Owasippe Scout Reservation

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Owasippe Scout Reservation
Location Twin Lake, Michigan
Coordinates 43°23′50″N 86°16′45″W / 43.3972°N 86.2792°W / 43.3972; -86.2792
Founded 1911

Owasippe Scout Reservation (OSR), located in Twin Lake, Michigan is the resident camp operated by the Pathway to Adventure Council (formerly Chicago Area Council) of Boy Scouts of America. It began in 1911 as Camp White on 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land on Crystal Lake donated by the White Lake Chamber of Commerce. It is the United States' oldest and longest continuously operating Boy Scout camp.[1] At its peak of use the reservation covered 11,000 acres (45 km²) and served over 10,000 scouts per summer, but the overall decline in Scouting nationwide has seen yearly attendance fall to approximately 3,800 campers. Previous property consolidations has left the camp at 4,800 acres (19 km²) in size, and the council was attempting to sell the camp but met with stiff resistance from the local community, Scouts, leaders, families, and staff alumni. The deal with the developer was terminated on November 7, 2008.[2]Owasippe is also the oldest scout camp in America.


Owasippe Scout Reservation lies within the boundaries of Manistee National Forest in Blue Lake Township, Muskegon County, West-Central Michigan. The Northwest border of the camp is formed in part by the White River.

The watershed of Cleveland Creek, a tributary of the White River, is completely surrounded by the reservation's boundaries and is reported to be the only watershed in the Midwest where this occurs. The Gus Kopp Dam of Cleveland Creek creates Lake Wolverine which is surrounded by the camps of Owasippe.

Owasippe shares Big Blue Lake with YMCA Camp Pendalouan and camp Pioneer Trails. The reservation's eastern border is shared, in part, with Michigan Crossroads Council's Gerber Scout Reservation, and to the south is Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

Campers are able to go into the town of Whitehall to enjoy non-camp activities such as mini-golf, movie theaters, beaches, etc. Muskegon is close by and offers many stores and restaurants to enjoy. A theme park, Michigan's Adventure, is also nearby.


Administration Center

The Administration Center, or "Ad Center", houses the support services for the reservation's section camps. It includes the administration building itself, a softball field, the maintenance building, the food preparation building, the main trading post, warehouse, E. Urner Goodman Scout Museum, and Health Lodge. While summer camp is in session, all units staying at Owasippe arrive at the Ad Center first before proceeding to their respective camps for the week.

Quaking Bogs

The wetland known as the Quaking Bogs is an area of great environmental importance. The bogs, which are actually a fen, are an area where vegetation and soil a few feet deep have covered over a small lake. As such, the ground bounces slightly as one walks upon it. Also near the bogs is an area of natural quicksand. The Bogs are located East of Camp Reneker.

E. Urner Goodman Scout Museum

E. Urner Goodmam Scout Museum

Owasippe is home to the E. Urner Goodman Scout Museum, which is housed in the old Blue Lake Township hall. It contains many artifacts and memorabilia from the history of Owasippe and Scouting. The museum is part of the Administration Center complex.

As of the 2008 season the museum now features a dedicated art section featuring many works of art in almost all media. This was done to allow Scouts to complete Art merit badge.

Paradise Valley

One of the few locations on the Owasippe property that has never been clear-cut, Paradise Valley is home to the most-visited of the reservation's freshwater springs. The Red Trail, which starts in nearby Camp Blackhawk (Go!), travels the length of the valley alongside its spring-fed stream. The stream itself empties into Cleveland Creek at the Western end of the valley. In the middle of the valley there is a tree where hundreds of people over the years have etched their name or their troop number. First year campers take a hike at the end of the week with their Camp-Commissioners and make paradise valley a stop along their way to Chief Owasippe's Grave.


Species of note within Owasippe include the Karner blue butterfly, bald eagle, eastern box turtle, Blanding's turtle, and eastern massasauga rattlesnake. As is typical with most wilderness camps, deer, possum, raccoons, turkey and mice are prevalent. Other less common wildlife seen on the reservation include swans (Lake Wolverine) and sandhill cranes(in "Quaking Bogs" general area).

In 2002, the Nature Conservancy organized a BioBlitz to catalog the species of flora and fauna on the Reservation, and later produced a report listing the various species that were found. Owasippe is known to be one of the last locations in Michigan which hosts the oak savanna, a rare ecosystem, and the coastal plain marsh, which hosts unique flower and fauna dependent on acidic soils.

In early 2006 The Nature Conservancy further noted that the BioBlitz of 2002 was not the definitive work on the species within Owasippe. It is reasonable to assume that other species, those not particularly evident during the two weekends of the Bioblitz, were missed in the accounting of species.

In all, the BioBlitz reported 19 threatened and endangered species on the property.

Section Camps[edit]

Camp Stuart Aquatics Area (1958)
Camp Stuart Aquatics Area (2006)

Early years[edit]

The original Boy Scout camp was established in 1911 at Crystal Lake outside Whitehall, Michigan. Accounts differ concerning the original name with consideration being given to Camp White and Camp Owasippe. The first documented reference to Owasippe in relationship to the camp was in 1916 when Camp Master James P. Fitch originated the "Tribe of Owasippe" for those Scouts who had attended camp one or more times since 1912.

There are differing reports as to the founder of the camp, but we believe it to have been A. Stamford White, President of the Chicago Board of Trade. While there was also a noted architect of the time by the same name, they are not the same person and the Chicago Board of Trade was a great supporter of the early Scouting movement. The first camp was renamed Camp Dan Beard after Daniel Carter Beard, an early pioneer of Scouting, whose portrait now hangs in the Owasippe Museum.

In 1912, the first of a continuing legacy of "Family Camps" was established for families visiting Scouts at camp. The accommodations were located at a farmhouse about two miles (3 km) southwest of the camp.

In 1920, pressure was being felt by the Chicago Council for the operation of a camp for each of the Districts of the Council. In addition to the North Shore District camp on Crystal Lake camps operating for the Scouts of the other Districts included Camp Keesus at Grand Haven, Michigan for the Hyde Park and Woodlawn Districts, Camp Checaugau at Palatine, Illinois for the Northwest District, and Camp Shabbona on the Des Plaines River in Illinois for the West Side District.

In 1921, Camp West and Camp McDonald were established at Crystal Lake, Michigan and the original camp name was changed to Camp Beard. At that time the collective properties were known as the A. Stamford White Owasippe Scout Camps.

This renaming occurred in 1921 when the second camp was opened and named Camp McDonald after L.L. McDonald, the first president of the Chicago Area Council. At about the same time a third camp, Camp James E. West, was opened and founded by Carroll A. Edson. He had just come from the national headquarters and named it after his former boss, the first Scout Executive. Carroll Edson was also the co-founder of the Order of the Arrow. In 1935, Camp McDonald was renamed after J. Robert Stuart, the president of the most popular cereal company in the country at the time – Quaker Oats. He later became U.S. Ambassador to Canada. The Stuart family was to be a major contributor to Owasippe through the mid-1970s.

These individual section camps were predominantly associated with individual districts within the Chicago Area Council, and the Scouts would form their troops in the city and board a steamer vessel in Chicago for the adventure across Lake Michigan. In these first years, the Scouts would arrive at the pier in Whitehall, load their gear on trucks, and hike the 4 miles from town to Owasippe. If you have a chance to visit the White Lake Lighthouse, check out the exhibit about the S.S. Carolina. It was one of the boats bringing Scouts to Owasippe. In later years, the Scouts would travel by train around the lake and disembark at what was called “Scout Station.” This was just a spot on the Pere Marquette railroad where they would stop and drop off the Scouts and their gear.

In 1926, the Scouts of the West Side district finally had enough troops coming to camp to support their own camp, and so Camp Blackhawk was opened on Big Blue. The dining hall was located about 1000 yards east of the current location.

In accordance with the custom of the time, the Boy Scouts adhered to the now-dismissed rule of separate but equal, and Camp Belnap was opened for Scouts of the Douglas Division for African-American Scouts. That camp, contrary to common belief, was not located on Big Blue until the great depression when camps were consolidated due to cost. Until that time, Belnap was actually located between two lakes, Lake John Adams and Lake Ojibwa, at the intersection of White Lake Drive and Blue Lake Drive, some distance southeast of our current reservation. In 1948, segregation in Scouting was ended and Belnap, then sharing Hiawatha Beach, was closed.

For most of its history, Owasippe has been an evolution of semi-autonomous section camps. It is common for each section camp to offer the standard summer camp program. However, differences in location, food preparation, program activities, and swimming accommodations contribute to the unique atmosphere of each former and current camp. Each camp also has their own song(s) and multiple program areas such as handicraft, aquatics, nature, Scoutcraft, shooting sports, and Pathfinders (first-year Boy Scout campers).

Camp Blackhawk[edit]

Camp Blackhawk "Go!" is used as a summer camp by units staying for one or two weeks. Camp Blackhawk is the oldest of the current sub-camps on reservation. There are twenty sites within Blackhawk. Sites 1-8 are known as the Wilderness sites, which are so named as they used to form Camp Wilderness before the current Dining Hall was built. Sites 9-15 are known as the Checaugau sites, which is a reference to the legend of Chief Owasippe and his sons. Sites 16-20 are known as the Pioneer sites. Blackhawk is the only camp on the reservation to serve meals in a dining hall, although the meals are prepared at the Food Preparation Center and shipped three times daily. Situated on Big Blue Lake, Camp Blackhawk is also one of two camps on the property to have its swimming area in a lake rather than a pool. Blackhawk is also home to the Steve Fossett Sailing Base.

Camp Crown/High Adventure[edit]

Camp Crown, named after Robert Crown, is used as a base for the council's high adventure program. High Adventure, or "Hi-Ad", includes Space Exploration Outpost, Project C.O.P.E., Horse Ranch, and Tubing and Canoeing trips on the White River. Campers are able to partake in these activities while stationed at any of the section camps.


The Charles Nagel C.O.P.E. Course is the reservation's Project COPE facility. Also at the C.O.P.E. Base is a 30 ft (9.1 m) high climbing wall known as the Chris Hill Memorial Climbing Tower. The Climbing Merit Badge is also offered at this area.

Horse Ranch

Owasippe's equestrian programs are housed at the Horse Ranch, also known as the Diamond-O Ranch. There are many routes and trails near the corral which are used for trail rides and for teaching the Horsemanship merit badge. Also available is the Wrangler Outpost, which gives Scouts a cowboy-like experience learning lessons of how to care for a horse, eating a steak dinner, and sleeping under the stars.

Camp Reneker[edit]

Camp Reneker, sometimes known as Reneker Family Camp or simply "Family Camp", is largely attended by the spouses and non-Boy Scout children of the Scout Leaders who bring their units up to camp, often sacrificing their vacation time to do so. It is named after Robert and Betty Reneker.

Campers are housed in cabins located in two groups, one on each side of where the Camp Lodge once stood. Each side is essentially identical, with 20 cabins, a central bathroom/shower area with 6 bathrooms/showers, two washers and dryers, and a playground. Campers are required to do their own cooking and laundry. Each cabin is equipped with 2 bunk beds, a couch, a refrigerator, a stove, and two sinks.

Camp Reneker is run differently than the other section camps as its program is offered to families with adults and children of both genders and various ages rather than to Boy Scouts. There are currently five age groups with programs designed specifically for each. Age group programs run in the morning. In addition, all campers are encouraged to participate in the general program, which runs in the midday and evening. Activities available to campers include swimming in the pool, archery, hiking, BB guns, and crafts.

When the camp was originally built, many of its activities were centered around the Camp Lodge. The lodge was lost during the same string of suspected arson fires that also destroyed the Camp Carlen dining hall and damaged the Camp Blackhawk dining hall. Since the destruction of the lodge, a circus tent set up over the tennis court has doubled as a place for the camp to congregate, while the camp office is now run in a trailer.

Camp Wolverine[edit]

Camp Wolverine, like Camp Blackhawk, is primarily used as a summer camp, hosting units for one or two weeks. The camp was originally divided in two—Camp Wolverine North and Camp Wolverine South. In 1980, these two camps were combined to form the modern Camp Wolverine. There are twenty-five sites within Wolverine, along with a number of abandoned sites from before the camps were combined.

The camp's theme phrase, said whenever the camp name is used, is "Zaxie!". It is the combination of Wolverine North's phrase "Zap" and Wolverine South's "Dixie". In 1980, the first year the camp was combined, a theme could not be decided upon so that year's theme was Camp Wolverine "What?".

Meal service at Camp Wolverine is provided to the units in their sites via Hot Packs, which are insulated containers that are dropped off before meal and picked up afterward. The camp office is located in the North Lodge, along with the camp's trading post. The camp's aquatics program features a pool for swimming, as the bed of Lake Wolverine is unable to be cleared. The boating area of the camp is on the lake, alongside the former site of the reservation's Fishing Outpost.

Of note in the camp is its repurposing of various areas of its two predecessor camps. The Lodge, pool, and boating areas of Wolverine North retain their functions, while Wolverine South's Lodge is now the Handicraft area, the boat docks are now the Ecology-Conservation area, and the pool pumphouse now hosts the reservation's Photography Outpost as the pool has been filled in. If you take the time to hike around you will find the foundations of several shower houses, canoe racks, and ruins of other structures.

Other Camps[edit]

Camps that have been sold off or closed include Camps Bass Lake, Bel-Nap, Beard, Stuart, and West.

Camp Bass Lake

Camp Bass Lake swim area - 1959 - Troop 664.

The Bass Lake lone troop Scout camp was a single camp on a small (approximately 600 feet (180 m) wide) lake on the Owasippe reservation. A single troop would take over the entire camp, usually for a two-week period, preparing all their own food and overseeing all aspects of the camp life. While active in the 1950s and 1960s, Camp Bass Lake is no longer in use.

Camp Carlen

Formerly known as Camp Sauger Lake, this camp hosts a Venturing Base, and recently it has begun hosting several weeks of Webelos camp near the end of summer. It is located on the same access road as Camp Crown. It was closed to due to poor attendance. After the 2015 season it was recommended by the Owasippe Property Committee to the council that the Webelos camping program be re-implemented into Owasippe. The camp was renamed upon the building of a dining hall, which burned down in a suspected arson fire. Meals are now served in a large pavilion. Camp Carlen's call is "Overall!" Camp Carlen, like many of the section camps had its own song as well.

"Look ahead to the days of the summer, look ahead to the freedom that it gives, we'll return once again to Camp Carlen, where the spirit of scouting is lived

And the challenge of our Camp Carlen is the outdoor life to lead From the forest to the lakes to the friends that we make may Carlen always be"

  • Sung twice and then followed by three chants of "Camp Carlen! Overall!"

Camp Hiawatha Beach

While technically not a section camp, Camp Hiawatha Beach is a lone troop camp offered for those units who wish to run their own summer camp experience.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "America's Oldest Boy Scout Camps" by David L. Eby
  2. ^ Moore, Lynn (2008-11-07). "Owasippe owners end deal with developer, plan to rebuild camp". Muskegon Chronicle. Archived from the original on November 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-08.