The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

May 6, 2013

Brookside gaining new life as work camp for National Park Service

BROOKS — Built in the 1940s as a summer camp for children of Electro Metallurgical Company (“EMCO”) workers in Alloy, Camp Brookside is transforming from a lost world to a place where youth can find themselves.

This 30-acre river island in the New River, dotted with solid oak bunkhouses, a mess hall, and other classic camp structures, will soon become the National Park Service’s premier East Coast residential work camp.

As soon as next summer, New River Gorge National River will join ranks with two of the country’s most renowned national parks — Yosemite and Yellowstone — to offer underserved youth from all over the country the opportunity to spend their summers working, learning, and playing outdoors.

A visit to Camp Brookside these days feels a bit like a journey back in time. A turn from Route 20 in Summers County brings you to an old, one-room C&O Railroad depot.

There, decades ago, campers from Upper Kanawha Valley towns like Boomer and Falls View got off the train and walked down a dirt road toward their small Shangri-La.

Crossing a wooden bridge over an old mill slough, they arrived finally at a small clearing where seven neat white bunkhouses with names like Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, and General Custer nestled in the pines near Brooks Falls.

“The facilities didn’t change over the period of time it was in operation, and when they sold it to us, everything was still there. We talk about historical integrity, and everything at Camp Brookside is there and in good condition,” said Richard Segars, a historical architect with NPS.

Last summer’s derecho wiped out a lot of trees, opening the cabins up to the sky, but nearly all the other historic features are intact.

Graffiti from the bygone days of Camp Brookside still emblazons the interior walls of bunkhouses, which became home to thousands of EMCO boys and girls for a brief but busy period each summer.

One of those kids was Fred Buckley, 74, of Mount Hope. Born in Alloy, both of Buckley’s parents worked for EMCO, just as did he at one point. On a recent visit to Camp Brookside, memories of his summers there came flooding back.

All year, he saved up for the $25 registration fee by cutting grass, collecting pop bottles, and running errands for neighbors. Some years he couldn’t scrounge enough. But when he could manage it, his two weeks along the river were a break from otherwise busy summers of earning money for the family.

“It was a blast, the whole thing,” he said. “You could go horseback riding, swimming, shoot rifles. You had crafts to do; you played ball. They had nature study to teach you about the trees, set a snare. You looked forward to it every year.”

Kids were divided into “tribes” and attended council fires at night, where they played rowdy games like Johnny Ride the Pony, Chicken Fight, and Pop the Whip.

“It was just good, clean fun, having a competition by the firelight,” said Buckley. “When it was all over, of course, we had a nurse there that took care of the scratches and scrapes that boys is going to get.

“Some of the cooks at the mess hall, they were there, and as we went to our cabins at night, we’d sing ‘Goodnight Ladies’ to them.”

Buckley said he’s glad the camp is coming back to life. He donated the Junior NRA patch he earned at Camp Brookside to NPS when he learned of the project.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It gets the kids away from electronics. You wasn’t even allowed to bring a radio with you up there. Nowadays, kids got strong thumbs but that’s about it. Get them out into nature and let them see something about what it’s really like.”

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