Since 1923, most Cub and Boy Scouts in eastern Oklahoma have made memories of a lifetime at Camp Fred Darby.
A new Friends of Darby group has organized and is working to improve the historic Scout campgrounds, starting with a bathroom and shower facility. It isn’t necessary to become a Scout to volunteer with the Friends group.
“We wanted a way for the money we raise to go directly to Camp Darby,” said Tom Russell, president of the Friends of Darby.
A scoutmaster and Venture Scout adviser, he’s lived at the camp a little more than a year.
“The camp has no flush toilets in it. Restrooms with a shower facility will be first, and we need to build a new kitchen,” Russell said. “We need to fix the water lines. They were put in right by the road, so they tend to break.”
They’ve been loaded a backhoe and are looking, he said, for people interested in joining the club or doing some volunteer work.
“Anyone at all can help; they don’t have to be or have been a scout,” he said.
A first fundraiser will begin in March, with $5 tickets for a 42-inch HD flat-screen television to raise money for the restroom project.
“It’s a really cool camp,” said Shelley Norman, Cub Scoutmaster at Cherokee Pack 734.
“It’s the oldest camp west of the Mississippi,” Norman said.
The site on the Illinois River near Boudinot and Welling has a fascinating history.
It was first explored in 1596 by the Spanish. Then the area became home in 1830 to a western Cherokee settlement, and a mission was established by Rev. Samuel Newton. The Civil War Battle of Barren Fork was fought there in December of 1863. By 1903, the Ozark Club, an outing club of Tahlequah and Muskogee citizens, was established.
When the Boy Scouts were looking for a permanent camp site, the Rev. A.E. Moody, pastor at First Presbyterian, and Chief John L. Templeton explored for a site. When Wilbur Hyatt became Scout executive, the three made arrangements to get the property, which J. Fred Darby bought. The benefactor also built Darby Hall.
The first summer camp was held in 1923, with supplies and food arriving on the train and being hauled to the camp on a horse and wagon.
“It’s awesome,” Norman said of the camp. “We have access to the creek and the river.”
Norman sees the improvements as appealing to more campers and their parents, although she doesn’t mind the primitive accommodations.
“It’s insane they’ve never had a restroom,” Norman said. “Sometimes you find dead possums in a latrine and have to poke it with a stick. A lot of mothers come to camp with their sons, and they don’t want to bring their little boys out there or come with them sometimes.”
There’s a bathroom in the dining hall, but no shower.
“We have to hose the boys down sometimes with warm water from the faucet there,” she said.
Other projects to update the camp include plumbing that doesn’t freeze; electricity to the buildings; and improving the roads , said Becky Knox, assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 743. “We want to make the roads drivable into the campgrounds in a normal car, not a four-wheeler or truck.”
Betterment of the camp is the goal, according to Knox, a 12-year volunteer with the Boy Scouts.
“It just has a natural beauty with all the wildlife and trees, and a variety of both,” she said. “Foxes, raccoons, cougars we hear but don’t see, and there are owls, vultures and eagles.”
The Friends of Darby is for everyone, whether they want to become Scout volunteers or just help with a project, Knox said.
At least every other month, she camps with scouts at Camp Fred Darby.
“Any adult, neighbor, mom or dad or grandpa can help by being there for a child,” Knox said. “At camp, this is his special time.”
Scouting is a way of giving back, Knox added, “of investing in our community and future.”
Friends of Camp Darby meet the third Wednesday of the month at ICTC at 7 p.m. Contact Tom Russell at (918) 616-1132 to volunteer.