By Kathy DeMott
If you grew up in Vicksburg or Schoolcraft and were part of Boy Scouts of America, you have probably enjoyed an outdoor adventure at Camp Char Le Maude on Barton Lake. The camp is better known as the “Scout Camp or Cabin” to the hundreds of campers and scout leaders who have experienced the beautiful outdoors, the values and impact that nature provides.
The wooded property on the waterfront of Barton Lake was donated in 1948 by Charles and Maude Aulms to be enjoyed by the community. Volunteers from Vicksburg, the Rotary Club, and other community leaders built the cabin which includes a basement, main floor, and an open-hearth stone fireplace.
The cabin is still used as a camp and base for outdoor adventures, as well as a meeting space for area Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Cub Scout troops, and the Barton Lake Association. Initially the property was gifted in a trust which included individuals who were all involved with scouting. When the original members of the trust passed, a dedicated group of individuals, also involved with scouting, worked to save the property and preserve the legacy of the camp. Friends of Vicksburg Youth, a non-profit 501c3 organization, was formed and now owns the property. It is dedicated to providing outdoor experiences that enrich the lives of youth in the South County area, according to President Jim Butler.
The Board of Directors is committed to improving the camp so it can be utilized by more children and organizations. “Our goal is to make needed updates, repairs, and additions on the property so it can accommodate a wider variety of groups that can run camps, educational programs, and ensure all children have an opportunity to have the thrill of catching a fish, to paddle a canoe, hit the bullseye, enjoy a campfire and build friendships in the outdoors,” Butler said.
In 2017 the board began a master plan for long-term improvements. Initially, the leaking roof was replaced with the help of Sporting Clays Classic Fundraiser and private donors. This year, the septic system had to be replaced. “It’s hard to complain about replacing a septic system that lasted 75 years. With the improvements, and the updated indoor plumbing, we will have updated bathrooms and kitchen plumbing to better accommodate campers,” said Gary Miller, board vice president. The siding and windows need replacing, and a storage shed is needed. It all takes money.
When asked what motivates the board members to dedicate their time and resources for Friends of Vicksburg Youth, they offered moving stories which included the benefit of outdoor adventures for children. Treasurer Angie LaVoy said that this camp, the time fishing, learning archery, and being on the water with the Boy Scout leaders literally saved her son. “He had a rough time for a while, and this place changed him.” He earned his Eagle Scout and now volunteers by helping support the website.
Board Secretary Troy Smith was born and raised in Vicksburg by a single mom. He spent many weekends at the camp as a scout. “I owe a lot to this facility, to Boy Scouts and the volunteers who helped. I learned to cook, start a fire, and I learned responsibility. The lessons I learned here and as an Eagle Scout helped me in my many roles as an EMT, a captain and training officer with the Kalamazoo County Fire Academy, and now as a corporate engineer and program manager.”
Jim Butler said the things he learned in scouting helped save him in Vietnam.
Gary Miller became involved when his son chose Troop 251 because of the cabin and the opportunities it offered. His son also earned his Eagle Scout, and Gary is still involved with scouting.
“Camp Char Le Maude is a smaller camp, but there are only a handful of youth organizations or even Boy Scout units that have a property on a lake with woods, a cabin for meetings and a base for other activities. This property is a gem and we want to preserve it and make it more accessible for other organizations and children in the area,” Miller said.
Boy Scout Tyler Richardson, age 17, is currently working on his Eagle Scout project. His time at the cabin, having access to the lake, and sleeping outdoors have been amazing, he said. One of his favorite memories was sleeping outside at winter camp. He was cold but didn’t want to be the first one to go warm up by the indoor fireplace. So he held out. He finally went to warm up, only to find everyone else was already inside. Memories of campfires, foiled dinners, and fishing are some of his favorite things.
The vision of the Friends of Vicksburg Youth is to expand these types of adventures to other children and groups. For example, someone can volunteer to run a fishing clinic, or a local youth group could have an overnight camp with canoeing, campfires, and time outdoors.
Chairman Matt VanderMeulen said, “I feel there is a tremendous need for more outdoor opportunities to be offered to our young people. That is why I strongly support this organization and our mission to do our best to provide a safe and inclusive space featuring natural beauty, fresh air and an accessible facility that will help create meaningful experiences dedicated to enriching the youth of Vicksburg and the surrounding area. With community support, the awesome property on Barton Lake has the potential to make a difference in so many lives. Many local folks have fond memories of camping, fishing and swimming at ‘The Cabin’ for many decades. I hope this wonderful facility can be promoted and improved so future generations can enjoy it.”
Those who wish to learn more about Friends of Vicksburg Youth and Camp Char Le Maude, A Gateway to Adventure, can visit the website at friendsofvicksburgyouth.org. Those who wish to help preserve, support, volunteer, or contribute financially to the current fundraising campaign goal of $30,000 may visit friendsofvicksburgyouth.org or mail a donation to Friends of Vicksburg Youth, PO Box 312, Vicksburg, MI 49097. Your generosity is greatly appreciated.