Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Thanks for the memories, Camp Dittmer

As many of you know, it is emotionally painful to put an animal down.

The pet that you spent so many years with was beloved, truly a member of your family. You knew that incurable illness had taken its course and something had to be done. You owed it to that animal, to you, and your whole family. Even so, that never lessened the emotional heft – your companion was no more.  

That’s the way I’ve felt with the sale of Camp Dittmer.

That longtime Boy Scout camp, located in Phelps in the Finger Lakes region, was sold earlier this week. For more than 60 years, that beautiful property served as a summer camp for thousands of scouts from the Iroquois Trail Council (and its predecessor the Lewiston Trail Council), as well as scouts from literally all over the world.

I was one of those scouts.

And, I was one of those who had to make the difficult decision to sell the camp.

I had been the president of the board of the Iroquois Trail Council for almost ten years and I knew for most of my tenure that moving that property was inevitable. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t escape the harsh reality of upstate New York’s changing demographics and population. As school enrollments declined dramatically, the number of scouts did as well; there are fewer kids in the community to serve. Just look at the twenty-year declines in some school districts in the Council’s territory: Albion 35%; Medina 34%; Roy-Hart 32%; and Lockport 25%.

But, being reasoned and reasonable, knowing the end had to come, doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of the end actually being here.

From now on, Camp Dittmer can only live in my mind and heart.

Scouts assembling on Remick Lake

I am forever appreciative of the impact that place and its people had on me as kid, and the opportunities it provided me in the later years.

My first time there was as a young scout in 1987. I immediately fell in love with Dittmer, a tranquil destination with its own lake and beautiful forests. There was a council-wide weekend fishing derby on Remick Lake. I made it to the finals after catching a huge bass, and during those finals — from a canoe, so exciting for this 12 year-old! — I tangled with a massive pike. I’ve been hooked on fishing – and Scouting – ever since.  

From 1987 to 1992 I spent a week there every summer, enjoying good times in the campsite, around the lake, and in the dining hall with my friends and our scoutmasters. During that time, I earned merit badges and learned life skills that I carry with me to this day.

In 1993, I took a job at Camp Dittmer as the nature director. It was my duty to teach campers about the various nature merit badges, take them on hikes, and show them how to catch the monstrous fishes that swim in the lake. My years as the director were life-changing. Prior to that, I was maybe something of an introvert. Having to lead a small staff and teach large classes taught me to take control, manage organizational functions, educate, and speak to groups.

Following those summers and my graduation from college I began working in my family business. But, I still went to Dittmer every summer with Troop 18 for the decade during which I was the scoutmaster. I wanted the kids to experience what I did. Those weeks away also transformed me. I became scoutmaster at the tender age of 22. To be responsible for 20 kids while managing volunteers and parents who were much older than me prepared me for the responsibilities of my career and ultimately parenthood, instilling care, empathy, and maturity.   

If it’s possible for a place to help make you who you are, Camp Dittmer certainly exceled in that regard. It had its part in defining who I am as a man, father, employer, speaker, angler, volunteer, naturalist, and so much more.

I’ll never forget that.

The iconic moose head in the mess hall

And, I’ll never forget the sights, sounds, and smells of Dittmer…things like dozens of happy and boisterous children; the tranquility of the lake before the campers awakened; the American flag proudly waving in the parade field; the majesty of bugle at flag raising; the chorus of bullfrogs in the lake; the sound of a trophy bass smacking a topwater lure; the water carnivals at the waterfront; the food, songs, energy and moose head in the mess hall; my awesome and unique coworkers when I worked on staff; the smell of the pines in the campsites; the reverence of the outdoor chapel; and each week’s closing campfires.

Thanks for the memories, Camp Dittmer.

I’ll miss you.

But, you’ll always be with me.  

You’ll always be part of me.

From the 25 June 2024 Wellsville Sun and Greater Niagara Newspapers

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