SKYMONT SCOUT RESERVATION
By the late 1960s, the thirty-six-acre Camp Cherokee was too small to continue operating as Cherokee Area Council’s resident camp and was fairly inaccessible, permitting camping only four or five months out of the year. In 1967, a site committee was appointed to locate a new property that could serve Chattanooga’s scouts for decades to come. Eventually the committee set its sights on a large tract of land in Grundy and Coffee Counties on the beautiful, isolated edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Skymont Hunting and Fishing Preserve, Inc., located near Altamont, Tennessee, was primed for a new owner. Contrary to the current image of Skymont as a heavily forested land, when purchased the property included large open expanses—approximately 900 acres—for the quail and pheasant that were the primary game for hunters.
The Council hired Ooltewah Troop 147 Scoutmaster Harvey Raper as Skymont’s first Ranger. He moved to Skymont with his wife, Marie, and three children in April of 1969. The rainy spring of 1973 brought challenges, but camp opened that summer as scheduled. The water system wasn’t finished, so the Council borrowed three water buffalos from the Army to furnish water to the dining hall and campsites. Under the supervision of camp director Wayne Drown, dishwater was carried in and heated on the stoves, and boys bathed in the nearest lake.
Skymont continues to serve as the crown jewel of the Cherokee Area Council.
A STORY OF SKYMONT SCOUT RESERVATION
BY JOE ANDERSON
CONTRIBUTIONS BY HARVEY & MARIE RAPER, CHARLES WHEATON, DOC & NANCY KELLOGG, AND BRUNO ROBERTS
Most all Scout councils have one. Some have two, a few three. They are expensive, some remote, some leased, some rented, some bought and paid for. What might I be speaking of? A council executive perhaps? A Scout Service Center with zillion dollar Scout Store? All of the above descriptions could apply, but in this instance I am referring to a Scout camp or reservation, an entity that is the heart of any Scout council.
There are differences between a Scout camp and a Scout reservation, ordinarily determined by size. A Scout camp might consist of just a few acres, while a reservation is lager, and could encompass more than one Scout camp geared toward Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, high adventure, training, or aquatics depending on the requirements and program of individual councils of the BSA. The Cherokee Area Council has a reservation, located out in hoot owl, coyote, and deer country. It is a big place, more than 2,400 acres, a"whopper" by any standard, and is located on the Cumberland Plateau at the tip end of the Cumberland Mountains in Grundy and Coffee Counties of Tennessee. We call it Skymont, and it was so named long before the Cherokee Area Council became the owner.
With a little "poetic license" involving he chronological series of events, there is a story to tell. While there may be some discrepancies, the story remains the same, the outcome accurate, and the theme correct.
By the late 1950s, urban sprawl was closing in on Camp Tsatanugi, a small camp (25 acres) located in Hixson, Tennessee, and known today as the Highland Sportsman Club on Boy Scout Road. The council outgrew the camp but still retained ownership. In addition the council operated Camp Cherokee, located on Parksville Lake in Polk County, whose primary access was by ferry barge. Camp Cherokee was leased from the U.S. Forestry Service in 1955 [sic] for 99 years. It was a bit larger than Camp Tsatanugi (about 40 acres) ad was the council's primary camp. Still, by the mid-1960s the council was outgrowing the 40 acres and could not obtain additional land from the U.S. Forestry Service.
About this time there came along a thing I call "Boy Scout Luck!" The council president, Arnold Chambers, who just happened to be a "mover and shaker" in the financial world, learned of a hunting reservation near middle Tennessee that was having financial difficulty. Chambers, aware of the need for camp property, jumped at the opportunity to acquire this "parcel" (2,400 acres) of land, and along with Scout Executive Hoyt Hunt, began action to acquire this "jewel" for the council.
The year was 1968, and to acquire the property known as Skymont Hunting Preserve the council needed $350,000 which included the land, two horses, five bird dogs, a barn, a lodge, two houses, miscellaneous other building and machinery, five shotguns, a German and American Jeep (both WWII vintage), and many curious neighbors! The ball was rolling! Scout Executive Hunt called his "troops" together, and it was decided that there were two things that could be done to raise the $26,000 to "nail down" the property that everyone was excited about; sell the council office on Third Street, and sell the Camp Tsatanugi property. Prior thoughts had already been given to selling the council office on Third Street primarily due to inadequate parking, lack of office space, and logistical problems (the council offices were moved to Brainerd Road, near Eastgate Mall, after the sale). The executive board agreed, God bless their optimistic souls, and sales were made, and the money was acquired to secure the property which was to become Skymont Scout Reservation.
As Scout Executive Hunt began to formulate plans for the new camp, he was offered the position of regional Scout Executive, and upon his acceptance of this promotion, the torge was passed to a new Scout Executive, Perry Green. Scout Executive Green assumed the helm of the council and with this "small" project of building Skymont Scout Reservation.
A capital campaign would be necessary to fund the construction of the camp/reservation, after all not a single building or road or campsite had been constructed. The capital campaign was a year away, so the decision was made to operate Skymont Hunting Preserve as a source of income while a capital campaign was being organized. A classic boondoggle ensued, no money was made, and the idea scrapped after one year!
With just a year since the purchase of the property, the council decided to forge ahead with the construction of the camp. The capital campaign was getting a head of steam so it was decided to hire a ranger to oversee the work, organize projects, and protect the council's interest while the construction progressed.
Overhearing a conversation about a new ranger position at an OA event, Harvey Raper, a Scoutmaster from Ooltewah, Tennessee, expressed his interest in the position the very next day. He was hired and moved to Skymont in April of 1969.
When Harvey and his three children and wife, Marie, came to the new property they found out several things; among them, they would be moving into a very small house with two bedrooms, oor plumbing, and marginal comforts. Thus began a 21-year stint as ranger, contractor, dining hall cook, construction worker, "nurse," mechanic, forester, and conservation specialist.
In 1970 the BSA National Office sent an engineer to design the plans for the dining hall, trading post, central showers, staff area, and campsites. Once the general layout was established, a contract was let to begin construction on the buildings. During the same time the 212th Engineering Group of the U.S. Army came to the property and began reconstructing Lake #2 dam to increase the size and accommodate a waterfront-aquatics area. They also worked to lay out the roads and parking areas that still are used at Skymont.
As the work was progressing, the capital campaign was launched to pay for the construction. It took all of 1970 and 1971 to reach the goal of the campaign, which was solely for building Skymont and getting ready for the upcoming grant event . . . the first year of summer camp! Many volunteers "bought" an acre of land at Skymont, a large plaque hangs in the dining hall still today with the names of these individuals who were generous and saw the Skymont vision.
The spring of 1973 came on Skymont with a vengeance. It rained, then it rained some more, and when it was not raining, it looked like rain. But . . . the first summer camp was a "go!" The water system was not completed, so three water buffaloes were borrowed from the Army to furnish water for the dining hall and campsites. Bathing was a procedure that was accomplished at the nearest lake. Water to wash dishes was carried from the buffaloes stationed outside the dining hall and heated on the range. There were about 500 Scouts over a six-week period, ranging from just 38 campers one week, to about as many as the water toting, boiling, cooking, and dining hall staff could accommodate. But summer camp was launched, and it was a success.
The next year a 180-foot tall, 35,000 gallon water tank was flown to camp from Chattanooga. It was donated by the Mueller company. The ranger found it necessary to pump from three wells almost 24 hours a day to maintain the proper water level in the tank. Of course a full water tank is no good unless you can get it from the tank to the campsite. That took contractors digging trenches in rock laden soil, and Order of the Arrow members covering up the pipes.
The story of Skymont goes on. It includes the years that saw Harvey Raper retire, Doug Eberhart became the second ranger, Joe Kirkland the third and now Buford Campbell. It has in its history the forestry management program of Page and Associates, the building of a new ranger's residence, a new administration building, a completely remodeled C.A. Parks Lodge, and a plethora of other things made possible by all the concerned friends and Scouters of the council. Skymont has offered many young Scouts to learn the Scout camping program as it should be presented. Many Scouts have passed through the gates of Skymont Scout Reservation as youth and have returned as adults to remember the good times of summer camp, OA Ordeals, and other activities that shaped their lives as young men and women.
From the first year of 1973, when 500 youth made Skymont Scout Reservation a success, until 1999 when 1,804 Scouts made it a learning adventure in the land of the hoot owl, coyote, and occasional timber rattler, it has been proven that the time, money, and talent invested in the purchase, construction, and improvement of this property was indeed a vision by the leaders of the Cherokee Area Council. A vision that still holds true. A vision that is still focused on the outdoor programs of Scouting, and how it can shape the future of our youth.
It would be futile for one to try to list all of the people who contributed to the success of Skymont. Some have answered the call of the "great Scoutmaster in the sky." Some still have memories and the interests of Skymont at heart. Some are right now planning yet another broad jump for Skymont with a new capital campaign to build, repair, and prepare the reservation for the future. And when the 100th year of Scouting rolls around, there will be those who look back to the present . . . and say . . . "I hope we can keep the torch burning for Skymont . . . as those did before us."
SKYMONT STAFF PHOTOS
PHOTOS FROM SKYMONT
1982-83 Archaeology Dig
1969-04-28 - NorHam Info for May Skymont Council Camporee
May 1969 Council Camporee at Skymont Paperwork
June 21 - Exciting Possibilities Seen for New Scout Camp
March 25 - Army's Big Boys in Uniform Helping Youngsters in Scout Garb at Skymont
July 22 - Camp Skymont Dedication Today
July 23 - Skymont Camp for Scouts is Dedicated
July 8 - Motion is Made to Pay Debt on Preserve
1975 Skymont Week 2 Roster (Vernon Bryant, Sam Powell, Joe Pope, Bob Wagner, Dudley Pearce, James P. Davis, John Eberle, Jack Pitkin, Steve Beasley, Kendrick Dunn, Jim Smith, Ramsey Blanks)
Promotional Brochure (1976 date estimated)
1977 Honorary Staff Member Certificate (Bob Wagner)
Promotional Brochure (1978 date estimated)
1982 Letter regarding Skymont Archaeology Dig
1982 Skymont Archaeology Dig Plans
1982 Skymont Archaeology Dig Tool Inventory
1982-03-15 - Food for Skymont Archaeology Dig
1982-04-03 - Skymont Archaeology Dig Roster
1982-04-22 - Letter Regarding Skymont Archaeology Dig
1982-06-18 - Development ot Skymont History - Archaeology Dig
1982-07-17 - Letter Regarding Skymont Archaeology Dig
1983-04-22 - Skymont Archaeology Schedule
1983-09 - Material Related to Skymont Archaeology - Year Presumed
1983-10-06 - Skymont Archaeology Letter
1983 - Recommendations for Archaeological Site at Skymont - Year Presumed
July 19 - Capital Campaign Renovates Skymont Facility
2020 Leaders' Guide (large file)
2020-05-22 - Letter Cancelling Skymont for the Summer due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
2021 Leaders' Guide (large file)