A small crew of volunteers spent most of Saturday at a heavily wooded and secluded site near a chain of small lakes in Nicollet County.
The early risers traveled a long gravel road to reach Norseland Scout Camp’s main building, Fireside Lodge, where they put in eight hours replacing siding and performing other general maintenance.
Routine work projects are slated monthly through October at the 75-year-old gathering place for Twin Valley Council BSA troops. Most of the work was provided by adults who are former scouts.
Norseland’s 56 acres offer campers — scouts, as well as their units and families — more than an outdoor getaway and a chance to sleep in tents. Scouts use the grounds to gain a variety of life skills and later demonstrate what they have learned as they strive to earn merit badges and move up in the program’s ranks.
“It’s where our classes are taught. What we teach is service, and to have fun doing it,” said Frank Samlaska, who handles membership duties for the Mankato-based Twin Valley Council.
“We instill in them that service to others will bring returns to you that are far more rewarding than what one can give,” he said.
Samlaska offered as an example soldiers with scout training who used those skills to survive horrific battles.
His council serves youths in 15 southern Minnesota counties.
“We are the smallest in the state but we have three camps. Besides Norseland, there’s Cedar Point and Cuyuna,” said Samlaska.
Joe Wallschlaeger, a former scout who has been the camp’s caretaker about four years, said there was a long stretch of time when there was a shortage of helping hands for sprucing up its grounds and buildings.
“Norseland wasn’t getting the love it needed. Things were just kind of bandaged together,” Wallschlaeger said.
Several factors contributed to the lack of available volunteers. A merging of two Scout councils in 1967 led to efforts being directed on a summer program at a 684-acre camp north of Brainerd.
“All the focus went to Cuyuna because we are short term,” Wallschlaeger said, explaining Norseland’s programs are limited to weekends.
Keeping up with repairs likely overwhelmed the local camp’s former steward.
“No one person can do it all alone,” said Wallschlaeger.
About five years ago, attendees at a Cuyuna event were informed of plans to sell Norseland.
“I looked at all the facial expressions … all their chins were down,” Wallschlaeger said.
A caveat was offered to the Scouters (a moniker for adult camp participants). If they worked to grow the organization, Twin Valley would consider holding on to its Nicollet County property.
“That was the beginning of the Friends of Norseland. …We want to see the camp flourish,” Wallschlaeger said.
The all-volunteer group not only provides sweat equity toward improving the camp. Chairman Greg Ous led a successful $70,000 capital campaign for upgrades to the camp’s bathrooms and kitchen.
“I’m proud to say we’ve now been in the black for the past three years. That really shows the membership we are serious about saving this camp,” Wallschlaeger said.
In recent years, attendance at Norseland camp activities has begun an upward tick. Occupancy at events has increased 52 percent for attendees from within the Twin Valley Council and 48 percent for members of other councils.
Mary Klaseus brought Cleveland’s Troop 68 members to the Spring Camp-o-ree. In her group was former Arrow of Light Cub Scout August Keltgen, 12, who is now at the Tenderfoot Scout level.
Starting out as a Cub Scout is not a requirement, Klaseus said.
“But it gives them a leg up. … It’s similar to kids who attend pre-school.”
At least 21 merit badges are needed by Scouts working to earn the Eagle Scout rank. Of those 21 badges, 14 must be from a required list.
Keltgen had to swat away pesky insects while he worked toward his first aid merit badge on the grounds of Norseland.
“The rains brought in mosquitos and gnats. There have been years when it’s been buggier,” Klaseus said.
Clearing brush and buckthorn, an invasive plant species, was one of the first challenges faced by the Friends of Norseland.
“Now there’s nice breezes that move through the camp, and that helps keep mosquitos away,” Wallschaeger said.