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Legendary girl scout camp is coming back

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Friends of Camp Mary White have been renovating and expanding the purpose of the legendary camp ground. Women who used to camp there along with friends and spouses have worked diligently since 2001 to bring the camp back to its original glory. The camp is looking good and they have started using it again. Young women take a break from renovation work. (Submitted Photo)

As a child, if you didn’t spend part of summer vacation at Camp Mary White, you probably knew girls who did. The camp has been a retreat for Girl Scouts since the late 1920s. It is legendary. Boy Scout Camp Wehinahpay is nearby and many of the campfire stories told by the boys involved Camp Mary White.
Liz Lonngren of Lubbock, Texas, grew up going to Camp Mary White, and when she returned to celebrate the camp’s 75th anniversary, she and a few others decided something had to be done.
“We were all up there in 2001 for the 75th anniversary,” Lonngren said, “and we saw that the camp needed tender loving care. Our group started forming, wanting to give something back to camp so we started getting organized.”
Lonngren and the rest wasted no time.
“We started meeting with the Girl Scouts council,” she said, “and we funded and hired an architectural firm out of Albuquerque to do a master plan. We worked on the master plan with three different options or strategies to preserve the camp.”
Fate took a hand in their plans, however, and that has worked out fine.
“We were partnering with Zia Girl Scout Council,” Lonngren said, “and then the national girl scout organization collapsed small councils into mega-councils. That prompted them to sell off properties and at that point a member of the White family bought the camp.”
It’s more than fundraising, telephone calls, meetings and reams of paperwork for this group.
“For the last 10 plus years we’ve been going through and working ourselves, in restoring a lot of the cabins and the outbuildings of camp,” Lonngren said. “We shared that experience with girls and taught them how to do some of the restoration work. It was women working up there with girls before the camp actually opened. It was cool teaching them skills that they might never learn.”
Then they got down and dirty.
“We came to the point that we had to start addressing some of the non-sexy items such as the septic system,” she said. “We completed the renovation of the kitchen to have it meet code for the New Mexico Environmental Office. Part of that was putting in a septic system that serves the lodge and shower house. That was in 2016. It took a lot of fundraising. We were awarded a grant from the PY foundation out of Artesia, that is Peyton Yates’ foundation. His mother loved camp Mary White, and I think this was a way to honor her legacy.”
The cherry on this particular sundae was being able to save the “old lady.”
“We were able to get a 100 percent donation to re-roof our lodge,” Lonngren said. “We consider that the gem of the camp. It’s a beautiful lodge that had one of those old tin roofs that all you could see was the rust. We said we were able to ‘put a hat on the old lady and keep her bones good.’”
The old lady is known as Ingham Hall, and was among the first buildings erected when Camp Mary White was founded. A document written about the history of the camp explained.
“In 1927, Miss Mary established one of the earliest girl scout camps in America and the first in New Mexico. Situated on 200 acres in Otero County, a stately pine lodge, Ingham Hall, nestled amid cabins and outbuildings of Camp Mary White. Generations of girls who learned stewardship of nature and community at the camp continue to be energized as activists by Mary White’s pioneer spirit.”
Built on land White’s father donated from their ranch, Camp Mary White is still serving girls and young women today.
“We are embarking on the second year of Camp Mary White being a private camp for girls,” Lonngren said. “We are running the traditional programs we ran before. We have horseback riding, archery, arts and crafts, hiking, singing and camp-craft skills.”
They’re slowly expanding the length of available camping time.
“Right now we’re running a two-week camp,” Lonngren said. “Last year, we ran a week, we’ve added a week. Our goal is probably a three- to four-week camp. We have been looking at the camping model and three to four weeks is all that they’re running and that could give girls a chance to come up for one week, or two weeks if they want.”
They’re also expanding their offerings.
“We are developing our equestrian program,” she said, “so that the younger girls will progress through learning their horsemanship skills. When they’re older girls we’re going to start offering a horseback overnight campout up to a certain area for two to three nights.”
There is an official certification they’re working toward as well.
“Our other goal is to be American Camp Association Certified,” Lonngren said. “That’s the governing agency that gives you all the guidelines to run a healthy and safe camp. We are already implementing a lot of those procedures and tools into how we are running camp.”
True to its history, Camp Mary White is welcoming Girl Scouts back.
“We are starting to partner with the girl scouts,” Lonngren said. “We started our first partnering in Artesia. We want to branch out to Roswell and other areas soon.”
But this time they’re not stopping there.
“June 10 is the 90th anniversary,” Lonngren said. “We have a women’s retreat that we may have to cap at 50, we’ve had so many sign up. We had a member go speak to a group of outdoor women with Texas Parks and Wildlife and 20 women from that group signed up. We have a week of grown-up women camping. We ride horses, and we play guitars around the campfire.
“We will rent the facilities out to groups. The camp itself has a lot of opportunities beyond a girl scout camp or a women’s private retreat.”
Perhaps in the not too distant future the boys camping a few mountains over will have renewed campfire stories to tell.
For more information go to campmarywhite.com.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.