These days it’s known as the Wapsi River Environmental Education Center, a 225-acre area near Dixon, Iowa, that’s managed and operated by the conservation boards of Scott and Clinton counties. And it’s a wonderful place.
But I’ll always think of it as Camp Minneyata, a former Boy Scouts of America camp along the Wapsi River.
When I was a scout at Troop 53 at Wilson School in Davenport, Iowa, in the 1960s, I was fortunate to get to attend several week-long summer camps at Minneyata.
We slept in tents in camps located in the clearings in the woods. Each troop had its own camp; one I remember staying at was called the Eagle’s Nest. We ate in a large dining hall, hiked in the woods and along the river, visited the trading post, swam in the camp pool and learned things like archery and riflery. All the troops gathered at night and sat on logs ringing a campfire, where we sang songs and heard tall tales like the legend of Wapsi Willie.
I have some specific memories of camp:
* As much as I enjoyed them, I was always homesick during the week-long camps. Families were permitted to visit one night per week, and I’d get a lump in my throat when Mom, Dad and my brother Bruce would depart after a visit. As I recall, Bruce cried, which made it worse. One year I received a letter from my dad while at camp. That meant a lot.
* The most homesick I ever got, though, was the year that Dad had to pick me up one day in the middle of the week, take me to Davenport for a TB shot, then return me to camp. I didn’t want to go back. The reason for the shot? Our family had attended a wedding reception at a neighbor’s house a week or two earlier, and someone at the reception had come down later with TB.
* When you sat at the end of the table in the dining hall, there was no need to ask someone to pass the Kool-Aid or the potatoes to you so you could get a refill. As the items came toward you, everyone helped himself to seconds as he passed them on. Then, when the containers got to you, they were empty.
* One year at Minneyata, word got out that camp officials had found a timber rattlesnake in the archery area. Timber rattlers are found, herpnet.net/Iowa says, “throughout most of the southeastern United States and ranges northward from Iowa into Minnesota and Wisconsin via a narrow band along the Mississippi River. In Iowa, they are found along the Mississippi River and in various areas in the southern third of the state.” I reasoned if there was one rattlesnake at Camp Minneyata that year, there were probably dozens of them. We slept two boys per tent in sleeping bags on metal cots placed on wooden pallets. I spent some sleepless hours for the next few nights, sure that there were rattlers under my pallet waiting to get me when I drifted off to sleep.
* One morning at camp, many of us woke up with our lips burning. Someone had ringed our mouths with toothpaste overnight as we slept. We must have been quite a sight.
* One scout, Don, was a bit more advanced than the rest of us. He had a black market operation that he ran out of the back of his tent. He sold items like candy bars and bottles of Pepsi at highly inflated prices to the rest of us. One night, though, troop leaders put an end to it. Don had his own campfire behind his tent, and that night he was heating up a can of soup as a bedtime snack. But he had neglected to punch a hole in the can, and it exploded. When we all ran behind Don’s tent to see what had made the popping sound, he had a look of shock on his face. The back of his tent was wet with soup broth, and noodles were sliding down the canvas. Noodles also hung from nearby tree branches. By the way, Don is now a successful Davenport businessman.
Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.