Some of my fondest memories growing up were all the activities I participated in as a Girl Scout, including the camping.
If my memory serves me correctly, my first over-night camping experience was at Camp Cherokee Ridge in Wayne County back in 1980. I was 9 and a junior Girl Scout at the time.
My fellow scouts and I trekked along a winding trail through the woods to reach our home-away-from-home for those two nights, a platform tent in the Pathfinder unit.
That weekend would become the first of many camping trips I would take to Cherokee Ridge as I advanced from a junior to senior scout and then into young adulthood as a volunteer.
From the Pathfinder unit to the Rock Hill and Tall Timbers units, I stayed in them all at one time or another. Each had its own attributes that made it special, including the fact that Tall Timbers got its name from the straight-up hike it took to reach the unit at the top of the hill behind the dining lodge.
Back then, the camp was opened and operated by the Otahki Girl Scout Council in Cape Girardeau. It was one of three properties that was available for camping to troops from nine counties in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois.
After opening in 1966, the 1,100 acres of tree-covered hills and valleys along the St. Francis River offered thousands of Girl Scouts, like me, a place to learn about the outdoors first hand. There were so many activities — hiking, canoeing on the 21-acre lake, swimming and horseback riding.
I fondly remember standing in front of the dining lodge, looking out over the lake, as the flag was raised and lowered each day.
There also were days spent learning to tie knots and make craft projects, including a macramé wall hanging. Although it sits in a box of memories now, I recall making it, as well as hollowing out acorns to use as beads for it.
I can’t even begin to recall how many nights our troop and others scouts like us spent singing around the campfire, watching the fire’s embers float away into the expansive night sky.
One of those songs that comes to mind still holds a special place in my heart as it was the camp’s song.
When the moon is high
Over Cherokee Ridge
And the stars appear
In the sky
And the only sound
Is the cool night wind
As it gently breathes a sigh.
As much as I enjoyed, and still enjoy, spending time around a campfire, another special spot at Cherokee Ridge was a hidden gem.
Hidden among trees, overlooking the lake was our “chapel.”
With only the rustling leaves and the birds singing, we gathered there on Sunday mornings for our worship services. The serenity I felt there will never be forgotten.
While I didn’t attend any of the “resident” summer camps offered at Cherokee Ridge, many scouts did over the years.
In a story I wrote for the Daily American Republic in the 1990s about Cherokee Ridge, the summer campers spoke of the lasting friendships they had developed and what a “great experience” they were having horseback riding, swimming, canoeing and doing so much more.
With so many fond memories of camping at Cherokee Ridge, it brought a tear to my eye when I heard in September that the Girl Scouts of Missouri Heartland was closing the camp and putting it up for sale as a way to improve council finances.
The camp had fallen victim as another property being sold off by a ginormous council now based in Springfield. The new council had formed in 2008 with the merger of the Otahki Girl Scout Council and four other councils and now covers 68 counties in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
Some leaders and scouts began a petition effort in January to remove and replace the council’s board of directors over the closing both Cherokee Ridge and another camp in Newton County.
Despite their efforts, the board accepted a buyer’s offer for Cherokee Ridge. No sale price has been disclosed, but the camp had a listed sale price of $1.85 million.
No amount of money compares to what that camp meant to so many scouts and leaders or what its loss will mean to future generations who will never have the opportunity to hike its rolling hills or look out over the lake as the sun sets to the singing of “Taps.”
What will become of the camp now is anyone’s guess. It soon will be in private hands and gone will be the opportunities for Girl Scouts of all ages to learn about the outdoors and experience adventures.
The sale on the property is slated to close this month, and when it does, it also will close a chapter rich in Missouri’s Girl Scout history. And, that is the true shame of it all.