Onteora Scout Reservation
Virtual tour: Tribes Camp Area

Now that you've seen the Chiefs Camp section, we'll stay on the hill and visit the other main camping area, Tribes Camp. The small map on the right shows the road through Tribes Camp highlighted in red to give you an idea of the area; click on the map for a larger version. You can also click here for a chart of all of the Tribes campsites and the history behind them.

Tribes Camp map thumbnail

We'll start the tour at the Water Tower at the top end of the Power Line Trail. There are two roads looping through Tribes Camp, and we'll begin by heading down the middle of the loops towards the Long House dining hall.

On your right as you travel down the road is the James E. West Program Shelter, named after the first Chief Scout Executive of the Boys Scouts of America (while the shelters in Chiefs Camp were named after animals, those in Tribes Camp were named after famous Scouters). This shelter has the largest open area of any of the shelters, making it a perfect spot for stargazing. Having grown up in Brooklyn and then Long Island, I can still remember being astonished at the number of stars visible to the naked eye at Onteora. This field is great for astronomy classes, for it is big enough that the trees didn't block your view.

Field at James E. West Program Shelter - 2009
On your left you would find the Buckskin Craft Lodge. This is a relatively new addition and wasn't there during my years at Onteora. Many of the classes formally offered at the Program Shelters are now given here. Centrally located, this airy structure is at the top of the Power Line Trail. There's also a new Mountain Bike Shelter nearby. I wish they had those bikes available back when I was at camp - they must be a great way to get around camp and to get some exercise at the same time.
Buckskin Craft Lodge - 1998
Not much further and you come to the Long House, the center of Tribes Camp. This dining hall is pretty much a duplicate of the Council House in Chiefs Camp, with the same general layout and function. The first of the two dining halls, the Long House was built during a major snowstorm and opened for summer camp in 1958. In this view from 1983 campers have gathered for breakfast. From the height of the trees in the background you'll see why a large open area was necessary to watch the stars; in many parts of camp, there was so much tree cover that it was tough to see the sky. Having been protected from commercial development for so many years, the camp has quite a few large trees, such as cherry, birch, walnut and pine, that are valuable for furniture manufacturers. The council used to earn some extra money each year by selling some of these to lumber companies, but thankfully never to the point that this off-season cutting hurt the camping experience. I'm not sure if that practice continues today.
Long House - 1983

Just past the Long House was the Scout Shower, which was built in 1968. This was a vast improvement over the basement showers in the dining halls, for being above ground, it was brighter and could dry out. For some reason, the shower in the Long House was designated as a staff shower, but most of us preferred the mold-free Scout Shower instead. Today, there is another newer shower facility on the other side of the road as well.

Continuing down the road, you will pass several  campsites then come to the intersection of the two loops in the Tribes portion of the camp road system. The one on the right is almost impassable these days but leads off to the Ute campsite. We'll continue now on the left fork to the Teddy Roosevelt Program Shelter, named after the U.S. President who was the first Commissioner of Nassau County Council and namesake of the current Council.

Scout Showers - 1998

This was the shelter where I spent my years at Onteora, both as a camper and on staff. It was a great place to work, for it was far off the beaten path and thus we we pretty well left to our own up there.  This picture from 1978 shows you what the shelters consisted of. They were built on a concrete slab, with a roof over an open area used for class-type training at a picnic table. There was one wall, at the rear of this picture, and a locker used to store the rifles and archery equipment. Small displays of knots, local plants and animals tracks could usually be found along the rear wall or in the rafters.

Back in 1968, another counselor and I found the picture of Teddy Roosevelt seen here buried away in the camp barn. I have no idea who painted it, but it was made out of a piece of plywood. We hauled it across camp and hung it on the shelter, never expecting that it would still be there twenty years later. I was amazed at how well it had held up over the years. Amazingly, it was still there during my 1998 visit as well! A new copy of the sign hangs there today, but the old one is still there, tucked away in the rafters of the shelter.

Teddy Roosevelt Program Shelter - 1978
Continuing past the shelter, the road passes by several more campsites, then heads back to the intersection at the water tower where this part of the tour began. Let's continue going straight, with the road passing along the border of Chiefs and Tribes camps, until we get to the next fork. At that point we'll turn left and head towards the Field Sports Center and the Dan Beard Program Shelter, named for one of the two founders of the Boy Scouts of America (the other being Ernest Thompson Seton).
Rifle Range at Field Sports Center - 1970s
Back in the 60s, the Field Sports Center was the site of the camp Stables, for there was a very active horseback riding program available to all Scouts. This was a great benefit for the counselors as well, for if you treated the wranglers right (generally by not commenting on their odor at mealtimes) you could ride after hours or on a day off as much as you wanted. That was a great way to see the camp and nearby area, and certainly was easier on the legs than the Power Line Trail was!
Stables - 1960

Visitors interested in the history of Onteora should take the time to explore the area around the former stables site and the Dan Beard shelter. This was once a farm owned by the Devoe family, who now live in Grooville. Evidently there were once three family houses on the property. Careful exploration will reveal the remnants of a root cellar, as well as many of their plants and trees that have survived all these years. Dick Horn sent me some interesting information on this area:

About three years ago during pre staff week when I was putting the phone wires back up, a car was driving around camp by the water tower with a very lost looking family in it. Upon inquiry, they introduced themselves, one an old lady, over 90, was a Devoe child and was born in the above mentioned first Devoe house. After leading them to that area, she then proceeded to fill me in the history of the area, how she used to walk down the road (trail) past Dan Beard straight past our current turnoff to go to Erie site, straight to Grooville Road by the Red Barn at the end of the paved road. About two miles each way, all winter long. She also said that there was a lumber mill in what was now the Buckskin Camp open field. Electric power was created locally via hydro from a pipe that was fed from a dam across the stream above Wildcat Falls. I found this pipe many years ago but didn't know what it was doing there. 

Dan Beard Program Shelter - 1998
Following the road past Dan Beard you'll come to an area on the map marked as a swamp. This is an accurate depiction, for this part of camp was relatively low-lying and very, very wet. There were some campsites right where the road turns to broken dashes on the map, which is where it crossed a stream, and those campers had to contend with a steady supply of mosquitoes and other nasties. The worst of the sites was probably Yo-Kuts, for it was little more than a few tent platforms seemingly tossed at random on boggy soil. While these campsites were probably necessary to meet the booming demands of the late 60s, they couldn't have done much to enhance the camping experience!
Former site of Yo-Kuts campsite - 2002
Leaving the swamp, the road joins up with other loop, leading you either back to the Long House or to Teddy Roosevelt Shelter, thus completing your tour of Tribes Camp. Continue your tour with a visit to Buckskin Camp, or head back to the main Onteora page.