Mission to save Camp LeFeber

This is another one of those stories where I have way more to tell then I have space to write it.

Last year I wrote to you about one of the true gems in Forest County which is Camp LeFeber.

Camp LeFeber is a Boy Scout camp that has been active since 1930 and is nestled in 1,130 acres of forest and lakes in a true wilderness environment.

Camp LeFeber is run for the Scouts in an old-school way where the scouts camp in tents, collect their own firewood and eat/cook in the “Patrol” method.

On day one, which this week was Sunday, the scouts are given their entire week’s menu and issued their nonperishable food for the week. Their food is cooked over the fire or with camp stoves.

Here is where I fit into this situation. Last year this camp was put up for sale. It looked like LeFeber would go into private hands if it was sold and more than likely never be a place where kids would be camping as scouts with their leaders and learning an incredible amount of very honorable and common-sense skills.

I have decided that I am going to help save LeFeber. When I was recruited by Jaron Tauschmann, the vice president of the Baden Powell Northwoods Experience, I decided to reach out to the readers of this column to see what we could do www.bpnorthwoods.org

First, the bad news. LeFeber was sold to a logger. It looked like LeFeber would be logged off and the hundreds of kids that learned so much each summer were now 100 percent a part of the past.

Here is the start of the good news. The logger is a man by the name of Jamie Flannery. Many of the good people like Jaron and Jim Nelson, Kristin and Adam Rabe and a great many other past and present scouts or leaders began negotiating with Jamie on what would be a one-year lease to keep the camp open for this summer and then a purchase of the land and buildings.

I spent two days here and observed the kids, the leaders, the men doing the logging job and what the kids do while at LeFeber.

First, the logging job. Many people hate anything to do with tree harvesting. Sorry folks but harvesting trees gives income to landowners and provides us with paper and lumber. The three men [loggers] that base out of LeFeber have watched the 450 scouts that have come through here this summer and it was obvious that they want this camp to stay open.

What I witnessed was road building where there would not be roads (benefit). Opening up some mature forest with select cutting which allows daylight to the ground is very beneficial to wildlife, and a logging crew that is pretty darn handy when equipment is needed or a tree needs to be taken down.

The leaders/volunteers in most cases were here as Scouts anywhere from 10-50 years ago. Here is an example. Tom and Karen Herbert are from Oconomowoc and have been volunteering here forever.

Tom has been a part of scouting since 1960 – a veteran with an impeccable and very interesting history. Tom and Karen teach firearms and archery. In others words, shooting 22s, 20-gauges and bows and arrows. The Herberts were here for 40 days at no charge to the camp.

Adam and Kristen Rabe are LeFeber’s program and camp directors. Kristen grew up here at LeFeber where her father and grandfather were the camp managers for over 50 years.

There were 45 kids in the camp when I was here and 140 the week before. Prayers are said before meals, the flag is honored to start the day and end it but most of what I witnessed was nonstop individual and team building in events and classes that go from early morning until about 9:00 each night.

Physical and mental toughness are taught and lived here. Working together is a nonstop way of life whether it is collecting firewood in the forest or cooking lunch.

The last year a young man can come to camp as a Scout/student is the age of 17 and you can see that it is just like that of a senior in high school. The first year kids looked to be about 11 or 12 and no kids are left behind in any form.

On my last day I watched 17-year-old Dawsom Ambruster of Troop 599 out of Hales Corners swim a mile on Hardwood Lake. Two instructors rowed next to Dawson for this challenge and it was really cool and an honor to watch this young man achieve his goal.

Camp LeFeber has hundreds of people that are trying to help it last well into the next century. It is now privately run by a group of excellent people with scouting backgrounds.

There are many challenges when taking over this size of property which has dozens of buildings, a hefty property tax bill and eventually a solid mortgage.

Jamie Flannery and his family were honored recently by many Scouts and their leaders at a ceremony on Hardwood Lake. From what I hear, since Jamie witnessed the Scouts in action he really wants to make this work, so let’s all give him a chance to prove that.

Now the tough part comes: a plan to purchase the camp and run this so that scouts from all over come here as well as youth groups that are not Scouts. Camp LeFeber has a staff of about 30 that teaches classes all day and other groups could come and be a part of that scenario or do their own thing.

The grounds are massive with three lakes, many trails and a wilderness experience guaranteed. Let’s see what this column appearing in 63 newspapers and their web sites can do to help keep LeFeber open for the next hundred years.


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