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I'm writing this on a Monday morning, following events at most of our camp properties all weekend.   We had girls doing all sorts of things this weekend, but mostly they were learning while having fun.

It is simply amazing to see so many people outdoors, working with girls to learn about their environment and their world.   They honed their skills that will serve them for a lifetime and and got to experience new things.    There was zip lining, canoeing, archery, horseback riding, sailing, tie-die, starting fires, making a meal over an open campfire, s'mores, and a campfire to round out the evening.   The weather wasn't quite perfect. Although the sun was warm, the wind was brisk and the evenings chilly.   But the girls and their mentors integrated that into their weekend experience.

As we have talked to girls who shared this experience, whether it was Camp Scoutshire Woods, Camp Sid, or Kamp Kiwanis, everyone reported they had a great time.   In fact, some that we talked to were wildly enthusiastic about the weekend they had.   This is what fond memories are made of, and I have to think it was not only the girls who had a memorable weekend.

Thank you to all who went to a lot of work and effort to make that weekend so fantastic for so many.   We appreciate all you do to make the world a better place.

The sixties were an unusual period in the history of our country with civil rights, women's movement, Viet Nam, and the beginning of technical growth.

This might also be called the last series of a particular type of Girl Scout resident camp scouting, the long period resident summer camp. Over time competition would arise from camps for band, tennis, cheer leaders, computers and many other subjects coming to the interest of young people.

Amid this time frame there was Camelot, a magical name given to the camp sessions at Camp Scoutshire Woods.  Margaret Ellis was named camp director of Scoutshire Woods for a three year contract which in her own words meant, "the first year I won't know what to do, the second year will go well, and the third year I'll think I know everything and it will be time to leave."

While serving as assistant camp director under Barbara Phillips, Ellis was known to say, "lf l were king..." So when staff members returned for her first term as director, they said, "OK, now you are the king. What are you doing to do?" And thus her camp nickname became, The King.

At that time Scoutshire Woods had 120 camper spaces. Ellis promptly took more than 120 reservations. "I oversold each session," she said. "Having worked for an airline for 12 years, I knew there would be no shows." And it worked, every time, each session, three times a summer, camp was completely full. That hasn't happened since then. "One time we did end up with 121 campers," Ellis said, "But we found another bed in storage and set it up."

Each session began on Sunday afternoon and ran until the following week on Friday, lots of days and nights to make new friends, renew the old, and learn new skills. Church services were provided on the Sunday in the session. More about that later.

There were four units-Whispering Pines (Whispers) a cabin unit for the youngest of campers, Innisfree, also cabins, for the intermediate age. The cadets and senior campers were in tent units called Gypsy Glenn and Four Winds. And yes, there were nice bath houses with showers. Many activities were offered: swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, archery, crafts, overnighting away from the units, and overnight canoe trips on nearby rivers.

Three healthy and delicious meals were planned by dietician Marguerite George and served in the pleasant Dining Hall. Campers handled the table waiting chores and clean up.  Singing was always a big part of the meals. Flag raising and lowering took place every day, and a rest period after lunch as this was lower Alabama summer weather and there was no air conditioning. (Staff used to sneak into the walk in cooler in the kitchen.)

When Ellis took over, the Catholic girls were taken to Mass in Citronelle, clad in Sunday dresses. They did not like this return to civilization and a definite division with the other campers was created. Those left at camp would hold a devotional of some sorts. There was no unity of spirit. But Sundays became a highlight when Ellis arranged to have a priest from Spring Hill College in Mobile come and say a Folk Mass on the grounds of Scoutshire. Everyone was welcomed-in Girl Scout dress uniform-and no one was turned away from the communion table. (Jesuits at Spring Hill are known to be free thinking in such matters. Nobody asked and nobody told.)

This was the age of folk music and many of the counselors played guitars and banjos, and all of them sang. The sound of this music echoed through the clearing and rose above the pine trees which composed the "camp cathedral."  This folk mass continued every Sunday as long as Ellis was camp director and has proved to be one of the most memorable activities of those camp days.

The first year of Ellis' direction was the first time summer camp had ever been integrated. Five girls of Cadet age were registered and the staff placed them in the tents without any regard to the color of their skin. (Ellis, however, made sure her daughter was in one of the tents with a black girl.) After several days it was obvious things were not going well. A unit meeting was called and the campers were asked to discuss any problems. The Afro-American girls said they were unhappy because they had come to camp to be with their friends and they were separated in different tents. At their request they were all moved to one tent and camp proceeded happily the rest of the session.

Last night ceremonies stay in nostalgic remembrance as well. Half-pint milk cartons were collected from the dining room and the last night of camp as darkness fell, campers put birthday-size candles in the cartons and floated them off the swimming dock to sail into Echo Lake. Songs were sung and last times were spent together and good byes said often with tears. (The following morning the canoe instructor picked up the cartons from the lake in keeping with the Girl Scout philosophy of always leaving a site cleaner than it was found.)

Taps were played every night by Ellis' nephew, who was on staff as handy boy. The sound of the bugle over the lake at bedtime is another memory most campers and staff carry for a lifetime.

Older campers who had passed swimming and canoeing skill tests were permitted to go on the overnight canoe trips, about eight or ten canoes. Most of the boating and waterfront staff went along. The Styx River in Baldwin County, and the Escataba in Mississippi, with their calm water and sandy beaches for camping were among the favorites.

Ellis vetoed the Tombigbee River from the previous year when she was assistant camp director. They discovered that a large commercial river with its motor boats and barge wakes was no place for a canoe with no keel and teen age girls. The canoe trip groups took tents, sleeping bags, and food and supplies needed for over nights.

Have Girl Scouts and other youth programs made any progress through the years? With all the competition for the time of Girl Scouts, camp has been reduced to three day events or a week at the most with many of the activities eliminated entirely. And can you imagine today's camp director bringing along her husband who came up from work in Mobile every night, two dogs and a four-year old son, who now likes to brag he spent three summers at Girl Scout camp?  (Her two daughters were Girl Scouts and regular campers.) Or a priest allowing the Jewish campers to come to the communion table? Things don't always change for the better.

Most staff members returned year after year to spend ten weeks at Scoutshire Woods-one week of pre-camp training, and three sessions of two weeks. Some counselors remained for clean up after camp closed. (At that time Camp Seale Harris for diabetic children held a camp session at Scoutshire after the Girl Scouts finished their time.) The quality of the memories and friendships made during the three years of the reign of "The King" cannot be found today. Going on to nearly fifty years later, those girls of those summers continue to be the best of friends meeting again frequently. One of them still volunteers to do a program at camp every summer.

And why was it called Camelot? The time when John F. Kennedy was president before his untimely death was often referred to as Camelot. Some of the staff members picked up on this and compared the glorious days of summer at Scoutshire Woods to it.

 

Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.


Written by: Margaret B. Ellis
Camp Director, 1968-69-70

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It is spring and the azaleas are in bloom, as well as the spirea, dogwoods, redbuds and a wide variety of other trees, bushes and flowers.   For those of you bothered by pollen, yes, your car and outdoor furniture is coated in that lovely yellow dust on a daily basis.   But spring announces the fun of the season and the always popular end of the school year.

This spring has given us way too much rain for some of our council events, causing us to postpone them. I know of a number of camporees and sleepovers at camp that needed to be changed because of the monsoon and storms we have had this spring.

The rangers are reporting they are spending a lot of time working on washed out areas of roads and trails, which is always a challenge this time of year.   It is time when I'm listening to requests from them asking for loads of rock and gravel to stabilize roads for later use in the summer.

Sometimes, in this context, we don't recognize what we do have and how wonderful it is.   We have had folks from other councils come and use the Scott House at Camp Sid Edmonds as a base during the Christmas holidays and spring break.   They come and explore what Alabama has to offer both the fantastic biodiversity, the Gulf Coast, and what we have at our own camp properties.   They are always very complimentary of the living conditions and the convenient location, which allows them to explore this part of the country.

I know many of you have discovered the convenience of using one of the camps as a base for exploring enjoy both what camp has to offer, as well as other areas close to camp.   I'm always interested in some of the trips troops do that take the girls to explore and understand their own.   It is one of many ways we see you contribute to the future by showing girls what their world has to offer.

Thanks for the time you spend investing in the future by sharing your gifts with girls.

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Spring is in the air, and spring break is here or about to commence.   I enjoy seeing what many of you do during spring break.   Most everyone that I see photos of is enjoying the beauty of spring and the outdoors.   Funny, I wonder if there is a correlation between that and being a Girl Scout?   I suspect there is.   I'm also struck by how so many of you are people of action, not sitting on the couch much.   Most of you are out with your kids spending time investing in their fun.   It is good to watch and share in those memories.

We have some great spring programs for the end of the school year.   All look fun and like things I would want to do.   I want to remind you that the annual meeting is at Kamp Kiwanis on Saturday, April 9.   There will be an update of what went on last fiscal year with the audit results and the annual report.   We have a good day planned for girls and adults.

We continue to work to sell the excess cookie inventory.   As an appreciation gesture, we will sell cases of cookies for $25.   This includes mixed cases. If you have an interest or know of some businesses that would like to purchase them as thank you gifts, please send Teri Eversole or Amy Murray an e-mail.   They are teversole@girlscoutssa.org and amurray@girlscoutssa.org.

Camp information is on the website, and we are working on camp sign up.   As a reminder, for those who aren't quite ready for a night in a tent, we do offer day camp for those girls who want to come home.   I know each year we have some involved in softball and other sports activities, so for them day camp is a good option.   It should be a great year at resident camp.   We are going to work on teaching lots of basic camping skills in addition to the program the girls sign up for.   As always, there is financial assistance available, and that application can be found in the camp materials at www.girlscoutssa.org/camp.

As we think through the importance of this wonderful time of year, I want to let you know how much we appreciate the hard work and care you put into being a Girl Scout.   Thank you. Enjoy this beautiful spring!

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The sun is shining through my office windows as I write this.   There's a squirrel sitting on the bird feeder eating something as the butterflies buzz around, summoning the beginnings of spring.   The breeze is nice, and you can start to see the tree buds as I drive around the council territory.   Clearly, spring is in the air and our thoughts are turning away from cookies and toward being in the outdoors.

This time of year I spend time with the rangers working through their needs, their priorities, and things to get their camps ready for girls to reappear.   They are always eager for the girls to return to camp.   Camp Sid Edmonds was replanted in loblollies in one day.  It's amazing how quick it was.   We had someone working on the stumps there, so it is looking different than the last time you saw it.   I have not been up there yet, but it is certainly on my short list of things to do.   We have had a number of volunteers and parents volunteer to do a workday at Kamp Kiwanis to get it ready for girls.

We welcome a new camp ranger to Kamp Kiwanis.   Mike Breshears might be familiar to you if you are around the Montgomery area.   He has two daughters who are Girl Scouts, and his wife, Caroline, is an active troop leader and ran our Montgomery cookie pantry.   We hope you will welcome him as he works to address the many issues at Kamp Kiwanis.  We have lost some very large pine trees recently in some inconvenient places there.   Kudos to our Camp Sid Edmonds ranger, Jesse Malone, for managing his camp and Kamp Kiwanis as we worked to hire a ranger. We had many wonderful applicants for the ranger position and appreciate those who applied.

The rangers always prefer having girls on their properties.   I have heard about some fun ideas for camporees planned this spring.   We also have a great camp program planned; Tinker Bell is going to be working to build camping skills while you attend resident camp.   These are skills you can use for a lifetime.   It is worth it to check out the materials online.   I have the opportunity to visit all our camp properties frequently.   If you like to camp, consider taking your troop to one of the other council properties, each property is beautiful in its own way and has something wonderful to teach girls.

Hopefully, after doing a lot of things with girls around financial literacy, you can turn your attention to the outdoors and have some fun exploring what all there is to offer.

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GSUSA recently worked on introducing new badges using girl voting and input to determine what badges to pursue at what age level.   One set of badges revolve around the outdoors.   Girl Scouts has always been a leader in outdoors education, so this was a perfect match for them.

The Girl Scout experience offers prime forests, hiking trails, lakes and opportunities for girls in the outdoors.   My own view is that we offer some of the most pristine and best property in the State of Alabama.   We boast four very different camps, with differing opportunities at each.   I recognize they are not necessarily proximate to one another, but each has something unique to offer.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built Camp Scoutshire Woods, just a quick 45-minute drive from Mobile, when the economy was really a wreck during the Great Depression. The original buildings and lake were developed only from materials taken from that property, which is one of the things that make it unique and special.   The lake has a spillway that empties into a stream that is fun to wade in.   There is a wonderful hiking trail around the perimeter of the camp with different side trips that offer pitcher plants, a bog, and other interesting opportunities to see nature.   The frog pond on the property is wonderful, with a variety of frogs calling for mates throughout most of the year.   Our rangers have been rebuilding the porch on the recreation hall to bring it back to its original look using hand-planed Cyprus planks.

Camp Sid Edmonds in Bay Minette had a great deal of its pine plantation clear cut in the summer of 2014.   The result is an opportunity to really understand how a pine plantation works.   The quail are abundant, as are the snakes if the weather is conducive.   The inner part of the camp property was left intact, so you can still canoe in the large lake, have a campfire at the fire ring at the Scott House, or hike the perimeter of the lake.   The pine plantation will be replanted after the holidays, so we will be seeing first hand how the pines mature.

Another illustration of a good pine plantation is at Camp Humming Hills.   This is our largest property and has three lakes; one of which requires a very lengthy hike and is deep in the woods.   Humming Hills has the most unique dock I've ever seen, seemingly put together when the builder either didn't have a level or didn't care if it was hilly.   The pine plantation at Humming Hills is 3.5 years old, so the 117 acres we planted illustrate how quickly loblolly pine can mature under good conditions.   This property is the highest point in Coffee County, so you can see forever if you are on Tower Hill up high enough to get a good scan of the surrounding beauty.   The wildlife there is very abundant.   There's long been conversation about a jaguar seen there.   This has been met with some skepticism, but not long ago someone not far from Humming Hills did capture the photo of a jaguar on their game camera.   Humming Hills is located to the north of Elba.

Kamp Kiwanis is a property situated on the western arm of Lake Martin, near Eclectic.   It boasts 2.5 miles of Lake Martin shoreline.   It has two sloughs and islands.   One of the islands is accessible all the time, the other serves as a great place for spending the night during a survivor camp, but can be reached when the lake level is lower in the winter months.   If aquatic endeavors interest you, Lake Martin is the place to go.   It houses the council sailing program and pontoon boat.

For a mere $15, you can become a Girl Scout and for modest fees access all these properties by attending council programs, or with your troop or service unit.   During this time of year when many are talking about their hunting and fishing camps, I always think the girls and adults I have the privilege of serving really have "camps."   They have some of the best properties and opportunities the State of Alabama has to offer.   If you love the outdoors, being a Girl Scout is the best investment you can make.

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It is with great sadness that I share with you the passing of longtime Camp Humming Hills ranger Ed Smith.  Ed passed away peacefully in his sleep early Tuesday morning after a prolonged illness.   

 

Ed served our council with great spunk and dedication for eight years, and along with his wonderful wife, Wanda, made many beneficial changes to this camp property.  He was a hard worker, who loved Humming Hills as if it were his own.

 

Ed was a friend to many of our staff, and his loss will certainly be felt both by us and our Girl Scout family.  Personally, I will remember Ed's easy smile and kind heart. As many of you know, Ed always liked to pretend to be something of curmudgeon, but underneath that, he really just loved his camp and all of us, and he demonstrated this in hundreds of ways. I'll miss my dear friend and colleague.  He was truly an original.

 

Please join us in thoughts and prayers for his family during this difficult time.


-- Karlyn Edmonds, COO

 

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It is always nice to be up close and personal with volunteers over a sustained period of time.   I have many opportunities to interact with volunteers, but not over days or weeks.   A shout out to the volunteers who were wonderful and worked at resident camp this summer, doing all sorts of great things and made camp that much better this year.   Rusty and Gwen Black, Caroline Breshears, Elizabeth Conner, Vivian Martin, Tina Savell, and Dana Jones were so very helpful during the camp season.   Thank you for sharing your gifts with the girls.

It is always interesting during the summer to listen to the girls talk about their troop experiences and Girl Scout experiences.   I am always amazed at the wide variety of experiences and adventures these girls have with your planning and assistance.   I found the girls at resident camp this summer to have a high sense of exploration, confidence to get out of their comfort zone, and knowledge about the natural world.   I listened to some girls talk about different types of bugs.   We had another girl who wore her cowboy boots because she was fearful of snakes.   Then when PANDA had a small chicken snake, she decided she would face her fears.   Later she told me she wanted to "kiss it" which we didn't let her do.   But the difference between hot boots to thinking the snake was really cool convinced me of the capacity for girls to grow and learn through these experiences.   Most of their Girl Scout experiences are within your trusty care.

As the summer winds down and we start to turn our attention to fall it is good to be reminded why working with girls pays such tremendous dividends.   The girls I saw all summer were curious, happy, brave, and inquisitive.   Thank you for all you do to make this possible for all the girls we have the privilege of serving.

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We are on the other side of the hump on summer.  As in my youth, time seems to be relative, with summer waning faster than the rest of the year.   Where does the time go?   Where does the summer go?

I have returned to the four walls of my office to work, instead of my preferred office with no ceiling, walls, or windows -- simply a chair, my laptop, and the sounds of summer fun at camp; girls singing, laughing, playing, canoeing, swimming, zip lining, hiking and having fun.

As an educator, there is nothing more gratifying than watching girls have fun while learning.   The hands-on, experiential learning that camp provides is a great gift.   It is wonderful to watch older girls, who have been Girl Scouts throughout their lives work with younger girls to show them what they have learned.   They share their wisdom, knowledge, and gifts with others and it is a beautiful.   Some of the skills they have been part of Girl Scouts for more than 100 years.   New colors, new materials, and new ways of work have made other longtime skills pertinent for today's girls.   My neon-colored paracord neck lanyard for my glasses is evidence I'm cool.   The fun small kayaks the girls use quickly provide them with paddling experience in a buoyant boat that makes canoeing in a larger aluminum canoe so much easier.   The stand up paddleboards become an entre to windsurfing and other aquatic skills.

Some of what girls experience at camp will be remembered for a lifetime.   There are new friends, new songs, new skills and thrills that make summertime so special.

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Some days at Camp were HOT.   The temperatures may have been soaring, but you couldn't tell by what was going on around me. From my "office" on a porch near Lake Martin, I saw so many girls growing and having fun.

I saw girls in the pavilion learning new songs.   Another group near the tetherball were playing something akin to Marco Polo on land.   Behind me the whir of the zip line continued as girls tested their mettle by giving it a try.   In the cove, there was a group taking out the sailboats for the first time.   The temperatures were high, but you could not tell by the girls I was surrounded by -- all making the best of their summer vacation having a ball.

Camp has been great this summer.   The camp staff has been excellent!   The food has been incredibly good.   One of the staff noted that the food is so good we have not seen hardly any homesickness, because there is a direct relationship between comfort food and feelings of home and safety.   Amanda, our new staff member who is running camp, has brought some fun new ideas and traditions to the experience.

We have worked hard to assure girls are learning skill building in all their activities.   They can play some, but canoe time is getting into the water, learning to swamp the canoe and developing others skills. Just in case you missed it on our social media, the girls had a contest at Camp Scoutshire Woods between two groups under the swamped canoes singing Crazy Moose. It is hilarious!   We were discussing how quickly girls pick up skills if provided the opportunity to give things a try.   We had the Sunfish out this afternoon, and the instructor was stunned how a couple of the girls were rapidly proficient by just watching and listening to the instructions.   Girls are simply amazing!

On one day, I was over at the swim dock taking some video of the girls in swim lessons.   The lifeguards said in a couple of cases they weren't sure one or two of the girls would progress.   But with sheer determination and hard work, one in particular is really becoming a proficient swimmer.   The staff was amazed and delighted.

We work very hard to return your camper as a girl who has become more independent, proficient, and confident.   They have had fun, but they have also established some skills that will stay with them the remainder of their lives.

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