Oakwood camp marks 75th anniversary

OAKWOOD – As a young Boy Scout at Camp Robert Drake, Phil Dawkins remembers planting pine trees that barely stood knee high as a service project.

On Saturday morning, Dawkins and his son, Matthew, a scout with Troop 101 out of Champaign, were pitching tents at Camp Drake as the breeze was whistling through those same pine trees that now reach about 60 feet high.

"This is a great place for boy scouts," Phil Dawkins said.

As a boy, he also came with his dad to Camp Drake, nestled in the woods along the Salt Fork River between Oakwood and Catlin in Vermilion County.

Dawkins is now sharing the same experience with 11-year-old Matthew, joining the thousands of fathers and sons and others who have learned about and enjoyed the outdoors and scouting at Camp Drake.

The camp celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and the Prairielands Council is planning special events throughout the spring and summer to commemorate its history.

Saturday's event kicked off the season at Camp Drake, which was dedicated May 28, 1932. Boy Scout troops in East Central Illinois had raised money for the camp in the name of Drake, who had been scout executive until his death in 1929. With the help of local service organizations, the scouts purchased the land, some buildings, and over the years, have built the camp into a popular spot for scouting.

Matthew loves Camp Drake because he gets to spend time outdoors with his friends having fun. But he said he definitely likes the skills they learn, too. The troop is working on three badges, and he knows CPR through scouting.

Phil Dawkins said the troop has a good mix of fun and learning. Some members headed out Saturday morning with saws in hand to do some trimming and maintenance on the camp trails.

Matthew has another reason he likes Camp Drake.

"Your parents don't get mad if you get dirty," he said.

Said his dad: "You're supposed to get dirty out here."

A steering committee has been established to research the history of Camp Drake, gathering stories and memorabilia from former scouts and staff and planning special events.

Dustin Boyer, of Arcola, will serve as a camp commissioner this summer. On Saturday, he was at the camp, where he has spent many summers since he was a Cub Scout. He's looking forward to the special historic programs this year.

"It should be really neat," he said. "They've put a lot of effort into it."

The camp will host a Spring Camporee from May 18-20 that is open to the public. In addition to providing its usual outdoor opportunities to scouts, the event also will feature some special activities that focus on the history of scouting.

Boyer said a model campsite will be set up, showing people how scouts camped in the 1940s and 1950s. Technology has changed the way scouts do things, Boyer said – cooking over stoves rather than campfires and sleeping in much warmer, cozier sleeping bags to name a few.

On July 14, the camp will host a birthday party and reunion celebration. Lots of former scouts and camp staff will be invited back to share old stories.

Until Matthew got involved in scouting about six years ago, Dawkins hadn't been to Camp Drake since he was kid. He hopes to spend a lot more time there in the future.

"And I hope it sees another 75 years – and then some," he said.

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