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CHIN-BE-GOTA revisited 20 years later

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  • CHIN-BE-GOTA revisited 20 years later

    I'd like to start by saying that I was a member of troop 45 from 1980 till 1987. I attended CBG from 1981 to 1983 and was a staff member for the summer in 1984. CBG opened in 1959 and closed after the season in 1985. I have many great memories from attending this camp.

    This summer I was vacationing in Wisconsin with my parents and was planning on staying in Wausau. Before I left home I went through some of my old scouting items. I found a map of CBG and the directions to the camp folded up in my field book. After I checked into the hotel I grabbed the map and a camera and headed off to find out what had happened to the camp. It had been 20 years since I had been there and 19 years since the camp had closed.

    I was surprised to find the directions were still accurate with all the original landmarks still present that were on the map. One other thing I would like to mention before I continue. I drove to the camp with my father. He camped there in 1959 with his troop and in 1983 with me as an Asst. Scoutmaster. We were both anxious to find out what had become of the camp.

    We pulled up to the main entrance also known as the picnic area. The stone structures that held the camp signs on each side of the entrance are still there. The one on the right side has a couple of stones that have fallen out and are lying on the ground. The original CBG signs are gone. There is a sign hanging on the right side. It shows a picture of the lake. The signs used to hang from a small tree trunk that was anchored to the top of the stone structures. The left side trunk is rotted and completely gone. The right side trunk is soft and rotted but sill there. This is where the current sign hangs.

    Before we got out of the truck we met someone coming from south beach. After speaking with him we learned that some church organization owns the area where the lodge and other building are located. He said he was there with 5 somewhat troubled teens and gave us permission to look around. After taking some pictures of the entrance we noticed someone across the road were staff camp used to be. We walked over to talk. When you first walked into staff camp there was a staff lounge with showers on the right side. That building is now a small house. The owner said recently they took part of the floor up for repairs and couldn't figure out why there were so many drains. I remember there being a long row of sinks which probably had their own drains plus the outside shower had several. The tents in staff camp were arranged in a semi circle with each one having a 4x4 post sticking out of the ground with a GFI outlet for electricity. Half of them are still there. The owner also said he took the siding off a small building not far from the house to build a shed. This building turned out to be the rifle range building.

    After walking through staff camp we went to south beach. The beach was to the left of the main entrance and had a raft anchored out a ways you could swim to. While a staff member we would swim there once in a while. This was also open to the local kids to swim. It didn't look like anything I remembered. It was small and over grown. You would never know that it once was a place to swim.

    After some more pictures we headed up to the lodge. The parking lot is now full of weeds and grass. All of the buildings look pretty much the same on the exterior with the exception of a couple of chimney flews sticking out of the roof of the lodge. All 5 buildings are still there. Lodge, health lodge, quartermaster and 2 directors buildings. I did manage to get a peek inside one of the windows of the lodge. As far as a could see the main structure looks the same with all the natural log beams in the ceiling. There are some newer rooms built in the center of the lodge though. The small white painted weather station that used to sit in front of the lodge is gone. There is now a large square screened gazebo in its place. The rope is gone that used to go through all the rough sawn wooden columns that lined the inside corner of the lodge. The gate is also gone that you had to drive through to get to the campsites.

    We started to drive down the road toward camp site number 1. We did not even make it to the fire bowl. A large cable was strung across the road and locked. We got out and walked to the fire bowl. Standing at the fire bowl looking toward the lake there is a huge house up on the hill to the right side. Looking around the fire bowl there is a swing, a pier going out into the lake and a large fire pit exactly were we used to have ours. One other thing that caught my eye was were we used to sit on the side of the hill facing the fire. There use to be small diameter tree trunks cut into the ground that stair stepped up the side of the hill. We sat on these during the fire bowls. After looking closely at the side of the hill we determined that about half of them are still there.

    After some more pictures my dad went back to the lodge. I took off to find campsite number 1. This is where I camped in 1981 and 1982. Further down the road it splits off to the right and left. This is where the shower house use to be. It's completely gone. There is now a small pole building there. I went right toward campsite number 1 and number 2. A little further down the road the first thing that came into site was an outhouse. As I walked around the right side of it, still visible was the large white #1 painted on it. The outhouse is surprisingly in good condition just dirty. In front of it there is a small wooden frame looking structure that had started to rot and fell over. After looking at it for a minute I remembered that we use to keep a plastic garbage can sitting on it that had a spigot mounted on the side. You kept water in it. This is where you washed your hands. The rest of the campsite was still cleared like it is mowed once in a while. The well pump is still there but missing the handle. As I headed back I could also see the outhouse for number 2 campsite on the right.

    I went back to the fork in the road and headed left toward instructional beach. Sitting right in the entrance to the beach is another huge house. The only thing I recognized is the small white building on the right side of the beach. It's not in the best of condition. We use to keep life saving equipment and a phone inside it that rang inside the lodge.

    A little further down and across the road I found site number 14. Those that camped at CBG would remember the large wooden pallets that the tents sat on. Looking around I found 4 to 5 of these pallets still there. They were full of moss. Some are partially rotted. Some are covered in weeds. The site is really over groan and full of small trees.

    I took some more pictures and figured I had kept my dad waiting long enough plus being on private property had me slightly worried.

    As I walked back I past site number 3. I looked inside the outhouse out of curiosity. I saw something that made me laugh to myself and smile. Lying in the yearnal was a rusted can of mosquito repellant. Some boy probably in the last troop to camp there in 1985 dropped it there. Just thought it was funny.

    By this time the sun was starting to set and I knew I had to get back but there was one more thing I really wanted to do. I walked back to the fire bowl, went down by the lake and behind the fire pit. It took only seconds to find. The Eagle Trail. This was a hiking trail that followed the lake from the fire bowl to point beach. I was so surprised that it was still visible. I was able to follow it with ease even thought here were some small tree limbs laying across it and also some small evergreens starting to grow on it.

    When I got to point beach you would never know that it was ever a beach. There was grass knee deep everywhere. Point beach was used for scheduled troop swims. I took more pictures and headed up toward the lodge. The railroad ties used for steps are still there and I found a picnic table at the top of the steps in a small clearing. It was full moss and the wood felt really soft. After thinking about it I remembered that is were the nature class was held.

    I finally made it back to the lodge. Before we left we walked over to the commissioners cabin which was across the road from the lodge. This building is in sad shape. The doors were open. It was full of junk. Looks like it could fall over any time.

    We went back to the main entrance took pictures of each other standing by the sign and left. As we turned right after passing the field sports entrance I looked through the woods and caught a glimpse of the rifle range building. The roof was completely gone and so was the siding of the building on the right side. It looked like a skeleton of a building with just 4x4's and 2x6's standing there.

    Even though it was kind of sad walking through the camp it brought back a lot of great memories. The more I think about what it was like to camp there the more I remember. I'm going to continue this post with different memories as a camper and as a staff member. Anyone else that would like to add there own please reply. Thanks

  • #2

    Although I never had the privilege of attending Chin-Be-Gota, thanks for the great essay. Sorry to hear a great camp was closed. Your written tour brought back memories of camps I attended as a scout in Arizona (Camps Lawton and Geronimo) and as a staff member in Alaska (Camp Gorsuch). Visting Camp Lawton years later was quite an experience ("Swam a bunch of laps in that tiny pool to get the Swimming Merit Badge!"). Thanks again, looking forward to more summer camp postings.

    (This message has been edited by desertrat77)


    • #3

      Your tour of the Chin-Be-Gota camp captured me. I would enjoy and volunteer (If I could) to walk beside you to take pictures and record your memories. There is something so tempting about a place like that. It seems almost alive.

      I stumbled on an old camp once and spent the afternoon taking pictures and feeling memories that I never had at that camp. It was on private property and I trespassed out of complete sympathetic curiosity mixed with a weird excitement. I couldn't help myself from doing it. To this day, I have deeply mixed feelings about what I saw and experienced.

      From what you wrote, I have an idea you may have had a similar experience, especially since you left most of your emotions out of the review.

      Your Dad was silent.

      I would encourage you to get an audio recorder, go to your Dad's soon and get his reactions to the existing camp and then his past experiences. Afterwards, ask him to take out any mementos and/or patches to recreate his memories.

      You appear to write and think, so you might want to write in Word your chronological memories of those months, weeks and years. Document your experiences with any paper items or camp patches the exact dates. Memory tends to take a vacation from dates, so don't let it confuse your recall.

      I am looking forward to your thread.



      • #4
        Great post, I was at CBG in the summer of 74 and I was too young to remember where it was. Reading your story made me feel like I was there again. I never knew what happened to the camp and as a current Scout Master I was hoping to find it and maybe take the boys there some day. I am now in LaCrosse, WI and I guess not far from where it was? I would love to see some of the pictures you have if you could share them. Of course they probably can't replace what is in my mind. That fire ring was incredible for an 11 year old boy to experiance. Thanks for a great story and memory


        • #5
          I took about 24 pictures and have them on a disk. I wish I would of had my digital camera. I would of took so much more. Some took ok and others are dark. The camp is so over grown with trees. I remember one of the years I attended the camp it was logged just to let some sun shine through. I'll email you a copy if you would like. My email address is


          • #6
            One of my former Scouts told me about these posts on Chin-Be-Gota.

            I attended Chin-Be-Gota as a Scout in 1968, 1970, and 1971. I worked there as a staff member (Field Sports Director) in 1976 and 1977.

            I took Scouts there as a Scoutmaster in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, and 1986. The camp closed after the 1986 camp season along with it's sister camp, Chief Shabbona Wilderness Camp near Lakewood, Wisconsin.

            A group of former staff members recently got together at a funeral for a CBG staffer, John Bland. It was nice to talk of old days. John had served on staff in the late 60's, early 70's and again in the 80's. He was 55 when he died. He taught classes at Northern Illinois University and Kishwaukee College, and was among the most popular of teachers.

            Someone talked about creating a website for Chin-Be-Gota, but as far as I know nothing has happened.

            The main lodge area at CBG was initially purchased by former staff member, Mike Colwell. He allowed old Scouters to camp there and visit. He has since sold out and moved to Florida.

            I haven't been there since that final season back in 1986. Someday I hope to stop by and see the place.

            The campfire bowl along Baker Lake was one of my favorite places. The indians paddling across the lake with torches for the Order of the Arrow callout was a classic Scouting memory for so many thousands of boys over the years.

            I was on the Council Camping Committee when the announcement was made that CBG had been sold. We were informed after the fact and the announcement was made just weeks before camp season. I was ready to create a new leaders guide and slide promo for the camp, and I was quietly told not to bother.

            Reasons for its sale, as told to me, was the long distance to drive, camp only in use 3 months/year, capital expenses were looming (all the roofs needed replacement), etc. It was a business decision.

            It was a decision that angered many people, myself included. CBG had a beautiful growth of trees, every variety of plant you could think of, and I had never found any poison ivy anywhere on the property.

            I do miss that place. It holds a special place in my memory.

            Cliff Golden
            Scoutmaster Troop 33
            DeKalb, Illinois


            • #7

              Do you know what years John attended during the 80's and what position or positions he filled? I some what remember his name but I can not put a face with it. I would like to see a web site dedicated to chin-be-goto. There could be a place for people could submit their pictures and camping experiences they had. Could have a forum board.

              The Order of the Arrow had to be the most memorable experience I had from a staff view. If I remember correctly, I think we had the OA tap out during the Wednesday fireball. I was the lead torch barer ever week that summer. I think there were 8 camping weeks during the 84 season. We would suit up with the Indian gear in the quartermasters building and walk down to point beach were we had bought two canoes over from the boat beach earlier that day. We had to be so careful getting into the canoes without making any noise and paddling half way to the fireball. Any noise would travel so easy across the water after dark when it was calm and that quiet. I can still remember the fire chant the rest of the staffers would have the campers say while the fire was lit. (burn fire burn) We would sit in the canoes waiting for the Indian to light the arrow from the fire and shoot it into the lake. Kind of amazing that none of us sitting in the canoes got hit by any arrows over the summer. After the arrow was shot we would light the torches and start paddling. The most memorable part I can remember being a camper was sitting on the hillside and seeing the flames from the lake and then hearing the loud echoing sound. You had no idea what it was until you saw the canoes. One Indian would hit his paddle across the top of the canoe in the same rhythm that the drum would be used in as we walked around the fireball picking scared scouts from the hill to be tapped out.
              I could go on and on but its late.
              PS. Cliff do you remember Brian Bernhardt?


              • #8
                I found this message board after doing a google search. I was looking at a map of Wisconsin the other day and memories of my days of scouting suddenly came back to me.
                While living in northern Illinois, I was a member of Troop 16 from Sycamore,Il. from 1973-1977. Our troop usually sent the younger less experienced scouts to CBG. I attended this great camp in the summers of 1975 and 1976.

                Really enjoyed reading all the postings.



                • #9
                  There is a website under development at

                  John Bland worked as Program Director. He had a deep loud voice and a robust and distinctive laugh. He ran the campfire programs. If you met John, you'd definately remember him.

                  I reported John's death on Scouts-L at...

                  Troop 16 of Sycamore is still active and going strong. They just went to Alaska this summer.

                  Brian Bernhardt I definately remember. He was with Troop 45 from Sandwich, Illinois. I wrote a tribute to Brian on Scouts-L back in 1996.


                  Brian was the kind of boy you always remember.

                  Cliff Golden
                  Scoutmaster Troop 33
                  DeKalb, Illinois


                  • #10

                    I'm glad to here that there is a web site under construction. I could gather many pictures to submit along with many stories.

                    I was also in Troop 45 with Brian. His dad was Scoutermaster when I joined. His last year in the troop was my first year. I can still remember watching him receive his Eagle Scout Award. Brian still has relatives I see regularly that live in the area but he has moved to Apache Junction, Arizona.


                    • #11

                      The website has a blog, so when everything is up and running, hopefully there will be many stories.

                      I heard somewhere that Brian is an IT director with a company out in Arizona. It is good to hear that he is doing well.

                      Cliff Golden
                      Scoutmaster Troop 33
                      DeKalb, Illinois


                      • #12
                        Thanks for the pleasant trip down "Memory Lane" I was in Thailand on Peace Corps related business a few months back and just happened on your post. In the 70's I was Program Director and then Camp Director at CBG for several summers. The years have taken me to many exotic and faraway places, but I often think back to those summers at CBG as the best of my life. No doubt it was the honor of serving with such a high concentration of outstanding and remarkable young people. It comes as no surprise that so many have gone on to great success. I look forward to hearing more about CBG and those who grew up there. Please let me know how I could view some of your photos. Thanks again for brightening an old man's day!


                        • #13
                          Well, come on! Paint us a word picture. Take out your colorful palate of adjectives and verbs and let us hear a really good story of a remarkable camp that now rests in hearts of so many. It is winter so you have got the time. I want to hear.


                          • #14
                            I really enjoyed your article. I was at CBG in the late 60's early 70's, with Troop 7 from Montgomery, Ill.
                            I have often thought about the place and always wondered what happened to it.
                            My dad, Mel Myers was camp director for a short period of time, I believe it was 1969.
                            I will let him know about John Bland, he has spoken of him often over the years.



                            • #15
                              I just found this page ,sure brings back memories.
                              I went to chin-be 67-71 , was on Staff 72 and 73 and took my troop ,troop 48 from Boulder Hill, up there 81,82,83.
                              So sorry to hear about Big John. He was a great guy.He was the cook for Staff when I was working with him.One of the best memories of Big John was when he started the campfires with "gonna take it higher....HIGHER ..higher....HIGHER." He could always making everybody laugh.
                     should be great once you get it running.
                              I took my family up to see the camp about 12 years ago when Mike still owned the lodge side of the lake.Mike and I were on Staff together and he remembered me.He did a great job on the lodge. Said there was nothing wrong with it structurally as had been reported at it's sale. Put a big stone fireplace in the middle, had a raised dining table area to the left of the kitchen, tiled the island in the kitchen and made bedrooms were the tradingpost and food storage area was. Real , Real nice.
                              Any body know the were-abouts of Perry Pilgrim.
                              He was field sports director.