CROSSLAKE -- Camp Cuyuna is a pristine, 850-acre wilderness camp for Boy Scouts that includes miles of undeveloped lakeshore on six lakes located only minutes from downtown Crosslake.
Many Crosslake area residents may not be aware that the camp exists, but it has been providing a low-cost summer camping experience for more than 700 Boy Scouts each summer since 1967.
Camp Cuyuna is, for many Boy Scouts, the only opportunity they have to earn certain merit badges. In one week they can scale a ropes course and climbing tower and participate in archery, rifle shooting, rowing, sailboating, canoeing, camping, hiking and more.
Now the future of the Crosslake camp is uncertain.
The Boy Scouts Twin Valley Council based in Mankato, which owns the camp, announced last February that to reduce its debt, it was looking into selling about 163 acres of land in Camp Cuyuna, appraised at about $1 million. This land parcel includes about 13 acres of land on Big Pickerel Lake used for family camping.
Camp supporters, including former Boy Scouts, troop leaders and former camp staff members, were not pleased. The family camping area is a well-used section of the camp. It has 12 family camp and five primitive camp sites available for anyone with a Boy Scout in the family. It also is available for churches and other groups.
If one of the most valuable pieces of the camp is sold to developers, it would be only a matter of time before the camp is lost forever, said Don Halverson, a Crosslake resident and former Camp Cuyuna staff member who began staying at the camp when he was a Boy Scout.
A group of Scouting supporters, including Halverson, has banded together to attempt to raise $600,000 by mid-September to transfer ownership of about 150 acres, excluding the 13-acre family camp, to the DNR's Reinvest in Minnesota program. The DNR proposal would buy the land for $1.5 million but supporters would need to raise the $600,000 in matching funds for the program. The DNR-owned property would become an aquatics management area and the camp would be granted easement rights to use the property.
That way the land couldn't be developed, said Halverson. Halverson is treasurer of the Camp Cuyuna Alumni Association, a four-year-old organization made up of about 400 former camp staff members.
"As you can tell, the developers would drool over this undeveloped lakefront property," Halverson said of Camp Cuyuna, as he stood near Big Pickerel Lake. "I look at how Crosslake is developing. It's like the Edina of the North. If they decide to sell it to a developer, the camp would be gone in five years and there would be $1 million homes back here."
Halverson concedes the camp is underused but said the alumni association is trying to change that. It is looking at ways for the Crosslake community to become more aware of the camp and checking into how the camp can partner with existing groups and programs in the area.
If portions of the camp were sold to developers, the camp would lose its appeal as a place where scouts can go for wilderness camping. Costs are low to keep the camp operating. The camp has cabins for its staff members, an outdoor chapel, a rifle range and a year-round home where camp ranger Chuck McMahon lives. A commissary building is where the scouts pick up their meals and take them back to cook at one of the 14 Boy Scout large campsites.
"You work here one summer and you're hooked for life," said Halverson, a sentiment he said he shares with many other camp alumni. "When we (the CCAA) formed we had no idea our goal was going to be to save the camp."
Many of the Boy Scouts who attend Camp Cuyuna are from small towns in southern Minnesota who have never camped in the woods before, said Keith Fitzpatrick, a Camp Cuyuna alumnus and executive board member for the Twin Valley Council. Fitzpatrick said many of the campers are from low- to middle-income homes. For them, a week at camp is the highlight of their summer.
Fitzpatrick, who also is a troop leader, said he enjoys bringing newcomers to camp and watching them get excited about hearing the call of the loons or camping in the woods for the first time. Fitzpatrick has been going to Camp Cuyuna for the past 20 years, first as a Boy Scout himself.
"You're 10 minutes from a very populated resort area and you can't hear anything out here," said Fitzpatrick, who was camping with his family in the family camping area at Camp Cuyuna last week. "You're in the middle of nowhere."
The Twin Valley Council executive board likely will make a decision within the next two months on whether to move forward with the DNR proposal or sell the property. Camp supporters have formed the Commitment to Camping Capital Campaign, which is attempting to raise the $600,000 in matching DNR funds in a variety of ways. The alumni association itself has raised about $16,000-$17,000 with a total of about $100,000 raised so far through the campaign. A 78-year-old former Cub Scout den mother from Redwood Falls is selling items on eBay to help the camp. About a dozen other fund-raisers have been ongoing.
Halverson said he and his fellow camp supporters are optimistic they'll be able to raise the necessary funds to protect the camp.
"This is really a hidden gem up here," said Halverson. "This is what scouting is all about."
Camp Cuyuna is northeast of downtown Crosslake. The 850-acre camp is located primarily in Crosslake but also includes Fifty Lakes, Emily and Fairfield Township. The camp borders Grass, Big Pickerel, Little Pickerel, Lily and Goodrich lakes. Command Lake, a 29-acre lake, is surrounded by the camp.
The Boy Scouts Twin Valley Council includes 15 counties in southern Minnesota, but the camp is open to Boy Scouts throughout the state. Boy Scout troops from Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Crosby and Little Falls often attend Camp Cuyuna each summer, said Halverson.
For more information on the Commitment to Camping Capital Campaign, visit the Camp Cuyuna Alumni Association Web site at http://www.cloudnet.com/~wgrosk/CCAA/.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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