocks, and a New River raft trip.
Scout troops travel hundreds of miles to take in a week at Dilleys Mill.
For scouts from the more hot and humid climes, such as Florida and South Carolina, "the summer weather here is fantastic," said David Leckie, camp staff director of the BSA's 19-county Buckskin Council, and district director of Buckskin Council's Elk River District. "Our temperatures often drop into the 40s at night, and when it's 90 in Charleston, it can be in the 70s here."
"You wear a jacket to breakfast and shorts to lunch," said Shane Miller, a St. Albans native and former camper who now lives in Pittsburgh, and serves as the camp's chaplain.
Some things haven't changed all that much since camp director Mike Snyder of Elkview took in his first week of camping at Dilleys Mill in 1963.
"We still swim in the lake like we always did, and we still have 2,000 acres of woods to hike through," he said. With tens of thousands of scouts young and old having met friends, learned new skills and shared good times here, "There's a legacy to keep alive. People want to preserve and protect it."
"A lot of people love the more traditional, primitive camps," said Leckie. "Out here, we're in the National Radio Quiet Zone created for the Green Bank observatory. Cell service doesn't work, although we do have wi-fi hot spots, and you can only dial in one radio station. You don't just see stars out here, you can see the Milky Way."
"I think the key to successful scouting is getting the kids connected to nature, and this place really lets you do that," said Blair Taylor, scoutmaster of Charleston's Troop 5, which sent a large contingent of scouts to Dilleys Mill this week.
"In our troop, we try to get our kids out on a camping trip within one month of joining," said Taylor, who in his younger days was himself a camper at the Pocahontas County scout reservation. "If we can do that, they're generally hooked."
It remains to be seen what role the camp will play following the full rollout of the giant new Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. But the staff at Dilleys Mill is hopeful that a bright future awaits both camps.
In addition to its National Jamboree and High Adventure scouting operation, Summit Bechtel is expected to eventually open a regional summer camping program, which Dilleys Mill now offers.
In the years before that happens, hundreds of thousands of scouts will get their first taste of West Virginia at the new Fayette County complex, and many will decide they like it.
"If they start looking into other scouting programs here, they may discover this camp, and find that it can offer a lot of high adventure activities for a lot less money," said Jonathon Stevens, district executive for Buckskin Council's Elk River District.
"This will be a good place for scouts to stay and stage into the Jamboree after the new facility opens," said Snyder.
"In terms of the number of adventure sports and activities offered, this camp won't be able to compete evenly with the Summit," said Taylor. "But in terms of seclusion and serenity, it can't be beat."
"I love it here," said 13-year-old Taylor Miles of Cornelius, N.C., who was making his first visit to Dilleys Mill this week with his scout troop.
"I like the fishing, the food and the nice people," said Miles, as he helped a younger scout select a plastic grub for use in luring a bluegill to a hook. As Miles spoke, a huge turtle surfaced nearby to take in some air and stare at the shore-bound anglers.
"But I may not go swimming today," he said with a smile.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5169.