Friday, May 14, 2010

Tracing Scouting’s Origins to Silver Bay on Lake George

The Boy Scouts of America has been called the largest environmental organization in the country, and its handbook a conservation best seller.

That both were launched one hundred years ago on Lake George, at Silver Bay, might have remained forgotten were it not for the work of a fifteen year old film maker from Latham.

Blake Cortright’s “First Encampment,” a documentary about the Scouts’ first camp at Silver Bay, will be shown on the Capital District’s WMHT on May 29 and on other public television stations later this year.

In 1910, representatives of boys’ groups from across the country gathered at Silver Bay to create an experimental camp devoted to the teaching of outdoor and leadership skills.

Among them were Dan Beard and Ernest Thompson Seton, both writers, editors and illustrators who were friends of the vigor-worshiping Theodore Roosevelt.

At the end of a trail through the woods, the groups set up camp and built an amphitheater they called the Council Ring, where the Boy Scouts of America came into being around the blazing fires.

(Seton, who wrote the Boy Scout Handbook, designed the Scouts’ uniform at the site.)

“I would not have known about the First Encampment had our troop not made a pilgrimage to Silver Bay in 2008 to trace the roots of scouting,” said Cortright, an Eagle Scout himself.

At the very same Council Ring, Silver Bay volunteer and historian Robert James regaled the scouts with the tale of the organization’s birth.

“For forty five minutes, the kids listened with rapt attention,” said Cortright.

That presentation was the germ of the documentary, which relies upon James’ research and features interviews with him at his home in Slingerlands.

Silver Bay’s archives provided many of the early 20th century photos illustrating the narrative, much of it delivered by John Kearny.

Kearny, a Lake George steamboat captain, actor and voice-over artist, was recruited by his son Kyle, a scouting friend of Cortright’s.

Once the documentary was completed, Cortright’s mother Connie made certain that it was seen.

“I made a cold call to WMHT and persuaded the staff to watch it,” said Connie. “They called back a month later and said they were prepared to put it on the air. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult it is to get something broadcast.”

“First Encampment” is Cortright’s first documentary, but unlikely to be his last. He hopes to go film school.

“I learned everything by doing it backwards, but it was a wonderful experience,” said Cortright.

The “First Encampment” DVD may be purchased online at http://www.thefirstencampment.com and at local bookstores.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.





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