Cabin Fever
The Lake Country
Camp Paxson

1989 Mildred Chaffin. This story was originally written for Cabin Fever and was included in My Forty Year's Scribblins (1998).

In the early 1920s the U.S. Forest Service granted the Western Montana Council of Boy Scouts special use privileges of four acres of forested land on the west shore of Seeley Lake as a summer training ground. The site was called Camp Paxson in honor of the Montana artist Edgar S. Paxson.

Beginning in 1924 as a tent camp, it has grown from six initial 12 by 14 foot clapboard cabins, constructed that year, to 22 log buildings with a main lodge, dining and recreation hail, beach and boating facilities, campfire pit and parking space.

In the summer of 1931 a violent windstorm laid low a startling amount of timber, necessitating a thinning and topping project that lasted most of the winter of 1931-32. Mature trees judged likely to fall were removed.

Residents like to recall a Bohemian named Roy Janart, more often called “Fuzzy” or “Leather Britches” due to his aversion to haircuts and the kind of clothing he wore. A typical old-time lumberjack, he climbed and cut the tops out of the tall tamaracks, dangerous though not yet to the falling stage.

More frame buildings were added through the early years but by the late 1930s these too were outgrown. Scout camp funds were exhausted and the Forest Service had no funds allocated for construction or maintenance. Application was made for aid from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), then in effect.

The Boy Scouts played a major part in obtaining Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and WPA help. However, the administration insisted that the camp be made accessible to all organizations. Control of the Camp was transferred to the Forest Service.

The WPA grant for new construction to accommodate 96 scouts and staff fell short of the $31,000 needed in addition to the money from a previous grant used to build the main lodge which was completed in 1939. Part of the shortage was raised by public subscription under direction of William 0. Tremper, then treasurer of the Western Montana Council, assisted by local members.

The old road which led through the middle of the camp hindered plans for the new additions and made necessary the building of a new road and the present “Scout Bridge” completed in 1938. The old bridge across the river stretched from River Point Campground to the opposite shore that is now the Camp’s present-day swimming area.

In accordance with plans drawn with the cooperation of the Lolo National Forest, construction began in October 1939 by CCC and WPA crews who camped in the old frame buildings and worked through the winter months. The new facilities were ready for the summer season of 1940, but a year or so later the Boy Scouts moved their summer camp to the Flathead Valley.

Campfire Girls, Girl Reserves, Girl Scouts, 4-H and religious organizations then began to use the camp. Thanks to the Forest Service policy of providing low-cost vacations, many were able to enjoy camp life, including underprivileged children who were sponsored by the civic minded citizens of Missoula and vicinity.

Camp Life
The camp has had its incidents. A local milk delivery service making its early rounds of the summer homes caught a glimpse of a Scoutmaster waving his towel and urging his reluctant charges into the water for their morning dip.

At the sight of the approaching Model T pickup, the boys forgot the chill in their dive for cover. One “milkman” was a lady, now Mrs. Herb Townsend, and the little scouts all stood aligned on the old bridge, each one in his birthday best

Pack rats were uninvited guests—and there were sessions with bats in the shower rooms. At one time the huge water storage tank fell, in the night luckily, washing a deep hole in the ground and sending several thousand gallons gushing away to the swamp.

In later years Forest Service personnel, answering a call for help, were at a loss to know why the camp was being invaded by bear. Investigation disclosed that tenderhearted little girl campers were placing food offerings out among the bushes.

Constant maintenance has been required at the Camp. In the mid 1960s, new A-braces under the eves of the Lodge were installed, and the comers of the building were rebuilt.

The camp is now operated by the Missoula Jaycees, under a cooperative agreement with the Forest Service. In rustic harmony with its beautiful surroundings, Camp Paxson continues to be operated under the policy of the greatest good for the largest number. Groups such as retired smokejumpers, the Conscientious Observers (who were stationed at the Camp during World War II), and dozens of local youth groups gather at the camp for reunions during the summer.

A $45,000 project at the time of its construction, it is worth much more today although its benefits can never be estimated in dollars and cents. Each summer since its construction, the camp has been occupied almost constantly by groups of both children and adults from Memorial Day through Labor Day.