Scouts BSA Troop 334 returns to its roots for the first time in fifteen years: primitive tent camping on Treasure Island.
We had not been there for even 30 minutes before Troop 334 was complimented — twice.
Looking back on the weekend, these would not be the only compliments we’d receive either.
It ended up being two nights of camping in the muddiest and rainiest weather I’ve ever been in — the kind where by the end of the day, no one is dry, and everyone is going to bed in a damp sleeping bag in a puddle-strewn tent.
And it was so worth it.
Barely out of the cars and just getting started with the task of moving a weekend’s worth of supplies for 20+ people across the Delaware River by barge, our Scoutmaster Dave was stopped by a Friends of Treasure Island (FTI) staff member. “You Troop is really well organized,” he said. “They look like they really have their act together.”
As Dave came down the drive to make sure things were going smoothly, he was stopped by another Scoutmaster who told him, “I wish I could get my troop looking as sharp as yours; they look great with their Class A on and those matching hats!”
Treasure Island is in our DNA.
When Dave told me these things — again, we had not been there for half an hour yet, and were still on the PA side of the river, I said, “Well, Treasure Island is in our DNA, Dave. This is what we do. Troop 334 knows how to camp. And even though most of these Scouts have not been here before, this place is in our blood. This is our camp.”
The Scouts were looking sharp, and they were hustling. There were no complaints and we hauled all of our gear out of the cars and to a staging area, then across the street to another staging area, then down the long steps to the docks where there was another staging area, and finally, onto the barges. Most Scouts had to make 3-4 trips between each staging area. It was a warm evening, the gear was heavy, and our Scouts worked.
Once on the barges, we set out across the river. Crossing the Delaware River to land on those shores was like crossing a magical boundary into the most special place I’ve ever known.
For the Scouts, it seemed like a mix of trepidation and maybe a little confusion… like, what did we just do, and now we are on a boat, and where are we going? But the T.I. staff had torches lining all the docks and the entrance paths, and their red shirts seemed like they were everywhere directing traffic and answering questions.
They were full of smiles, so seemingly grateful we were there. They thanked us for coming. For many of the leaders, those thank yous were quickly turned back around. “No, thank YOU for doing this, for saving the island!”. For us, we had a mix of nostalgia and child-like excitement that was like something out of a movie.
To step foot back on that Island… overwhelming.
Troop 334 was back on Treasure Island, our most sacred ground, one of the first Boy Scout camps (founded in 1913) in the nation and the birthplace of the peer-chosen national honor roll for Scouts: the Order of the Arrow (Our local O.A. Lodge is numbered 1).
For me, there was no single space in my youth that I have more powerfully wonderful memories of: I went to Treasure Island with Troop 334 every summer for a week of camp until after I made Eagle Scout and graduated from high school. So, 11 to 18. And we camped there probably 3-5 weekends a year in addition to that; maybe it was less (Bill would know) but it felt like we were always there, and I loved every trip.
In 2008 our local Council sold Treasure Island because it kept flooding and they did not want to pay for it anymore. Sadly, for about 10 years the island sat abandoned and fallow, with nature reclaiming much.
About 5 years ago a private couple bought the whole island to turn it into a private camping site in the summers… but word quickly spread that they wanted to bring back Scouts and rebuild it. Summer would be for their fancy camping or glamping, and spring and fall would be for the Scouts.
So every weekend in the spring and fall, Scout troops come back to Treasure Island and ride the barge across the river and set up in the old campsites, and many of them spend their weekend doing cheerful service to clear and rebuild the island.
For me: I have not been there since 1992. Walking back on the island — now as a Scout leader and with my own 15yo Scout son — was beyond words. So many emotions for me.
The staff had gorilla carts (rugged big carts with big tires that traverse anything) and we needed every one of them to get all of our gear back to our campsite; we would be camping at the Win Campsite, which is special to 334… we’ll get to that in a moment.
Once again, the Scouts were hustlers, and in no time, all of our gear was down the long dirt path from the docks to our site, and our Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) T got busy getting camp organized. Along with his 3 Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders (ASPL) C, L, and N, they got all the Scouts busy setting up their tents and getting the Troop kitchen and other common areas squared away.
Stoves were set up, picnic table covers sprung out of the ground, and the rumors of how gross the pit toilets were began to run rampant, as they always do.
Soon the SPL and 1 ASPL had to go to the camp-wide Leaders Meeting, which was back at the parade ground pavilion with the leadership from the other troops as well as the camp staff. Rules were laid out, jokes were told, the daily agenda was explained, safety procedures were reiterated, and then we set out for our first night back on T.I.
A little warm, a little stuffy, but decent sleeping weather was the general assessment of that first night; little did we know how good we had it!
Most of us were woken up by a flock of geese that, for reasons known only to them, decided to circle above us, honking loudly, at around 5:45 a.m. So be it. Geese are going to geese. Coffee was on, and soon the Scouts were up and about, getting ready for colors while Dave got breakfast going.
For colors, we marched from our campsite, let by our SPL, to our designated spot on the parade field, with the U.S. flag and the Troop flag out in front. Standing there, at attention, while our SPL called out to our Camp Director, “Troop 334, all present and accounted for, sir!” brought back some feelings. It had been a long time since a 334 SPL said those words on that island in front of that flag pole. Too long.
We were back.
After colors, Dave and some Scouts working on merit badges made Dave’s Famous Egg In A Bag (with sausage), while other Scouts broke out a game of “Spike Ball”.
The meal was augmented by one of our ASPLs who, unbeknownst to his mother, brought a very large, bulk-sized container of Old Bay spice because, as he said, he “wasn’t here for that no-spice food anymore.” Old Bay was an exotic spice to many Scouts, who tried it for the first time, and it was unanimously agreed that Old Bay is fantastic on Dave’s Famous Egg In A Bag (with sausage).
Old Bay was consumed by most Scouts on most of the meals for the weekend, earning our ASPL the nickname “Old Bay J” and likely the wrath of his mother when she discovers how much was consumed after the spice was stolen from her cabinet.
After breakfast, we set out on a tour of the island led by Scoutmaster Dave, and we went through all the key sites from the south end to the north end and back; stories were told, misty memories came alive, and for some of us, a tear or two was shed (it was me). The highlight of the tour ended with a trip to the camp store, formerly and colloquially known as the Trading Post, as it always does. Surprising, that old building can still do a brisk business of cheap sodas and candy and a patch or two.
Many of the Scouts decided to stay and play some games on the parade field with Scouts from other troops, where they met a dog named Rex who proceeded to eat any of the balls that the FTI staff brought for the Scouts to use. The rest of us headed back to camp where we had a quiet afternoon; some of us even took a brief nap (it was me).
Putting Things Back Where They Belong
Scoutmaster Dave brought back something special… see, Campsite Win had previously been adopted by Troop 334.
Many years ago when it was still a Scout camp, in 2001, after he passed away, the Troop dedicated a plaque on the lean-to at Win, in honor of one of the greatest Scoutmasters of all time, the Scoutmaster who served for me and for Keith, as well as for Dave and Bill and Don and Jeff when they were Boy Scouts, Norman L. Snyder.
Well, Dave brought the plaque back with him and we hung it back on the lean-to, now that T.I. is back in good hands.
I am not going to lie; there were some emotions from some of us (it was not just me).
And Then It Rained
By late afternoon, everything changed… the skies darkened and the temperature started to drop. Sitting in the lean-to with Scoutmaster Dave and Assistant Scoutmaster Don, as well as fellow parent and former 334 Eagle Scout Keith, we heard the first peal of thunder. Good Scouts that they are, soon our boys came running back into the campsite where they all crammed under the picnic table shelter when the rain started.
And then it rained. And rained. And rained. Thunder crashed, and lightning flashed, but for the most part, it was peaceful. Even beautiful. But then it just kept raining.
And then the Scouts decided that a fun thing to do would be to shout-sing the Don McLean classic “American Pie”. Why? I will never know. But us leaders just stared at them from our lean-to and took guesses as to how far they would get before they didn’t know the words. Well, incredibly, and sadly, they knew ALL of the words. It was impressive only in it’s completeness; as to musical quality and tone, we were cringing and, I think, Don almost lost his mind.
As the rain let up for a bit, and before they could start on something even worse, I reminded them that they needed to perform a skit at the campfire that night, and they spent the rest of the afternoon fleshing out a skit called “Meatloaf” that required a lot of physical acting. One Scout volunteered to be the one who had to repeatedly go to the ground — the ground that was now about 2 inches of mud. I am not going to name names, as his mother will find that Class B shirt soon, but it was “Old Bay J”. Just filthy. We tried to warn ’em!
Dinner was going to be downgraded from hot dogs and hamburgers to just hot dogs, but the rain let up enough and Scoutmaster Dave was determined, and he got the charcoal lit while the SPL took the troop to colors. Right after colors, our SPL T had to leave the island (a planned departure) and ASPL L took over. We rushed back for a late dinner where we found that cheeseburgers were back on the menu, and this time, with Old Bay! It was late quickly, though, and we had to hustle through the mud to get to the campfire.
A campfire at Treasure Island is a lot of special things, and this one did not disappoint. Even though the rain chased us from the ceremonial grounds (an outdoor amphitheater with a huge fire pit) to an indoor version in the old dining hall, the FTI staff went heavy on nostalgia and storytelling. There were lots of memories shared and challenge-call for Scouts to join their O.A. lodge and serve, and a rousing rendition of one of my all-time favorite campfire poems, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service.
As a surprise, Troop 334 was called out and recognized by the FTI staff for the re-placement of our plaque honoring Norm; although Dave was not at campfire, Don went up to accept the award and give a very emotional speech about Norm and his impact on Troop 334 and Scouting. The FTI staff member was choked up when he resumed the program; Don, with no notice, absolutely crushed it. What a tribute to Norm and to Troop 334. Thank you, Don!
Finally, one of the last skits was our Scouts and their well-rehearsed “Meatloaf” skit.
Some background: The gist of this skit is that a company needs to make a successful commercial about meatloaf; the director is supposed to be obnoxious, the main actor is supposed to get verbally abused, and the camera person is supposed to be trying to tell the director something urgent the whole time but keeps getting shushed. First, the director tries a regular commercial about meatloaf; when the actor samples it on camera, the meatloaf causes him to drop to the ground until he is resuscitated by a medic. The director, thinking this is all part of the script, yells “CUT!” and berates everyone for doing a terrible job. Then they try again, but this time, as grandparents. Same thing, same result. Finally, they decide to use w professional wrestling theme, which causes the actor to strut like a pro wrestler, the chef to strut back at him, and when the actor passes out, the medic comes and does several elbow-drop body slams until the actor is resuscitated. The director loves this, and they all celebrate a successful commercial. At this point, the camera person, who has been trying to be heard the whole time, finally gets to speak his truth, which is that the camera is not even working. HAHA! And then the actor chases the cameral person off stage and, The End. I provided you all with that exposition so that you could better enjoy this video of the performance below:
Without any bias, it was the best skit of the night. The elbow drop was more real than intended, but the show must go on!
We finished the campfire by singing “The Treasure Island Camp Song” — the camp song that was written 100 years ago by one of the founders of Scouting, Philadelphia’s own E. Urner Goodman. I had not sung that song since 1992, but through all those years of my youth, we sang it every year and especially on the closing night. Well, as soon as we started singing, I instantly remembered all of the words and sang so loudly I had chills. I could not recite one line of the song for you right now, but last night, standing on the island full of Scouts in front of a big campfire, I remembered every word. It was one of the weirdest and most amazing things that ever happened to me.
After the campfire, we trudged through the mud back to our tents, exhausted from a long day (even with a nap for some of us). We all found that our tents still had some dry spots here and there.
Personally, I had to un-stake my tent and pull the ground cloth out as it held about 2″ of water on it that was seeping through the floor of my tent. All without killing myself on that stump. Dave told me I had a water bed and I should be grateful; I said, “That water doesn’t hold this weight!”
Eventually, we all got to sleep, and the rain mostly held off all night.
The geese did not hold off, though.
No worries, as an early wake-up was in order; we all had the desire to get home and get clean and dry.
Breakfast was quick — orange juice or milk to drink, bagels with cream cheese, muffins, and apples.
One of the Scouts asked Dave if there were any other toppings for the bagels, which started a round of joking about what if Dave had snuck out in the middle of the night to go salmon fishing and then smoked it to make us all fresh lox for our bagels… it was funny. You had to be there.
Then there was lots of talk about if anyone would add Old Bay to their bagel and cream cheese; there were no takers.
After colors, Dave led the Troop to the morning service in the woodland chapel, while Keith and I snuck back to the camp to make sure we had some of those gorilla carts to get off the island; we were only supposed to take 2, and so we only took 2, but we knew this meant a lot more work for the Scouts (as we used them all on the way in). So Keith and I moved all the gear to a staging area near the front of the site, and we prepped everything we could so that we could get home as quickly as possible.
The procedure was: clean and clear out your whole camp, then get it inspected, and THEN bring your gear to the dock to get in line with the other troops to depart. So, we needed to hustle, and our Scouts did hustle!
In no time at all the rest of the tents were down, the camp was policed for trash, and the SPL was off to get our inspector. We were cleared on the first try and then we got to the hard work of moving all of the gear back to the dock, down to the barge, across the river, and up the long steps to the waiting cars.
Our Scouts executed all of this, after a long, but magical, but muddy, weekend flawlessly.
In what seemed like no time at all we were parked back in Roxborough and tired, dirty, but hopefully, happy campers were heading home with their parents.
Troop 334 knows how to camp. It is what we do.
And Treasure Island is in our DNA.
I am forever grateful to the volunteer staff of Friends of Treasure Island for all they’ve done and continue to do.
Their Scout Weekends are sold out for the rest of this year and next (!), but our troop is already booked, and we’ll be back next April, and I think we will bring along some Webelos Cub Scouts as well. I can’t wait to see how many improvements will be made and to get back on that island.
I hope this brief stay on T.I. kindled some of that T.I. spirit in each of our Scouts; I know it rekindled it for me.
Until next time…
Linger yet around the fire
Catch it’s last bright glow
Let us learn it’s ready message
Just before we go
Let the warmth of scout and brother
Dwell in rank and file
Still abiding when we leave thee
Dear ole Treasure Isle
— From “The Treasure Island Camp Song” written by E. Urner Goodman