Nestled in an idyllic valley carved by South Creek, southwest of Beulah, signs still exist of a 100 year old Boy Scout Camp known as Camp Burch. Operating from 1921 - 1947, the 80-acre site in San Isabel, was leased by its namesake Frank J. Burch, owner of F. J. Burch Mfg.Co., past president of the Colorado State Fair, first president of the Pueblo Council of Boy Scouts of America, not to mention builder/owner of a beautiful log home on Pine Drive.
With the end of World War I there was greater prosperity for the middle class, and more access to affordable automobiles. Local enthusiasm for outdoor recreation was at an all-time high as a result of Arthur Carhart’s involvement nearby in the new Squirrel Creek Recreation District. The first of its kind in the United States, the U.S. Forest Service sought to strategically plan public lands for scenic drives and structured camping. Pueblo Mountain Park was purchased two years prior by the City of Pueblo, wisely preserving 611- acres for all to enjoy. Camp Burch was situated right between the two projects. Area Boy Scouts were already growing familiar with the terrain, having assisted with the construction of the Cascade Trail (travels east/west and connects the Carhart Trail to the Dome Rock Trail).
They had the perfect champion in Burch, the civic leader had manufactured tents since 1889. By 1899 his growing business would be known as the largest ‘and best’ canvas goods manufacturing in the west. Initially they were located on Santa Fe, but later moved to Union. Approximately 20 men were employed to cut, sew and ship tents, awnings, cots, water bags, newsboys paper bags, truck drivers aprons, and flags; they were sent all over Colorado, and the nation. In 1908, the Pueblo Chieftain noted that Burch Mfg. had installed a 68’ long awning in Pueblo for Bessemer Dry Goods, the largest (longest) ever created in Pueblo at that time. Burch put on a grand flag display in front of his building in 1900, encouraging people to count the flags— draping the exterior façade in all sizes—and enter to win a… flag (second prize was a hammock). His successful business would eventually become Pueblo Tent and Awning.
His success and creativity in promotions made him a solid choice for president of the Colorado State Fair in 1908. The Montrose Press noting, “F.J. Burch, the new president, has by virtue of his business career gained a wide and favorable acquaintance among business men, ranchmen and farmers throughout this and surrounding states.” Mr. Burch knew how to make things happen.
In 1920, his talents were needed to mentor the newly formed organization in Pueblo called Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910. As president, Burch made plans for a proper place for scouts to gather to pursue their craft.
Accessible by motor vehicle, Camp Burch was constructed with more amenities than the average rustic camp. In its heyday, the well-furnished camp enjoyed a large 30 x 72 kitchen/dining hall, a 30’ x 44’ assembly hall, nine sleeping cabins with cots, a hospital cabin, a director’s cabin, five outhouses some with lights, a bath house with showers, electric generator, and even a cement-lined swimming pool! The camp had a director, assistant director, and two cooks. The buildings were finished in slab pine, and log timbers cut from the nearby forest.
Construction of the camp and its buildings was accomplished by Boy Scouts, volunteers, and in 1924 supplemented by Colorado State prisoners from Buena Vista. That year, Camp Burch was listed among just four Boy Scout Camps in the state of Colorado, noting Oscar C. Alverson as camp director.
Boys were urged to earn their own way to camp, and by August 1921, it was reported that 125 boys had put in a deposit alongside their application. Eager for work and play, enthusiastic scouts were eager to help with the construction of roads, trails, and buildings.
Campers earned points throughout their stay for based on participation in camp activities—tallied at the end of camp to be classified as ‘Good’, ‘Very Good’, or ‘Excellent’ campers. Camp Activities included tent inspection, bed inspection, campfire activities, ‘making some useful and approved article for public camp use’, taking hikes (1 point per mile) and performing camp duties with a good attitude. ‘Nature Study’ offered points for identifying flowers, plants, trees, shrubs, rocks and minerals; catching the largest fish got you 5 points. ‘Scouting Activities’ such as passing a class test, or merit badge test counted, and the ‘fine spirit’ award netted a whopping 25 points.
Camp activities included day hikes, and some overnight hikes to places like Marion Mine. Learning skills like navigation, signaling, geology, and woodcrafts from Scoutmasters easily filled the days. Nearby South Creek held unlimited potential. The remarkable 50’ x 30’ cement swimming pool was heated by a boiler provided and installed by CF&I expert steam fitters.
Far and away the most anticipated activity were the camp meals served from the Mess Hall, still recognizable today with prominent cast iron stoves and a large wash basin. One can almost hear the clatter of dishes, and the excited conversations that took place there three times each day.
On a least one occasion, as many as 250 Scouts and 50 leaders assembled at Camp Burch for a Southern Colorado Pow-Wow June 5 - 6, 1925.
Ted Flemming of Troop 16 earned 10 points for his Troop for this note, “Oh Boy, talk about joy. You ought to be out to scout camp. First of all, I want to tell you about the cook. Boy he couldn’t be beat. It seems like he just knows what we Scouts like best. But the best thing is we get all we want and more. Listen we have watermelon and cantaloupe and everything good and just think we scouts are going to have ice cream for dinner.”
Scout Lee Casler of Troop 18 also scribed his experience, “The boys at Camp Burch are surely having a good time. They think the most important time at camp is eating time. When the mess call blows all of them rush for the tables. We have a fine cook and we call him Cookie.”
Visitor highlights in 1921 included, Chief Red Fox, who according to the Colorado Daily Chieftain performed an “Indian ceremony, a reproduction of the Indian Council of the early days in regard to initiating the young braves into the tribal council, dedication of council ground, and organization of the tribes. The scouts held an all-night Indian Vigil or keeping the Council fire going all night by taking turns. Each scout kept watch for 30 minutes in meditation, silence and prayer.”
Further, Chief Red Fox taught the boys how to build a teepee tent. Campers were “initiated into the secret order of the Tipi Order of America, which is a sacred fraternal order, of the Indian Tribes of America, of which Chief Red Fox is the Highest Chief of the entire order. Membership in the secret order of the Tipi is opened to white born Americans by adoption.”
The large Assembly Hall built in 1922 is easily identified by the large stone fireplace still standing today. Located west of the Mess Hall, this building could accommodate 150 people, and was referred to as “Elks Hall”. A director’s cabin, likely used for administration, is identified by a rock foundation with a metal cot frame integrated to greater bolster the wall. The location of a Hospital cabin is by conjecture based on a collection of items found in an area east of the Mess Hall. An engine room that contained a Delco generator was just north of the Mess Hall. Light bulb sockets were found along with electrical insulators attached to trees throughout the camp, indicating a power grid at the camp. By 1939 a phone line was installed utilizing glass insulators on Ponderosa Pines.
The 10 x 12 tents donated by Burch accommodated four boys, each tent had a wooden floor, and a bed with straw ticking. The more permanent cabins perched on log pilings, and lined in a row. Researcher and volunteer Michael Ketchen interviewed camper Harold William ‘Bill’ Frye in 1972, and relayed this story. “The cabins had some structural limitations. Mr. Frye recalled that a bat was flying around the inside of a cabin being pursued by the scouts. When they simultaneously rushed towards the bat, the cabin became unbalanced and fell from its post pilings.”
On Sundays, the camp was open to visitors, and parents would make the trek to the camp bringing a picnic to share with their scout. Inspection of the camp was open all day; and in the afternoon a Band Concert was held.
Camp Burch served as a valuable outdoor resource for Boy Scouts all over the southern Colorado area for 25 years. However, the onset of World War II would see a decline in Scout numbers. In 1947, the Rocky Mountain Council authorized the abandonment of Camp Burch. Today, hikers still revere the location, even if they don’t fully appreciate the significance of what is left. v
Significant credit to USFS volunteer and one-time Beulah summer resident Michael Ketchen who spent years researching the site and compiling information and photos into a 63-page comprehensive archaeological report. Quoted with permission. Additional details were found in newspaper articles.