About two miles past FM 1488, the western side of the North Freeway suddenly becomes an unfettered wilderness landscape.
Yes, urban planners and locals call this area “The Woodlands” for a reason, but this forested spot just off the highway seems different. That's because it hides a secret, one known only by Houston's resident population of former Boy Scouts (and Girl Scouts), as well as seasonal visitors from scouting chapters across the state.
Camp Strake, the Sam Houston Area Council's flagship campground since 1944, will close its doors, trails, and cabins for good on December 31, 2014. On Saturday, December 13, an official closing ceremony held at Eagle Summit will commemorate the park's storied place in Texas scouting. Before the ceremony's 6:30 p.m. start time, all scouts past and present are invited to tour the facilities.
Named for George Strake Sr., the Houston-area businessman and philanthropist who donated the land to the Boy Scouts of America in 1942, the camp opened for use in 1944. Its 2,175-acre plot out near Conroe made it the third largest scout campground in the United States. Generations of Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and members of other scouting organizations made use of the facilities. Whether it was a brief weekend excursion away from the perils of the “big city” or the two-week summer camps all scouts came to love and hate, Camp Strake was the place to be.
So why, after seven decades of service to greater Houston area's scouts, is this nostalgia-filled landscape closing its doors? The Sam Houston Area Council, the City of Conroe and other civic groups cited monetary reasons when the decision to move was first announced last year. Yet the initial protestations of local conservationists, who argued the camp was “an irreplaceable green oasis,” point to the most important reason.
How is a campground a campground when it's surrounded on all sides by the metro area surrounding the state's largest city? My memory tells me about prepubescent visits to the camp in middle school with flashes of green woods, forested trails and small lakes. Urban civilization was nowhere to be found or heard, despite being less than a mile away.
Today, Camp Strake's location serves as evidence of urban sprawl, the catch 22 of modern development. To borrow a line from Matthew McConaughey's character David Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused,” the city got older while Camp Strake stayed the same. Its 2,175-acre plot is under siege, a situation that precludes camping, hiking and any of the recreational outdoor activities scouts associated with “getting away from it all.” How is this even possible with the roar of the highway less than a mile away?
I'm fearful of the closing ceremony, not for the sadness it entails but for the memories it promises to destroy. My shoes haven't been lovingly soiled by its hodgepodge of rock and dirt since the sixth grade, and I fear what today's version might do to my nostalgia. Thankfully, this isn't the campground's ultimate end.
Camp Strake will move to a location near Evergreen, off of Texas 150 between New Waverly and Coldspring. With the nearby Sam Houston National Forest and the Lone Star Hiking Trail, the new campground should carry on the establishment's storied history. As the Sam Houston Area Council puts it, the new plot will help “create a 21st century Scouting experience.” That sounds great, but I'll always look West with fondness whenever I drive along the North Freeway.
If you have cherished memories about Camp Strake you'd like to share, we at the magazine would love to hear them, be it in the comments below or on social media.