Bert Adams Scout Camp relocated to Newton County in 1960, and for six decades, it has stood out as one of the community’s crown jewels.
It was the middle of summer in 1963. I was 11, and my buddies and I met on a Sunday afternoon at the Porterdale Scout Hall, a few houses up from where I lived. I endured being kissed goodbye by my mother, and we piled into the back of Scoutmaster Aubrey Barnes’ pickup truck and headed for Bert Adams Scout Camp, south of Covington. The ensuing week would change my life forever.
The original Bert Adams camp was located in the Vinings area of Cobb County, near where Cumberland Mall and the Cobb Galleria now sprawl. It opened in 1927—the same year Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. Having outgrown that property, the Atlanta Area Council began to look for a spot to build a larger reservation as the 1950s began to wind down. Thanks to the vision of Covington’s S.J. “Sappy” Morecock and others, 1,300 acres of property in south Newton County were purchased, and in 1960, the “New Bert Adams” opened shop.
The first summer camp was held there in 1961. I missed the first two years but would camp there for each of the next 18, as a scout, adult leader and staffer. They were glorious years, but none were more magical than that first week. It was the first time I had been away from my parents for six straight days, and even though I was only 10 miles from home, I was plagued by pangs of homesickness. The very first night, as bedtime approached, I developed a stomachache and our Troop guide, Terry McClellan—a high school football player, I recall, from Dykes High School—took me to the health lodge to visit the nurse and have my temperature taken. I don’t remember who she was, but she was young and beautiful, and honesty compels me to admit that I found an excuse to get to that health lodge every day that week.
When I wasn’t acting like a homesick little boy, I embraced the adventure of my first week of Boy Scout summer camp. I was always at home in the water and took swimming merit badge from erstwhile instructor Charles Lassiter in the Emerson-Gorman pool, and I vowed that one day I would teach swimming at Bert Adams, just like him. At week’s end, I completed the mile swim in Lake Bulow Campbell, the centerpiece of the property. In the meantime, I slept with my troop in three-sided structures called Adirondacks, went on nature hikes, sang songs around nightly campfires and became forever hooked on scouting and outdoor living. By the time we headed home on Saturday morning, I had taken my first baby steps on the way to becoming an Eagle Scout.
“I had been assured by every staffer I encountered all week that anyone who rubbed the buffalo’s nose was destined to return to Bert Adams year after year. It’s kind of the same principle as throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome.”Darrell Huckaby
I made sure on that first Saturday morning, right after breakfast, to go up and rub the nose of the buffalo head that hung over the immense stone fireplace in Woodruff Hall, where Camp Emerson and Camp Gorman scouts took their meals. I had been assured by every staffer I encountered all week that anyone who rubbed the buffalo’s nose was destined to return to Bert Adams year after year. It’s kind of the same principle as throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
What an impressive structure Woodruff Hall was to an 11-year-old boy who had rarely left Porterdale. It had a high cathedral ceiling, and the walls were adorned with huge game trophies—elk, moose, deer and, of course, the aforementioned buffalo. As the name implies, Woodruff Hall was the gift of Mr. Anonymous, Coca-Cola magnate Robert Woodruff. All the animal trophies were his, too. I was told by a person in position to know that when Mr. Woodruff donated the money for the immense dining and meeting facility, longtime Atlanta Area Scout executive Country Gorman told him that the scouts wanted to do something for him. Gorman offered to save Mr. Woodruff a lot of money on storage fees by displaying his hunting trophies at Bert Adams.
For a long time, there was Boy’s Life cover art hanging in frames on the wall, too. Then someone realized that they were original Norman Rockwells—also from Mr. Woodruff—and they were moved to a more secure location.
I would indeed return to Bert Adams, summer after summer after summer—and on fall and spring weekends for district and area camporees. I encountered young men working there who would become heroes to me, and I became more determined to work there myself one day. However, college doesn’t come cheap and the Osprey Mill paid better than the Atlanta Area Council, so it was not until I graduated from college that I managed to realize my dream of becoming a member of the summer camp staff. I was waterfront director, King of the Jamison Waterfront, for six years and program director at Emerson-Gorman, which we Jamison men called Weenie Land, for one memorable summer.
Bert Adams, for decades, was my happy place. I can close my eyes and smell the aroma of rich woods dirt and fresh pine. I lived on the reservation year-round and helped “look after things” the first two years of my adult life; and I knew every inch of the property from hours and hours and hours of hiking its acres and swimming in its waters. As the camp approaches its 60th anniversary, it is bigger and better than ever. Impressive new facilities have been built. Cub scout day camps are held there and, of course, the cornerstone of scouting, summer camp, still goes on. It is also used throughout the year for weekend troop camps, district camporees and a wide variety of training sessions.
It has been a minute since I have been there, but I did rub that buffalo’s nose a bunch of times. Maybe someday soon I’ll get a chance to go back and enjoy the magic.