For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts have discovered outdoor adventures full of learning, challenges, friendships, and tons of fun by going to camp. Today, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana offer outdoor programming at four camps across Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Camp Palos and Camp Greene Wood are day camps where Girl Scouts spend the day at camp and return home in the evening. Camp Juniper Knoll and Camp Butternut Springs are resident camps where Girl Scouts can have an overnight camping experience. With all summer camps now in full swing, our council historians and previous Girl Scout members have shared their fondest memories of attending and the history of former Girl Scout summer camps.
Camp Timber Trails – Munising, Michigan
Camp Timber Trails was leased for nine weeks from 1928 to 1942 from Bay DeNoc Lumber Company. It was in the heart of the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was a pioneer camp for older Girl Scouts where they could roam over the entire National Forest from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan.
Girl Scouts who attended the camp came from Chicago and other surrounding councils. Some Girl Scouts were driven to camp, while others traveled from Chicago by train. Former Girl Scout Mary-Jane Ryan started her camping experience at Juniper Knoll, and at age 17, she attended Camp Timber Trails. Mary-Jane Ryan returned to Juniper Knoll as a staff member. Mary Jane Ryan’s daughter, Corkey Waite, said her mother’s Girl Scout experiences made her who she is today and that she always talks about Girl Scouts.
Camp Cloverleaf – Sheridan, Illinois
Camp Cloverleaf was originally named Camp Sheridan until 1959 and was located on the Fox River. By the spring of 1958, the winter house, which is seen in the above picture, was completed. It was the only building with hot and cold running water, central heating, and a stove. In the early 1960s, eight cabins that housed four Girl Scouts each and an outdoor kitchen were added. Eight platform tents were erected in 1962. In 1964, the Cloverleaf Council purchased another 44 acres adjacent to the original land. The next building to be built was the summer troop house; it had an indoor kitchen and fireplace. Between 1969 and 1972, the council purchased another 84 acres, bringing the total acreage to 198 acres. In 1979 and 1980, more platform tents were built. These had wooden roofs and canvas sides. Eventually, the original platform tents had wooden roofs added. The last building to be built on the property was a shower house. The camp also had two primitive camp areas, trails, an archery field, and a canoe launch area.
Former Girl Scout Marty Devereux-Poch’s fondest memories of Camp Cloverleaf were that her grandma was one of her Junior troop leaders and loved camping in the little cabins. Each cabin had a name like Sleep Inn. There was space for activities and for having meals in the middle of the ring of cabins.
“My troop was from Our Lady of the Mount Catholic School, so we always packed our Girl Scout uniforms when we went camping. On Sunday morning, we would all get dressed up and head down to Wedron, IL, to attend Mass, and then we would return to camp for breakfast before packing up for home. As a Cadette, I learned archery, and Mr. Whelen, who farmed part of the camp property, always found some arrows during harvest time. I learned to canoe at camp. Some trips on the Fox River were short, to Wedron and back to camp. Others were day-long trips from camp to Yorkville, stopping at Camp Merrybrook to eat our lunch in their meadow, then being picked up and driven back to camp,” said Marty.
Former Girl Scout Gwen Novy Ferguson also has fond memories of Camp Cloverleaf. She camped there as a young Girl Scout and became a Junior troop leader and council trainer in the late 1970s.
“My memories include times spent with Junior Troop #13, Cadette Troop #17, and Senior Troop #99. During my Junior and Cadette years, my mom, Gladys Novy, was my leader, and Erma Slovak was my Senior leader. We enjoyed outdoor cooking, badge-work, singing, stargazing, knot-tying, compass, lashing, crafts, nature lore, campfires, skits, service projects, hiking, long and short canoe trips on the Fox River, and exploring other places that were a short distance from camp. During the summer, we’d drive to the Pitstak Dairy, which had a small swimming lake with a beach and offered horseback riding. I remember we’d use the council van, named the Green Giant, for transportation. For added adventure in the evenings, we’d sometimes hike down the road to Camp Merrybrook and have a campfire with the Girl Scouts from the West Cook Council,” Gwen said.
When the West Cook Council and the Cloverleaf Council merged, they decided to sell Camp Cloverleaf on April 1, 1994. The eight cabins and the outdoor kitchen were moved to Camp Merrybrook. Later, the platform tents were also moved, and the unit was named Cloverleaf.
Camp Merrybrook – Serena, Illinois
In 1954, the West Cook Council purchased 97.5 acres of wooded property near Sheridan, Illinois. It fronted on the Fox River and Mission Creek. The council originally named the camp: Camp Kiwanis-on-the-Fox, because the Kiwanis Club of LaGrange provided money for the down payment. An existing fishing lodge near the creek was named Kiwanis Club.
The first campers arrived in 1955, and Mr. Bray, Sr. was the first camp caretaker. In 1956, the camp was renamed Camp Merrybrook. From 1957 to 1958, three platform tent units were added to the camp. In 1958, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad donated a huge steam engine bell to the council. It was installed on a concrete pillar outside Lenona Lodge and used in emergencies. The camp was dedicated on October 4, 1959, and the mortgage was burnt. From 1960 to 1961, the caretaker house and maintenance building were constructed. The Heritage House Lodge was built in 1964. At some point, more acreage was purchased, and the camp totaled 136 acres. At some time, a totem pole was displayed in respect for Native American tradition.
In the late 1970s, electricity and running water were installed in Heritage House. It was renamed Bonnie Brae after a camp trainer and the first caretaker. In 1971, Idle-a-While Lodge was built between Lenona and Bonnie Brae. It was the first lodge to have flush toilets. The pool and pool house were built in 1976. In the early 1980s, a challenging adventure course for older girls was constructed. It was not maintained and deemed unsafe. Repairs were never made, so it was taken down.
Camp River Trails – Sheridan, Illinois
In 1986, when the West Cook Council and the Cloverleaf Council merged, the board decided to sell Camp Cloverleaf and keep Camp Merrybrook. They renamed the camp: Camp River Trails. As mentioned above, the eight small cabins, outdoor kitchen, and platform tents were moved from Camp Cloverleaf to Camp River Trails. At the same time, the post office changed its address to Sheridan, Illinois. In 1995, the old farmhouse was torn down, and the Dreamcatcher Room was added. The Lenona Lodge was renamed the Merrybrook Room.
The entire construction included:
- Two kitchens joining the two-unit rooms.
- Multiple leader rooms.
- A handicap ramp.
- A stone wall for sitting around the fire ring.
- A washroom and shower house with a storage basement and storm shelter beneath.
The entire complex of new buildings became known as the Lenona Complex. In 2000, a Friendship Pole was installed, and a challenge course called The Challenge of the Castle Garden was installed near the pool. Then, in 2014, an Ambassador troop from Lyons, IL, donated the materials and built an archery course near the camp manager’s house. Other troops built and painted a map of the camp and archery rules that were installed on the outside of the maintenance building.
Near the manager’s house, there were two landmarks: Smokey Bear and his two cubs, added by a Senior troop in 1958, and a sign that read, Camp Built by Cookies. Both landmarks are now at Camp Greene Wood. Over the ravine on one of the trails, there was a footbridge over a stream called River Kwai. Senior Girl Scouts made and repaired the bridge using logs, and branches lashed with twine.
Lifetime Girl Scout member Kathi Krankoski shared some Camp Merrybrook tall tales and traditions that carried over to Camp River Trails:
Friendship Pole: One of the traditions was to place “wishing rocks” around the Friendship Pole. The rocks were painted with environmentally safe paint, and when spring came, the magic happened, and the rocks and their messages were carried out via the Mission Creek, Fox, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, and eventually into the ocean.
Sparkler pencils: At checkout from camp on a weekend, if your site or cabin met inspection, each girl received a camp sparkler pencil.
Cadette roundup: During a special week when only Cadettes could attend camp, the Cadettes never used the words “poison ivy.” They just said, “PI.”
Daisy Bridge: If a Girl Scout didn’t make the Girl Scout sign before crossing the bridge, it would collapse.
Old wagon: There was an old wagon abandoned as a group was heading west. It was left behind after the group was attacked by Native Americans. When excavating the area, clothing and other items were found.
The Legend of Hernando’s Hideaway: Legend has it that Hernando was a local bandit river private. He and his group stole from farmers and hid the treasures along Mission Creek. From the beginning of Camp Merrybrook until 2013, Girl Scouts would walk the creek and investigate caves to see if they could find a treasure. Early on, wagon wheels and broken pottery pieces were found.
The Legend of the Crying Princess: Behind the area where Bonnie Brae stands, there are bluffs that form what we call the Crying Princess. It’s a sandstone formation that weeps out a trickle of water. Legend has it that long ago, a young Native American woman, while running to escape an undesired suitor, fell to her death there. Her tears are what are seen to this day.