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Officials hope castle-themed project will be big draw for Scouts

posted Aug 30, 2008, 9:30 AM by Boy Scout Troop 856   [ updated Aug 30, 2008, 9:33 AM by Boy Scout Troop 856 ]
 
MERRIFIELD — St. Cloud-area donors and a construction company are some local forces behind a medieval castle-style building under construction amid a fortress of trees at the Parker Scout Camp north of Merrifield.

The castle — complete with rooks, flags, catapults and a courtyard — is not preparing for royalty. Instead the camp is hoping to appeal to a group important to Boy Scout leaders — children.

Construction for the $1.7 million castle began in mid-June and is expected to be completed in the fall. It will have two levels and 12,000 square feet of space, said Mike Gohman, president of W. Gohman Construction Co., the construction manager for the project. The castle is the starting point in a three-phase expansion and improvement project at the Parker Scout Camp.

The castle is named after Jim and Marion Miller of the St. Cloud area, who donated the leading gift of $400,000.

Gohman said St. Cloud-area Cub Scouts will likely be "heavy users" of the camp, although it will probably draw from all over the state.

"It's a way to get kids really excited about Scouting," said Gohman, who is an Eagle Scout.

Improvements

David Trehey, the executive director for the Central Minnesota Boy Scout Council, said the 300-acre camp started in 1941 but stopped functioning in the mid-1970s as a Boy Scout summer resident camp. It continued to be used as a Cub Scout camp.

After touring about four Cub Scout camps in the Midwest, the group decided to redesign the camp with five different themes so campers could come five years and experience something new each time.

"If we keep kids five years," Trehey said, "studies show that the values and things we teach them, after five years, have made a profound impact. They sink in."

The medieval castle is the first theme to be built, and it will be followed by a wilderness fort, flintlock village, Indian village and a "Nature's Wonders" theme that will be built when funds are raised.

"We're not blazing new territory," Trehey said. "But we are improving what we've seen."

Activities

While the camp mainly hosts first- through fifth-grade boys, other groups also use the facility, including YMCA and church groups. Most camps run Friday through Sunday.

Trehey said that because the castle and fort will be four-season facilities, he hopes they will be filled each weekend. "Once you build it, you want it to be used as much as it can," he said.

Activities will be key in defining each theme. Trehey listed many ideas, including a metalworking craft for the castle, leather-working or blacksmith crafts for the flintlock tent city and huts for the Native American village. "Who knows where it goes," he said. "We'll develop every year and gain activities."

The castle and fort will be bunk camping, as Trehey calls it, and the other three themes will be outdoor wilderness camping.

Trehey said parent reactions are mixed. "Some think this is going to be so fun," he said. "And some think latrines are a luxury ... and that this isn't necessary. ... We could play hardball and not improve this place, but we'd be the only people up here."

"We'll meet them halfway," he said. The bunk camping will allow those not ready to camp outdoors a transition period. The wilderness camping, though, will give an outdoor experience.

The castle's bunkhouse can house up to 32 children and 16 adults. For safety, a storm shelter was built into the castle basement.

What's next

The majority of funding for the first phase came from the Millers in the St. Cloud area. For the second phase, Trehey said he wants to reach out to other communities for contributions. "I'm hoping that the Brainerd lakes area becomes a player in the next phase of the program," he said.

Trehey expects the second phase, which includes the construction of the remaining four themes, to cost about $1 million.

The third phase will involve smaller improvements around the camp and is expected to cost about $500,000.

Business Editor Britt Johnsen contributed to this report.

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