LeFeber Northwoods Camps

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LeFeber Northwoods Camps is a boy scout summer camp owned and run by the Milwaukee County Council and is located near Laona, Wisconsin, 250 miles north of Milwaukee, on Hardwood Lake. The camp has an extensive history as a logging camp prior to its purchase and donation to the Boy Scouts in 1930. It features an excellent program drawing in campers from Michigan, Illinois, and several councils located in Wisconsin. LeFeber is nationally accredited by the BSA and has earned additional awards for its quality program.


Camp John LeFeber

John LeFeber purchased the 360 acres around Hardwood Lake that is now LeFeber Northwoods Camps from the G.W. Jones Lumber Co. as well as from Connor Lumber and Land Co. for the Milwaukee County Council in 1930. The camp was known as Camp LeFeber from 1965 to 1972 at which time the camp split into Camps Baird and Neidhoefer and was known as Milwaukee Wilderness Scout Camps. Five or six separate camps were planned, only four were actually drawn out, only three were ever started, and only the two were finished. The current LeFeber Northwoods Camps consists of 1,200 acres.

LeFeber was born to Dutch immigrants in Milwaukee on February 1, 1863; and died at the age of 71 in his home at 3900 N. Lake Drive the night of Saturday September 16, 1934. LeFeber acquired his first farm off of Hawley Road with a herd of 100 cows and maintained two milk routes. Unsatisfied with the unsanitary method of milk delivery, using a dairyman’s can and a long-handled ladle, LeFeber began to deliver his milk in glass bottles twenty years before the Health Department required it. In 1903 several small dairy operations merged into the Gridley Dairy Company with LeFeber as the President. After 19 years, LeFeber resigned to become Chairman of the Board until his death. His widow, Edith, and son, Lester, who took over the presidency after his father’s resignation, survived him.

However, LeFeber was not only a local leader; he also served on the National Dairy Council and was a founder and past president of the National Association of Milk Dealers. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover called him to serve as the head of the dairy division of the national food administration.

LeFeber was a generous and spirited philanthropist who gave not only to the Scouts of Milwaukee, but also to the community of Milwaukee as a whole. When the community songfest was about to be cancelled in 1933 due to lack of funds, LeFeber sponsored the event as a gift to the people of Milwaukee. He was also active in the YMCA and the Association of Commerce.

In the 1930’s, there were three 12-day camp periods at Camp John LeFeber ranging from July 6 to August 15. There was a $1 non-refundable deposit and the cost of camp was $26; this not only covered meals and program, but also transportation to and from Laona by train. The boys headed up to camp in a private rail coach where they were able to meet with the camp director, aquatics/ activities director, and the quartermaster. Once in Laona, the boys would hike the eight miles to the camp using the old logging roads. The road into camp is still there leading past the corral. During this time in the Depression era it was a privilege to come to camp.

The older boys set up tents or slept in bunkhouses on the waterfront. The dining hall was located to the North of the Waterfront where the camp quartermaster cooked for the entire camp. The boys were called to meals in the typical lumberjack fashion: ringing a giant circular saw blade like a gong. During this time the current Archeology site (a.k.a. the Tin Pit) was used as a midden pit. Original china from Camp LeFeber has been found there; the pattern on the china matches the pattern on identical china that has been stored in the warehouses for an indefinite amount of time.

The camp did not have an hour-by-hour agenda like it does now; instead boys were free to use the camp as a base for day hikes and outpost treks, including canoe trips along the Eagle chain of rivers. Expert instruction in horsemanship was offered at no extra cost under the guidance of an army reserve officer, and the horses were available for daylong and overnight treks. Before the founding of the camp, the entire camp was clear cut of all trees by the area logging companies and afterward reseeded with red pine, sugar maple, birch, and hemlock for variety. Pockets of trees, especially conifers, were not cut, though. Hardwoods regenerated naturally from seed (aspen, birch, maple), root shoots (aspen), and stump sprouts (basswood). Some red pine and spruce trees were planted in the 1960’s by the US Forest Service, and again in the 1980’s by Gary Zimmer. Otherwise wildlife is responsible for all oak, spruce, cherry, apple, basswood, sumac, red maple, and white pine trees in camp.

Across the lake a tree shaped like a monkey wrench once existed and was the camp mascot for several years. Reports of its existence have been received from 1948-1960. It no longer stands.

Camp Robert W. Baird

Robert Wilson Baird was an eager philanthropist, contributing to several varied organizations including the Boy Scouts of America. Professionally, he was an executive in the field of securities investment. In 1919, Baird was named lead partner of a new investment firm called the First Wisconsin Company, the securities arm of the First Wisconsin National Bank, and in the 1920’s was named its president. In 1934, as a result of the 1929 crash, new laws completely remove banks from involvement in the securities industry. The First Wisconsin Company separates from First Wisconsin National Bank and becomes a separate entity called the Securities Company of Milwaukee Incorporated. Five years later it is renamed the Wisconsin Company. Also, during the 1930’s Baird is instrumental in the formation of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). He goes on to serve as the third chairman of the NASD. In 1948, the Wisconsin Company was the first Wisconsin brokerage firm to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange; because firms joining the NYSE often use the name of their lead partner, the First Wisconsin Company changed its name to Robert W. Baird and Company. Later that same year, William Brand succeeds Baird as the company’s second president.

The Baird Building was built in 1967 and the camp was then dedicated to Baird on September 10, 1974. A plaque memorializing Dudley F. Unkefer adorns the front of the office section identifying it as the LeFeber service building.

In 1965-1966, the administration of the camp took place under a circus tent purchased from Barnum & Bailey Circus Co. The Aronow Addition was completed in 2003 thanks to donations made by Cedor B. Aronow.

Mountain Camp, located off the SE shore of Hardwood Lake, is a former program area similar to Lumberjack Camp. The old latrine, though it’s not getting any younger, still stands. Concrete pylons remain where an activity shelter called "B-site" once stood, probably similar to the old activity shelter at Camp Demmer. When the camps merged, it was decided that the area was too far from other areas to continue to be used. It is safer to not drink the water from the pump at Mountain Camp. In 1998 there were two forest fires: one at Mountain Camp and one on the Nature Trail. The fires spread because plant root systems caught fire. Some senior scouts and scouters can still remember being mobilized to over turn earth in order to put the fires out.

Several yards from the entrance to Mountain Camp sits the entrance to the Fawn Run Trail, which traces the shoreline of Popple Lake (approximately 2 miles total). The Fawn Run Trail runs along part of an old logging railroad grade from the Connor Lumber and Land Co. to the south of Popple Lake.

The current Fishing Lodge was used as the LeFeber Northwoods Camps Nature Lodge from 1991-2004. In the time after 1965 the building was used for winter boat storage as part of the Baird Waterfront. Before 1965 this building was known as “D-site” and was one of the four buildings used by troops around the lake. On the beach sits the Loon Hut that was used as oar storage for the boating area. Further north of the Fishing Lodge lies a concrete foundation. This was a two-story blockhouse where ice was stored after being cut out of the frozen lake in winter to be used during summertime.

The building south of the Baird chapel used to be used as the Baird Nature Center, and before that was one of four family cabins around the lake, the other three have been demolished since then. It is now what has been known as the High Adventure Cabin, but isn’t used on account of the smell.

The Baird Chapel was dedicated to Emil Doerr by his three sons Emmett, Lee, and Ed. Camp Doerr at IMR is named after Emmett, one of the sons. Just North of the Chapel, exactly where the new Nature Center now stands, once existed the Chaplain Center. The “crossroads of LeFeber” known as the Scoutcraft area was at one time Baird 10.

What we know to be the Adventure Bowl used to be the Baird Commissioners area, similar to Scoutcraft/ Outdoor Skills. In the lower part of the bowl was an action archery trail. Mystic Rock was added to the Adventure Bowl in 1999 along with a rappelling wall in 2003. The rock wall was purchased from place of purchase for $27,000. The cost of one climb on the wall is $1.

Camp James R. Neidhoefer

James Russell Neidhoefer was an avid lepidopterist (collector of Moths and Butterflies), philanthropist, Council Executive Board member, Distinguished Eagle Scout, and scoutmaster of Troop 61. He was also the author of the 1973 edition of the Insect Life merit badge, which was later renamed Insect Study. In May of 1974 he was awarded the Silver Buffalo, and was also awarded the Silver Beaver and the Silver Antelope. In 1965 he was awarded the Honored Scouter distinction by Mikano Lodge for outstanding service to Scouting, and his character and dedication to the Boy Scout movement. In 1975 he was awarded the National Distinguished Service Award by the Order of the Arrow at the National Conference. This award is given for outstanding service to the Order of the Arrow above the Lodge level; first presented in 1940, it has been presented to less than 500 Arrowmen in the nation.

The Neidhoefer Administration Building was dedicated on September 12, 1971. It is located near the Staff site and is now used as a Staff recreation lounge. The dedication ceremony was about two weeks after the end of the camping season but still managed to attract over two hundred Scouts, Scouters, and admirers.

On the waterfront stands a flagpole erected in memory of Chester Pyzyk, a member of the Southside Young Timers. The plaque is dated September of 1988. Also on the waterfront is the site of the old Ranger house. In 1981 or 1982 it was moved to the current placement of the Ranger’s home at the front of camp. All that remains of the site is a concrete staircase and handrail The camp ranger at the time was Emil Zimmer, father of Gary (Olivia) and Wayne (Pat), and grandfather of Maria, Kristin, and Heather; Jessie and Nikki. Emil Zimmer was injured by a tree in 1982 near the current Rifle Range. He passed away some days later of a pre-existing condition. His son, Gary, took his post of Ranger for this camp thereafter. Before Emil Zimmer, locals served as Ranger/ Caretaker. There were at least two Rangers before 1965; John Anderson who lived in a cabin on the hill of Neidhoefer 1, and Delbert Bowling (Mary) and his two sons John and Rusty. Delbert Bowling is still alive.

There is a legend about the apple trees growing near the road north of the waterfront: When the Zimmer’s would eat apples they’d throw the core out into the forest. Several years later, the seeds sprouted and gave us trees.

Also on the waterfront is the Zion Cabin, named for H.G. “Curley” Zion, the Scout Executive from 1937-1963 who was instrumental in establishing the Order of the Arrow in Milwaukee. It was called the “AP” or “All Purpose” Building before its dedication. It was built in the 1950’s and has been remodeled several times. Behind the Zion Cabin is the Bat House, originally known as “A-site”, which was used as a workshop. Around 1967 Dudley F. Unkefer, a council executive, was killed attempting to make a solar shower system. One morning, he lit a cigarette as he entered the building, which contained empty lacquer barrels; subsequently, the fumes from the barrels exploded. He died in a nearby hospital three days later. His son was also injured in the blast.

The current Eagle Quest area was used as the Neidhoefer Commissioners area, similar to the Scoutcraft/ Outdoor Skills area. Directly before its use as Eagle Quest, this field was used as Crazy’s Outpost where Crazy (Harold Ottesen) taught merit badges such as Indian Lore, Basketry, and Archeology. One year, Crazy was unable to serve on Staff leaving another Rendezvous enthusiast called Blackfoot (Dan Loosen) to run the area until Crazy was able to return. Blackfoot was responsible for the badger hole in the side of the hill, which was filled in 2005 because of structural instabilities. Another Rendezvous Staffer was Bearback (Joe Orlovski).

There were two places in Neidhoefer where the fire bowl was held: between the Eagle Quest and Shotgun Range, and in the bowl South of the corral, behind the Staff site. The bowl to the West of the Shotgun Range road was used for Order of the Arrow ceremonies. The Iron Springs area was not put in use until relatively recent history. Before 2003 Iron Springs was known as the Lumberjack Camp. In the Lumberjack area the lumberjack Staff very closely resembled a real lumberjack lifestyle; they cooked and ate in their program area, and even slept in the log cabins that remain there today.

The Neidhoefer Chapel is located South of the Neidhoefer showers and Commissary. When the two camps, Baird and Neidhoefer, had separate programs the Neidhoefer Commissary (or “Neid Comm”) held the Trading Post and Food and Equipment issue at the Commissary. The Neidhoefer Commissary is now used to store extra equipment and to supply food to Neidhoefer sites during busy weeks.

Between Neidhoefer 3 and Neidhoefer 12 is a high point that was used as a lookout point. The latrine foundation in Neidhoefer 2 has a crack in it and is no longer usable. Neidhoefer7 is overrun with vegetation an both it and Neidhoefer 9 are no longer in use. Neidhoefer10 has only been used twice, so far as we know, in all of LeFeber history.

In between Neidhoefer 6 and the Staff site sits the putrefying Neidhoefer Nature Center, which consists of a three-walled structure with a garage door that leads to a covered concrete slab porch. Since its desertion, bats and porcupines have made it their home. About twenty-five feet from the porch lays a large section of a giant pine tree estimated to have been 300 years old. It once stood off one of the old trails to Ed’s Lake until it blew over in the 1970’s and was hauled there by the Connor lumber company for the camp to display.

In the far NE of the camp is the old corral where the horses for Horsemanship MB were kept. However, the program was discontinued in 1998 or 1999 because of the overwhelming cost. Prior to its use as a corral, the area was the Neidhoefer Archery Range. A proposed trail for action archery was to be cut South of this area. The shotgun range was once the Neidhoefer Rifle Range. The area at one time was planned to house skeet shooting, rifle shooting, and archery.

The Health Lodge is the only one in camp history. Behind the Health Lodge is the Cub Run Trail, which used to go down through the Frost Bowl. Also in the Frost Bowl was an obstacle course (rumored to not be compliant with C.O.P.E. standards) that many old scouters describe as “extreme”. As soon as scouts arrived, they would run down to the obstacle course before setting up their tents. Another obstacle course was placed between Neidhoefer 3 and the Shotgun range; there are still some old tires there.

Camp Edward U. Demmer

The camp is a tribute to the memory of Lawrence Demmer and Emma Uhrig Demmer.

A complete camp layout was drawn in 1975 to plan for potential construction, however, lack of interest and funds were the cause of abandoning the project. An activities shelter, drinkable water pump, two latrines, and flagpole and monument are the only steps toward a developed camp ever taken. The old building was called “C-site” in its heyday.

Six sites were planned in the dense undulating coniferous forest running down the Western and Southern shores of Hardwood Lake. A chapel overlooking the lake, Order of the Arrow circle on Bear Point, the fire bowl halfway between the bay near Demmer and Mayflower Lake, and two additional buildings (an office and another activity shelter) were proposed improvements for Camp Demmer. Designs also included a boardwalk nature trail with an observation blind over mash and bog land between Mayflower and Little Popple Lake.

A road branching off the main road to Demmer leads to Mayflower Lake, SW of Hardwood Lake. Several old logging roads are still visible and used as trails around the lake. On the southern shore, s nesting pair of Osprey (an endangered species) has made a DNR nest box their home. Also, a pair of Common Loons made a nest of a Beaver lodge in the 2004 camp season. The lake is an excellent example of eutrophication, the regression of earth to the most natural or flattest form, which in this case is likely to be a mixed hardwood/softwood forest. This spot was the subject of a US Geological Survey; a Bench Mark remains along the SE trail around the lake. It reads: 1938 ELEVATION ABOVE SEA [the number 1938 is not a date]. This spot is not much lower than Sugarbush Hill, the second highest site in Wisconsin.

Popple Lake Camp

Popple Lake is located one half mile SE of Mountain Camp and is approximately one mile around the shoreline. Plans were drawn up in 1968 for the camp, but the project never took off. Thirteen campsites were to be cut, and four activity shelters built. The waterfront was to be at Mountain Camp, the chapel on the Northwestern shore of Popple Lake, and the fire bowl to the North of the lake. Popple Lake was intended for be used as a boating only lake. According to underwater topography maps, the lake is only five feet deep at its deepest.

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