Like many others living in Greater Boston, Julio Fuentes has run the risk of going stir crazy this winter, thanks to record snowfalls.
“With the cabin fever that we have all been dealing with over the last few weeks, it is super important to get out of the house and into the outdoors from time to time,” said Fuentes. “I feel that without that brief time outdoors, hopefully doing something fun, our only memories of the winter would be of shoveling and ice dams.”
His outdoor escape is a familiar one: Camp Sayre in Milton. The 46-year-old from West Roxbury attended the camp as a youngster, when he was a Boy Scout with Troop 7 at Holy Name Church. Today, Fuentes returns to Camp Sayre as a scoutmaster with the same troop to take part in a variety of outdoor activities.
“One of my favorite events is the Venturing Klondike,” he said, citing the camp’s new winter adventure festival. Its second annual session was held last weekend, and featured such activities as ice climbing, biathlon, wilderness survival, animal tracking, and a Tyrolean traverse.
“I normally don’t like the cold weather, but it’s great to be here with so much for the kids to do,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to participate in events that we wouldn’t normally get a chance to do, like ice climbing, wilderness first aid, and Alpine rescue training.”
Venturing Klondike is one example of how the camp’s programming has evolved, said Chuck Eaton, executive director of the Boy Scouts of America’s Boston Minuteman Council, which oversees the property. The camp was donated to the Boy Scouts by Elliot Henderson in the 1950s, and is named after his son. It sits on 108 acres next to the state’s 8,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation. Because of its proximity to Boston, the camp was originally used as a training ground for scoutmasters “before they took the Scouts on more robust camping trips to the White Mountains,” said Eaton.
In 2011, said Eaton, the Boston Minuteman Council developed a new strategic plan for the organization.
“At the time we were on the cusp of selling the camp,” he said. “After doing some significant market research, we determined that the location, with some enhancements and improvements, could really become the catalyst for revitalizing scouting. The intent was to engage youth and parents in physical fitness and the outdoors, as well as helping youth from all walks of life increase self-esteem, confidence, and strengthen character.
“We have been rebuilding the camp and making the outdoors accessible ever since,” said Eaton. “The response has been wonderful. While the typical participant is a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout from Eastern Massachusetts, we are gaining lots of interest from non-Scouts.”
The changes implemented are readily apparent to former Scouts like Fuentes and Michael O’Neil, a native of Cambridge who lived in Waltham for 35 years before retiring to York, Maine.
“The camp is evolving into a one-stop shopping destination,” said O’Neil, 65, who stills serves as a scoutmaster in Maine. “Camp Sayre offers a great opportunity for units that lack experience or confidence for winter camping. Its staff can lead a Quinzee-building adventure,” which involves constructing a snow shelter, he said.“Its heated cabins provide a safety net for units new to winter camping.”
Fuentes said he’s witnessed those enhancements, including an ice-climbing wall, a skating rink, and an indoor swimming pool at the camp’s Egan Center .
“The camp has come a long way since my days there as a youth camper,” said Fuentes. “As a kid we came to camp and pretty much just hiked the trails and did some of our outdoors rank advancement. Now, the camp is able to offer a wide variety of structured programs that can give a visitor a chance to learn a new skill, or practice and refine a skill they already had. I’ve also been to camp without my Scouts to update and refresh some of my required adult training.”
That’s part of the plan, said Eaton. In addition to offering more diversified programs on weekends, Camp Sayre is also expanding its clientele beyond the traditional Scout troops and leaders.
“Camp Sayre is all about making it easy for families to come and have fun outdoors,” said camp director Darrin Johnson. “It’s for everyone.”
But “having fun” is relative. Eaton and Johnson said they want to ensure that camp participants are tested, within reason.
Said Fuentes: “I can tell you that the experiences I had today — learning to hike through the woods on snowshoes, helping my Scouts ‘rescue’ an Alpine hiker who had fallen into a simulated ice crevasse, and watching my 13-year-old daughter climb a wall of ice — will be memories that I will carry with me forever.’’