Verdugo Views: Urban Boy Scouts loved Camp Bill Lane
Boy Scouts swim in the stream-fed pool at Camp Bill Lane, established in the early 1940s on land donated by oilman Bill Lane. Photo ca 1942. (Courtesy of Art Cobery)
Bill Lane, an enthusiastic supporter of the Scouts, had done well as an oil investor. He lived on a large estate near Hill Drive in Eagle Rock and also owned several acres of olive trees near Big Tujunga Canyon in the Sunland-Tujunga area.
Scouts had been camping in the area — on an informal basis — since the late 1930s. One day, Scout executive Harvey Cheesman persuaded Lane, a friend of his, to purchase some of the land for a Scout camp.
The camp was established around 1940, wrote Art Cobery in the November 2011 edition of the Ledger, the Crescenta Valley Historical Society's newsletter.
Eventually about 80 acres were deeded to the Verdugo Hills Council, headquartered in Glendale. The council also leased an additional 152 acres from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, according to Cobery. When the camp was dedicated in 1941, more than 800 Scouts, as well as Scouting and county officials, attended.
The camp's setting so near an urban area made it very popular; it was one of the largest camps of its kind in the nation, and thousands of youngsters used it year-round for nearly 30 years.
Cobery, one of the first Scouts to use the new facility, said the entrance was on the west side of Big Tujunga Canyon Road, near Mount Gleason Avenue. “A short drive through an olive grove brought you into an ancient riverbed where a number of primitive campsites nestled in woodsy haunts. Close by was a small river that flowed down a boulder-strewn wash. Scrub oaks, sycamores and willows afford protection from the midday sun and bay trees and other fragrant plants provided that wilderness aroma.”
Each campsite accommodated a Scout patrol of 10 or 12 boys, along with their food, pup tents and sleeping bags.
Cobery was a Tenderfoot Scout when he first camped there in 1942, and he recalled preparing meals on the large, rusty stoves, which they kept stoked from a plentiful supply of nearby wood. After lunch, they swam in the concrete pool, fed by an offshoot of the main stream.
There was a large lodge with two fireplaces and kitchen facilities, plus a small store where Scouts could buy fresh milk, soda pop and candy bars at certain times of the day.
A nature museum containing Cheesman's collection of canyon artifacts, stuffed animals and mounted birds, was formally dedicated in his honor when he retired in 1944.
Medicine Flats, across the river and under the eucalyptus trees, was reserved for Order of the Arrow activities. “It was here that men and boys, chosen on the basis of service to troop and community, were introduced into the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's ‘Brotherhood of Cheerful Service,'“ Cobery explained.
The well-known actor, Iron Eyes Cody, often participated in these events, teaching the ceremonies and traditions of the American Indian.
For nearly 30 years, a succession of young Scouts pitched their tents under the leafy scrub oaks, sycamores and willows and swam in the stream-fed pool, providing great memories that still resonate with them today.