Officials vow to rebuild Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation in Wisconsin after storm

The legendary campfire circle at Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation sits buried under downed trees.

Scouters and council leaders are pledging to rebuild Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation, the beloved Wisconsin camp celebrating its 90th anniversary this summer, after an extreme thunderstorm downed thousands of trees and left a scar visible from space.

Miraculously, only one person sustained minor injuries during the storm.

At about 8:30 p.m. on July 19, a severe thunderstorm hit the camp in Pearson, Wis., about 100 miles northwest of Green Bay. The type of storm, known as a macroburst, produces brief, intense wind gusts and is a larger version of the more commonly known microburst.

More than 350 Scouts, volunteers and staffers sheltered in the camp’s two dining halls as the storm raged outside. The macroburst produced wind gusts over 80 mph, sheared off trees, uprooted tents and sent branches crashing into buildings.

“Our camp staff is trained to monitor and respond to the possibility of dangerous weather,” says Nick Roberts, Scout Executive of the Northeast Illinois Council. “Upon learning of the storm’s severity, they immediately took the appropriate action to ensure the safety of all youth members, staff and volunteers.

“It was a divine miracle that with a storm of this magnitude and the widespread damage, only one injury occurred.” 

All 17 troops at camp that week were sent home once it was safe for them to leave. The final two weeks of camp were canceled.

And now this iconic camp, which has operated continuously since 1929 and counts among its alumni actor Charlton Heston and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, enters uncharted territory.

Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation must rebuild so it can get back to what it does best: providing lifelong memories, summer after summer.

Support comes pouring in

The council won’t do this alone.

In the first 24 hours after the storm, community members donated more than $30,000 towards the rebuilding campaign. (That total is now over $55,000.)

Nearby Scout camps offered to host displaced troops, so these young people could still have a summer camp experience.

“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support by our Scouting community,” Roberts says.

What comes next

Roberts says it’s too early to accept offers of onsite help.

Large-scale work is already underway, however. While logging companies clear roads, utility companies work to restore electricity and phone service after the storm knocked out both.

“We are still assessing the damage, working with our insurance carrier and developing our plan to rebuild,” Roberts says. “In a few weeks, when camp is safe, our need will be trained chainsaw operators to clear campsites and program areas.”

There are plenty of unknowns right now, but there’s something Roberts knows for certain.

“We will be reopened for the 2020 camping season,” he says.

How you can help

Ninety years of camping tradition — nearly wiped out in a single night. Replacing everything that was lost will take time and money.

Roberts invites anyone who wishes to contribute to the rebuilding effort to visit neic.org/rebuild, text “MKJW” to 71777 or send a check to the following address:

Northeast Illinois Council, BSA
Attn: Rebuild Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan
850 Forest Edge Dr.
Vernon Hills, IL 60061

About Bryan Wendell 2871 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.