Boy Scouts: Camp Glen Gray turns 100
Friday-Sunday, June 23-25
Archery, swimming, boating, scoutcraft, trade-o-ree, horseshoes, etc.
$12 per person for program and tent site
Deluxe: $25 per person covers program, tenting and three meals on Saturday. Camp site reservations, or
DoubleTree Hotel in Mahwah,
By ANTOINETTE MARTIN
for Montclair Local
It was a hundred years ago, literally — May 19, 1917 — that a group of Boy Scouts from Montclair and Glen Ridge tramped along with their leaders into the wilderness of the Ramapo Mountains to dedicate a new 750-acre campsite for their still-young organization.
The scouts, who belonged to several of the first troops in America, were asked to bring axes to chop logs for building cabins — and carry in stones as big as their heads, to help form the base of a dam for a swimming lake at the new Camp Glen Gray. Next month, generations of Glen Gray campers will celebrate the Bergen County camp’s centennial with tent camping, horseshoes, archery and scads of storied rituals.
A group known as The Old Guard, which staunchly defended the property from prospective development 15 years ago, will be there in force.
Weekend festivities June 23-25 include a Friday evening party at the Double Tree Hotel, 180 Route 17 South, Mahwah; and activities all day Saturday at the camp, 200 Midvale Mountain Road, Mahwah. Saturday morning will begin with morning flag-raising on the shore of Lake Vreeland, and after sundown there will be a campfire and naming of new members to The Old Guard.
John Hartinger, whose two sons became members of Montclair’s Troop 12 when the family moved here in 1996, says what keeps the camp alive is “a generational commitment on the part of a number of men, and some women, to sustain and protect the place.
“In a very real way, the camp continues to exist because of a personal compact, if you will, from one generation of stewards to the next.”
Hartinger became a part of The Old Guard more than a decade ago, and fought to save the camp in 2002, when sale of the camp by the Northern New Jersey Boy Scout Council for development was threatened.
“When my older son, Dan, joined Troop 12, ‘Doc’ Leard (former Montclair resident, dentist Norman Leard III) was the leader,” Hartinger says. “Doc had grown up in the troop, become an Eagle Scout, returned as an adult leader and went on to serve as a scoutmaster and guardian of the camp for 25 years.
“What is so beautiful is that the camp has been strictly maintained as wilderness,” with latrines but no plumbing, and electricity restricted to the main dining hall.
Dan Hartinger, now 29, traces the root of his career as a defender of public lands with the Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C., to his time learning self-reliance and a love of the natural world, according to his father.
Camp Glen Gray is named for Frank Fellows Gray, a one-time military academy instructor who became a teacher and school counselor in Montclair in the early 1900s. In Great Britain, Gray had met Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts.
Pursuing Baden-Powell’s program for promoting character, leadership and outdoor skills in young men, Gray organized a Boy Scout troop in Montclair with a nucleus of boys from what is now Nishuane School. By 1916, with several troops in Montclair and Glen Ridge thriving, a committee was formed to locate a permanent campground, and all the local big names got involved: the Van Vlecks, creators of today’s Van Vleck House & Gardens; Walter Kidde and Arthur B. Miller, well-known engineers at the time; architect Frank H. Vreeland; Theodore T. Dorman, a stock trader who served as scoutmaster; Arthur P. Heyer, town commissioner and auto company owner; attorney Phillip Goodell; and real estate man Frank Hughes.
This launched a tradition of loyalty to the camp that continues with The Old Guard, and also the nonprofit Friends of Glen Gray. That organization was set up when the sale of the land was looming. Working with The Trust for Public Land and Bergen County, purchase of the land by the group of devoted former campers was negotiated instead. The land became a county park.
The property surrounding the camp is managed by Bergen County, and the camping area is managed by FOGG. Volunteers from The Old Guard contribute “time, talent and/or treasure” to maintain the camp. Nancy Arny Pi-Sunyer, whose husband was a camper, says she has been to many a painting/hammering/repair party at Glen Gray and is now a proud member of The Old Guard.
Drew Davino, a 23-year-old cancer researcher in Boston, remembers the wildness at Glen Gray with a slightly different twist. “My mother was the den mother for my brother’s Montclair scout troop,” says Davino, who talked to the Montclair Local by phone. “I got to go to Glen Gray starting when I was a Cub Scout, like age 6 or 7.”
He said he remembered being terrified by the legend of Mary Post, told around the campfire. Post was a Mahwah innkeeper during the
Revolutionary War who was hanged by the British for harboring two spies. Just before she was killed, the story goes, Post put a curse on the tree where she was hanged to prevent it ever being harmed.
“When they end the story,” Davino recalls, “they shine a light on a tree nearby and there is a noose hanging from it! I was terrified — and I loved it. Unforgettable.”
Note: Some historical details in this article were provided through a write-up by Nancy Arny Pi-Sunyer, an unofficial historian for the camp.