Scouts learn life lessons on Melita Island
MELITA ISLAND — It was a Norman Rockwell scene — warm golden light, Boy Scouts playing cards in a big log lodge, a crackling fire, drifting smoke, the snick and clunk of knives slicing watermelon for lunch overlaid with the hum of voices, laughter and music. Songs such as, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” played.
Outside, skies were grey and spitting rain on the Melita Island Boy Scout Camp on July 30.
The camp is 64 acres of fun and learning. Beginning about the middle of June, approximately 125 to 130 Boy Scouts per week travel to the island on a Sunday and stay until Saturday of the following week.
On the island already are about 15 staff members, 50 adult leaders and two-to-four visiting instructors each week. Several staff members are female, and visiting instructors bring their families so it’s not an all-male bastion, according to Larry Shadow, Melita Island Camp Director.
The scouts arrive at Walstead Fishing Access near Big Arm and are ferried to the island in one of three arks, old pontoon bridges retrofitted as boats. Each ark can seat 22 scouts as well as haul their gear.
Driving one of the arks, Ward Dossche meets many of the scouts and hopes their experience rivals his.
“Scouting changed my life,” Dossche said.
From Belgium, Dossche first came to the United States in 1972 and reported to a scout camp in Babb, Mont.
“I knew … Keats, Shelley and William Shakespeare, but I couldn’t order from a menu,” he said.
Dossche credited scouting with learning disaster mitigation skills and picking up people-handling skills while dealing with a nice cross-section of life. Now, after a career as a successful businessman, Dossche is back in Montana for scout camp and enjoys teaching kids.
Boy Scouts come from all over Montana as well as other states such as Wisconsin, Colorado and Washington. Each troop and its Scoutmasters set up camp, pitching their tents, unrolling sleeping bags and designating a campfire area. Outhouse and porta-potties are available for the campers, as troops supply members each day for the service patrol while the scouts work in the kitchen or help with cleanup or overall camp maintenance.
One scout from Livingston was slicing cheese for lunch. He said service patrol was not so bad since he got to talk to the cooks and listen to the music in the lodge.
Water-related merit badges are available for scouts, since the camp is located on Flathead Lake. In fact, Melita Island Scout Camp is the only place a scout can earn a board sailing award.
The island also boasts a fleet of donated watercraft, ranging from catamarans, speedboats, sailboats, kayaks and canoes, all of which the scouts can learn to use, some with adult supervision. The boys can also learn to swim and progress all the way through lifeguarding.
“Kayaking was the most fun of all the things I learned,” said Maxim Brozobsk, from Livingston.
Brozobsk also earned merit badges in pioneering, carpentry and environmental science.
If a Boy Scout is not interested in marine activities, he can pick up basic carpentry skills, cook over a campfire in a dutch oven, learn to shoot an air rifle, handle a gun safely, take up archery, carve wood or work with leather in the handicrafts area or other of the 50 merit badges offered.
Matthew Zulke, 12, from Livingston said, “Rifle shooting was awesome.”
Zulke also took up carpentry and learned some survival skills.
During the week, Scouts work in 50-minute sessions to earn their merit badges and finish up on Friday morning. Friday afternoons are reserved for raft races and other all-camp games.
Barrett Neall, 11, from Livingston Troop #516, received his first merit badge on July 30 in rifle shooting.
“I’ve been a Boy Scout since last year,” Neall said, “and shooting is cool.”