Hiking up Desolation Trail. Sledding down the tubing hill. Bailing out a sinking canoe. Sitting in front of a campfire singing songs and watching silly skits.
During the past century, hundreds of thousands of Utah Scouts have made happy, heartwarming and spiritual memories while attending Camp Tracy.
The scenic mountain camp 2.5 miles up Mill Creek Canyon turned 100 this month. Staffers haven’t stopped to celebrate, though. They are too busy repairing buildings, training lifeguards and preparing programs for the 2018 summer season, which begins in June.
Camp Tracy is one of several canyon sites owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America’s Great Salt Lake Council, said Vic Rowberry, director of support services. But its storied history and longevity make it the crown jewel for Scouting excursions.
“It’s really a gem,” he said. “All of the Mill Creek camps are, because of their proximity to the city and the ease of getting there.”
Several readers confirmed the sentiment, sharing Camp Tracy memories through the Utah Public Insight Network.
I went to a winter camp there as a Boy Scout. I remember tubing for hours and then spending the night in a cabin. One of the leaders brought coal to keep the cabin warm. They put so much coal in the stove that the place became sweltering hot and impossible to sleep (they wouldn’t let us open the windows). I remember several of us walking out on the frozen lake in the middle of the night in our underwear to cool off. Most of us ended up sleeping on the floor because it was a little cooler down there. Still had a great time.”
— Tyson Anderson, Millcreek
Each year, about 25,000 boys, ages 6 to 12, participate in activities at the the Mill Creek Canyon camps, mastering the “Be Prepared” motto and earning badges in everything from flag etiquette and nature conservation to archery and swimming.
Along the way, they learn leadership skills and build character. They also form lasting relationships and unforgettable memories.
“The activities are a catalyst to make that happen,” Rowberry said. “The real memories come from conversations and the teachings that a leader gives to young men.”
One of the defining moments of my journey into adulthood was participating in the Order of the Arrow, which was basically a bunch of 14-year-olds cleaning Camp Tracy while fasting and sleeping in shelters we made ourselves. It was only an overnighter, but at that young age it felt like an eternity. I survived and learned a lot about patience, tolerance, endurance and teamwork.
— Michael Ainsworth, South Jordan
It may seem especially important for today’s youths to get outdoors and away from video games and other electronics, said Rowberry, but “boys are still the same” whether it’s 1918 or 2018.
“In every era, there has been a need for young men to explore and hike and run off some energy,” he said. “They need new opportunities and experiences and something outside that is physical.”
The 5-mile hike up Desolation Trail, the canoes, trading post and skits by the staffers, and the pleasant atmosphere in the canyon. I had two sons attend and I went for five years as a leader of 11-year-olds. It’s a great camp and provides the boys fun while learning new skills like canoeing, knots, map reading, archery, etc.
— Patrick Fitzgerald
Those were the activities Alvin V. Taylor was trying to promote in 1918, when he deeded approximately 1,100 acres to Oscar A. Kirkham, a trustee for the Boy Scouts. When the Salt Lake Council was formed, Kirkham transferred the land to the organization.
Over the past 100 years, Roweberry said construction at Camp Tracy has been ongoing. First, there were road improvements, then the three-sided cabins were built.
“The greatest improvement,” according to the Camp Tracy history books, came in 1939, when the swimming pool was built.
The pool remains the centerpiece of camp activity. The cabins are still there, too, Rowberry said. “But now they are closed in and have four sides and doors.”
A gathering place, called the “wigwam,” was built in 1923 with $10,000 donated by Russel Tracy, founder of Tracy-Collins Bank. After that, the camp was known as Tracy Wigwam.
(In 1938, Tracy also donated his private bird collection to Salt Lake City, helping to launch Tracy Aviary.)
The wigwam name endured for decades — even though the structure was torn down in the late 1980s or ’90s, and the term was considered culturally insensitive.
About the same time, the name officially was changed to Camp Tracy and the new, more-modern Layton Lodge was constructed, explained Samuel Ahlstrom, the council’s marketing director.
But traditions endure, he said. “To this day, people still call it Tracy Wigwam.”
Rowberry said one of the biggest physical changes to Camp Tracy came two years ago when the council transferred 848 acres to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
For years, the public had been crossing through the Scouts’ private land to access Rattlesnake Gulch and its Pipeline Trail. Rather than fight the growing number of outdoor enthusiasts, the Scouts negotiated the transfer, ensuring permanent public access and helping to stitch together the 27-mile extension of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail south from Parleys Canyon to Sandy.
The deal was financed with $3.2 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
I went to Tracy Wigwam in both the summer and winter. The thing I remember the most about the summer camps were the awesome activities and swimming in the ice cold pools they use for recreation. The memories of the winter camps were of the awesome sledding hill (they had to slow the track down the last year I was there because a boy flew out of the chute and hit a tree), and the three-sided cabins. We would hang our wet clothes over the beams before bed and in the morning they were frozen solid. We had to get a fire going to thaw them out enough so that we could wear them again.
— Thomas Ames, East Millcreek
Through the years, the Camp Tracy programs have morphed with the times, with staffers adopting themes that will pique a Scout’s interest. Today, for example, there are areas called Construction Junction, Dragon Masters and Fort Frontier.
Ahlstrom said he attended Camp Tracy in 1999, when it featured a “Star Wars” theme.
“I don’t know how they did it, but they got a hold of Stormtrooper and Darth Vader costumes and everyone was walking around in Jedi robes,” he said. “It was incredible.”
Sixteen years later, Ahlstrom met his future wife, Sarah, when she was hired as the camp’s summer EMT.
They kept their friendship “strictly professional” until Sarah’s job wrapped up in late August, Ahlstrom said. After that, things went quickly. The couple married that November and now are the parents of an almost-2-year-old daughter with a son on the way.
Camp Tracy also is a source of happy memories for those who are hired on as staffers each summer and the adult Scout leaders, who bravely agree to supervise groups of tween boys in the mountains.
As a Scout leader, I have attended Camp Tracy almost every year for the past 12 or so years. It is a great program and a good place for the youth to learn about Scouting and get a feel for outdoor skills. My favorite memory is being in a canoe with two young men at the dock. As we pushed off, the canoe filled with water, and we found ourselves waste deep in the Tracy manmade lake. My phone in my pocket did not survive the adventure. Both boys, however, thought it was the greatest as no one else got to “swim” in the lake.
— David Krummenacher, Kaysville
A future without the LDS Church
What the second century holds for Camp Tracy is unclear, especially since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced that it was ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, effective Dec. 31, 2019.
The church plans to create new youth programs for its members around the world.
The LDS Church is the biggest participant in U.S. Scouting, with approximately 425,000 Mormon youths in Cub and Boy Scout programs. Latter-day Saints account for about 19 percent of the BSA’s membership, which totals about 2.3 million, according to the Boy Scouts. In Utah, the LDS Church sponsors 95 percent of the troops.
Former church President Thomas S. Monson, who died in January, served on Scouting’s national executive board for nearly 44 years and regularly relayed his favorite Camp Tracy story in sermons.
Monson’s first overnight camp at Tracy Wigwam was in winter. His parents had promised to deliver a treat to the boys, who wished for hot chocolate or chili. Instead, the shivering Scouts got, wait for it, ice cream.
Everyone has a similar story about Camp Tracy, said Rowberry.
“The time you fell out of a canoe. That great run down the tubing hill. An experience at a the campfire program that was patriotic or spiritual,” he said. “That’s the magic of Scouting.”
For 100 years, it’s also been the magic of Camp Tracy.
This story was informed by sources in the Utah Public Insight Network. To become a news source for The Salt Lake Tribune, go to bit.ly/PINTribune.
Correction: May 26, 7:36 p.m. >> An earlier version of this story included an incorrect distance between the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon and Camp Tracy.