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Historical Overview

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Winter Camp / History / Historical Overview

Historical Overview

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Foundation: 1977-1982

Winter Camp began as an informal outing, a chance for Arrowmen to get together between Christmas and New Year's Day. The first one was held at D-A Scout Ranch in 1977 and was largely the work of Jeff Rand. Jeff assembled the menu and arranged for the cabin, rides, and food. The only other person who was key to the planning was Doug Wilson; the other four participants just came and had fun. As a result, it has since been traditional that the first purpose of Winter Camp has been recreation. While service and training have occupied important parts of the program, fellowship has always been the #1 priority.

Attendance doubled the following year as most of Downriver chapter's leadership team joined in. The event grew in complexity and an actual schedule directed the weekette. In the years that followed, Winter Camp began to assume a more important role in the chapter and in the lives of those who attended. It took on a life of its own and became a driving force in the chapter and to some extent in the lodge.

The first formal history was written as part of the new Winter Camp Manual for Winter Camp IV in 1980. Since then, several archivists have meticulously maintained a detailed record so that the history of Winter Camp can be preserved and its traditions communicated to each participant, and now also to interested outsiders.

Downriver Arrowmen performed numerous camping experiments in these years as Winter Camp sought distinction and aimed to create the ultimate camping experience. Notable among these is the early and continuous use of home computers in event planning and execution-only Winter Camp I has been without a computer. Several campers were pioneers in home computing and programming as they created a variety of programs for administrative and recreational use at camp.

The Winter Camp kitchen also rose to unusual levels of distinction and has since become known for its achievements in camp cooking. Beginning at Winter Camp I, the majority of baked goods at camp has been prepared from scratch. Individual meals beginning at Winter Camp II have had themes built around both menu and activities. Several, including the Caveman Dinner, Conglomerate Lunch, and Pizza Smorgasbord, are still served each year. Our most impressive kitchen accomplishment is easily the 100-Dish Banquet prepared at Winter Camp III. The capacity of the Beaver Creek kitchen was reached and cooking spilled over onto a series of hot plates in the dining room and on the porch as 25 campers enjoyed what is said to be the largest banquet in Order of the Arrow history.

Camp service, a commitment central to the Order, became a formal part of the Winter Camp program at Winter Camp IV. Every Winter Camp since 1980 has included a day committed to a camp service project.

Evolution: 1983-1990

Winter Camp grew and matured throughout the 1980's and became a focal point for many of the year's activities. More and more, it became as much a reunion of old friends as a campout for Arrowmen. Advisers, once limited to one or two in their early twenties, grew much more numerous as those who had been to camp before continued to come back, often returning from new homes across America.

Auspicious innovations in this second era included the establishment of Winter Camp newspapers, published daily during camp at first before evolving into expanded precamp and postcamp editions. These periodicals are still published, serving as a historical record and a tool for encouraging participation.

With the creation of the Museum of Winter Camp History at camp, continued evolution of the Winter Camp Manual, and numerous formal and informal traditions, it became increasingly clear that our historical record might prove to be of interest. At the same time, we also began to look farther forward. In 1986, camp veterans founded the Winter Camp Future Society and formally dedicated themselves to perpetuating the spirit of Winter Camp beyond its first ten years. Society members began to look to the long-term future by establishing an endowment to fund an anniversary celebration at Winter Camp XX in 1996.

Fine-tuning: 1991-1997

Downriver, Menominee, and Sauk Trail chapters merged in 1991 to form the new Mahican chapter. This new order for the lodge coincided with new developments at Winter Camp. Beginning at Winter Camp XV, each camp has adopted a theme that inspires some of the activities and meals. Ranging in time from Medieval to Star Trek and in space from Pirates to Vikings, these themes have been catalysts for new activities and meals.

Particularly noteworthy events in this era tended to be larger in scale than old games. New recurring activities during the early 1990's included the Winter Camp Future Olympics, in which campers will challenge themselves every 5 years at a collection of physical tests. The competition is against one's own past-the scores set in 1991 and 1996 will mark each individual's target in 2001. Also rising to prominence was The Quest, an annual series of challenges organized around the year's theme and tied together into an eventful afternoon.

The Winter Camp News led to the first Winter Camp books. Origins and The Winter Camp Book of Lists gave careful attention to Winter Camp's past and present, while Channel 120 became Winter Camp's first novel and provided a look at one possible future. Additional collections of information would join them, with at least one new book landing in the camp library each year.

In 1996, the 20th anniversary celebration set a new attendance record when 52 people, both full-time campers and visitors, assembled at D-A on December 28. Winter Camp's finest kitchen talent prepared a traditional Scouting banquet for friends and family, and visitors enjoyed a program which commemorated Winter Camp's history and pointed toward a continued bright future. The Future Society met that night to begin preparations for the 25th Anniversary Banquet in 2001.

Electronic Expansion: 1998-2012

With the development in late 1997 of the new Winter Camp Web site, discussion and commentary about Winter Camp now go on year-round. Conversation at this new forum has led to a growing realization that Winter Camp needs to better serve the needs of the young men who attend it. In the late eighties and early nineties, little attention was paid to their needs, and Winter Camp suffered as a result. In the last few years, more youths have come to Winter Camp and the fresh blood has improved camp tremendously. Winter Camp has returned to its roots, with more new activities and more new ideas than before. The quest for interesting events remains the same, but the new challenge is to pick activities which will be of interest to a group of people with nearly thirty years' difference in age-what has been aptly described as a curious mix of adults seeking to retain their youth and youths rushing toward adulthood. While this important work continues, we believe we have succeeded.

New Faces, New Places: 2013-

In Winter Camp's fourth and fifth decades, two larger developments emerged while myriad traditions continued. Winter Camp left its traditional home in Beaver Creek subcamp at D-A and Steve Donohue spearheaded a project to pass the torch of leadership to a new generation of leaders and advisers.

After a brief but successful experiment relocating part of Winter Camp XXXII to Trout Lake cabin when the electricity was lost at Beaver Creek during camp, Winter Camp XXXVII was the first to leave BC completely, due to an ice storm that struck southeastern Michigan on December 23, 2013 and closed D-A. Camp relocated successfully to Silver Trails Scout Reservation for the weekette, but bigger changes were afoot. The Order of the Arrow continued to consolidate its Michigan operations, which saw Mahican and Wsigau chapters merge and Winter Camp continue under the direction of the hyphen-free Migisi Opawgan chapter. Winter Camp XL hosted the 40th Anniversary celebration at Trout Lake cabin while camp remained in Beaver Creek. In 2017, concerns for the health of some Winter Camp veterans inspired a full move to Trout Lake, where creature comforts, including but not limited to indoor plumbing and expanded common space, were more readily available. Winter Camp XLII remained at Trout Lake, while Winter Camp XLIII in 2019 moved to Jack Lord and James E. West cabins. A more comfortable and decidedly safer camp experience has resulted.

Before passing a torch, one must first build that torch. After some small discussion of the future of Winter Camp's leadership here and there, Steve Donohue launched the "Build the Torch" project in 2020. Build the Torch took the form of several new Winter Camp books with covers in colors spanning the rainbow which contained many of Winter Camp's unwritten (but well-understood by seasoned campers) guidelines and rules down on paper and online for the benefit of future veterans. Over 4 decades of accumulated wisdom came to be formally organized, and a new generation of advisers including Keith King and Ethan Rein was poised to use this information to move Winter Camp forward toward its 50th anniversary in 2026.