2008-08-30 / Top News

Honor Guard Scouts Have Long History in Fort Mackinac's Operation

By Caitlyn Kienitz

At left: Girl Scouts from Troop 147 raise the flag in front of Fort Mackinac Wednesday, July 23. Members of the troop choose to wear Class A uniforms from the 1960s, rather than the current uniforms. Pictured are (from left) Suki Meier of Grand Rapids, Alison Keller of Muskegon, Trista Jerome of Hamilton, and Carolyn Klarecki of Big Rapids. All four girls are senior program leaders for the troop. Miss Jerome has been attending the scout service camp for five years, while Misses Meier, Keller, and Klarecki have been attending for six. At left: Girl Scouts from Troop 147 raise the flag in front of Fort Mackinac Wednesday, July 23. Members of the troop choose to wear Class A uniforms from the 1960s, rather than the current uniforms. Pictured are (from left) Suki Meier of Grand Rapids, Alison Keller of Muskegon, Trista Jerome of Hamilton, and Carolyn Klarecki of Big Rapids. All four girls are senior program leaders for the troop. Miss Jerome has been attending the scout service camp for five years, while Misses Meier, Keller, and Klarecki have been attending for six. Visitors to Mackinac Island see Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts every day, checking tickets in front of the downtown historic buildings and raising and lowering the flags. The program that brings them here has a long history.

The Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp, also known as the governor's honor guard, has been in place since 1929, when a group of Eagle scouts from throughout Michigan came to Fort Mackinac for one month. Among them was future U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, an Eagle scout from the Grand Rapids area.

Until the scout barracks were built in the mid-1930s, scouts stayed at the post commissary, which now hosts the fort's audio-visual programs.

As the fort has changed, so have the duties of the honor scouts. For visiting scouts, the experience in 1929 was far different than it is today.

"In 1929, we basically had no interpretive staff, so they were the people that gave out information," said Katie Cederholm, curator of education for Mackinac State Historic Parks. "We didn't charge admission and there wasn't as much to see."

After the fort opened as a museum in 1958, the scouts' duties changed. They are no longer the primary source of information for visitors, but they do provide support to the interpretive staff and serve in numerous other ways.

The program has been cut from one month to one week per troop, and it continues for 14 weeks throughout the summer, beginning Memorial Day weekend and ending after Labor Day.

"We've added on weeks because it's been such a popular program," said Ms. Cederholm. "It's very highly sought after, and a lot of the troops come back year after year."

In addition, the scout barracks have seen two additions to accommodate the increasing number of troops.

Troops who participate in the camp are responsible all of the supplies they'll need during the camp.

"They're provided with a kitchen and bunks, but they have to buy and transport their own food," Ms. Cederholm said. "They donate so much to the program to keep it going."

The most visible duties of the honor scouts include raising and lowering the flags at park facilities each day and serving as guides at the fort and downtown museum buildings. While on guide duty, the scouts take tickets, direct visitors, provide information about interpretive programs, and even take pictures for those visiting the Island.

In addition, the scouts perform community service, such as painting buildings and cleaning trails. This year, many of the groups have helped the American Legion post clean headstones at the cemeteries.

"They work as hard as they possibly can," said scout coordinator Shannon Larson. "This program means a lot to a lot of people, not just the state park."

Ms. Larson, a former Girl Scout from the Saginaw area, served as an honor scout for five years.

"It was my absolute favorite thing to do with scouting, coming up here and doing things no one else is able to do," she said. "You can come as many years as you want and still learn something new."

Girl Scouts were first invited to serve on the Island in 1974, with troops from Ann Arbor and Grosse Pointe becoming the first Girl Scouts to serve as honor guards.

Scouting groups serve from Saturday to Saturday, and one of the first duties is to lower the flags Saturday evening, while one of the last duties is to raise the flags Sunday morning.

Between 55 and 60 scouts make up each visiting troop, with no more than 50% coming from the same troop. Although there is not a specific quota that needs to be met, about half of the visiting troops are Girl Scouts and half are Boy Scouts.

Each troop has its own method of selecting scouts for the service camp, often involving applications and interviews.

"It's a tough program to get into because it takes a lot of extra time during the year and a lot of preparation to get people trained," said Ms. Cederholm. "It's only the best of the best for some of these troops."

Pam Meier, a scout director for the Michigan Trails Girl Scout Troop 147, said girls in her council go through an application process followed by a round of interviews.

"They have to work pretty hard to get selected into the group and go through quite the process to get in," she said. "These girls are very accomplished and participate a lot with programs in their own councils. They're all very busy and very service oriented, and they find a way to do that whether through school, through scouting, through church, or through the community. They don't let any grass grow under their feet."

Members of Troop 147 come from throughout the western half of the Lower Peninsula, including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, and Traverse City. Before their arrival on Mackinac Island, the scouts come together for five training sessions, starting soon after selecting the scouts in November. The sessions are largely led by senior patrol leaders, scouts who have been participating in the program for several years.

"This is a girl led troop," said Ms. Meier. "The adults are here to back them up if they need it, but the girls run the troop. It's all about leadership development with this group of kids."

The senior patrol leaders teach members of their troop how to march and raise and lower the flags, as well as about the history of the Island. Once the troop is on the Island, they help supervise the other girls, give them breaks from guide duty, and even comfort girls who may be homesick.

For many of the troops, the program helps keep teenagers involved in scouting.

"This is something not everyone gets to do," said Ms. Meier. "It's something really unique to our state and to our Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. This is a lot of the reason why a lot of these girls stay in scouting."

The scouts say that the experience allows them not only to have unique Island experiences, it fosters lifelong memories and friendships.

"There's a rush you get from helping the tourists that you can't get anywhere else," said Suki Meier, a Girl Scout and senior patrol leader from Grand Rapids who has been attending the service camp for six years. Because girls can participate in the camp from the summer after completing seventh grade to the summer after being graduated from high school, six years is the maximum number scouts can attend.

The girls point to their final night of camp as being one of their most lasting Island memories.

"After final campfire, the whole troop goes to Inspiration Point," Miss Meier explained.

"We get to see the whole Island at night," added Carolyn Klarecki, a senior patrol leader from Big Rapids. "It's one of the most beautiful things you can see."

Ms. Cederholm said the work these scouts do is crucial to the state park.

"We could not do the programing we do without the scouts," she said. "They don't have guide duties on Saturday, and we notice it considerably when they're gone. It's amazing how much work they do."

The scouts provide the park with tens of thousands of service hours each year.

"It's such a win-win program," Ms. Cederholm added. "We win with all the service and extra support they give us, and they learn a lot of history and the ideals that the scout programs put forth with respect and learning. Plus, they just have a good time, because it's a week on Mackinac Island."

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2008-08-30 digital edition