RAYMOND — When U.S. forces moved into Afghanistan and Iraq, one of the first tasks for Army engineers was to build the roads, barracks and dining and maintenance facilities needed for forward operating bases, or FOBs.

Now a Department of Defense initiative to make sure combat engineers will be prepared to do the required construction, electrical and plumbing tasks well and quickly in the future is leading to new facilities at Boy Scout camps in Maine.

The Boy Scouts’ Pine Tree Council will provide plans and materials and National Guard units will build and refurbish the facilities at Camp Hinds in Raymond, Camp Bomazeen in North Belgrade, Camp Gustin in Sabattus and Camp Nutter in Acton.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our council,” said Eric Tarbox, scout executive for the Pine Tree Council and a former Eagle Scout and Army engineer himself. “This will enable us to make a significant leap forward in providing kids the best outdoor education that we can provide.”

The overhaul starts next month at Camp Hinds, home to camp memories for thousands of Maine Scouts.

Don Littlefield, president of the Camp Hinds Alumni Committee, attended Scouting camp there as a boy, worked on the staff and then had his own son attend.

“I was here as a boy in the early to mid-’70s. I can still tell you exactly where my tent was,” Littlefield said.

He recalls volunteering at a Portland soup kitchen with a number of Scouts in uniform when one of the clients approached them to say his time at Camp Hinds was the highlight of his life.

“You have these memories that stick with you forever. … When they’re 80, they’ll still remember when they were at Camp Hinds,” said Littlefield.

Over the course of each summer at Camp Hinds, more than 1,300 Scouts scale the climbing wall, learn boating skills and practice handling a hatchet safely. They practice archery and riflery, build shelters in the forest, and learn to swim and build fires.

IMPROVEMENTS AND PRESERVATION

The improvements to be made at Camp Hinds by National Guard units from as far away as Portland, Ore., will include the construction of a service road for deliveries and emergency access separate from the main road into the camp, which many Scouts use walking to and from activities, Tarbox said.

Plans also call for constructing a new 400-seat dining facility to accommodate visiting Scouts all at once – a key experience in developing the camaraderie and esprit de corps that Scout camp emphasizes, Tarbox said. The Guard units also will do preservation work on the dining hall overlooking Panther Pond – an old building steeped in Scout tradition. The ceiling is covered with plaques designed and painted by every troop that has spent time at Camp Hinds dating to the 1950s.

Littlefield was able to spot a plaque he and his cohorts created while he was a staff member at the camp. Some of the plaques reflect the levity of camp life, with cans of Moxie and even rolls of toilet paper put to creative use.

The engineers also will build a new, expanded rifle range, this one built into the base of a large hill for improved safety; convert an existing parking area to an athletic field; and build cabins for staff and families to replace the old motor lodge cabins that were 30 years old when they were donated to the camp 30 years ago.

“The Innovative Readiness Program enables us to maintain the skill sets we need when we deploy and also give back to the communities we live in,” said Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard.

Plans, which must obtain local and state approvals, call for the Guard to minimize erosion and wetland impacts. Learning about that process will give Scouts the chance to earn a badge in sustainability, one of the merit badges required for an Eagle Scout, Tarbox said.

The building materials are likely to cost the Scouts between $1 million and $2 million depending on how many of them are donated, and the board of directors of the Pine Tree Council plans to launch a capital campaign to fund the Scouts’ share.

Tarbox said it’s difficult to estimate the value of the labor, expertise and equipment being provided by the military, but it’s easily in the millions of dollars. Tarbox points out that a new 400-seat dining hall alone would cost about $2 million to build at market rates.

Since last summer, the Department of Defense has contributed $300,000 in environmental, architectural and archaeological services in anticipation of the major construction work to get underway next month, he said.

The Maine Army National Guard also has installed a new road into Camp Bomazeen, allowing it to be used for the first time in 10 years for extended-stay camping, Tarbox said. Additional work is planned there and at Camp Gustin and Camp Nutter.

Better facilities will keep kids involved in Scouting longer, Tarbox said.

“Retention skyrockets as a direct result of positive outdoor camping experiences,” Tarbox said.

Matt Wickenheiser is Scoutmaster of Troop 1 in Portland.

“Camp Hinds is an absolutely amazing resource we have for Scouts and for other groups in our area and our region. We have troops that come from all over New England to use the camp all year long,” he said.

“It’s a very traditional and important piece of a lot of boys’ memories and lot of boys’ future memories,” Wickenheiser said. “Anything that can be done to improve that and expand its potential uses is a good thing.”

Besides improving the camp experience for Scouts, the upgrades will make the facility more attractive for out-of-state Scouts and other groups, Tarbox said.

The camp already gets use on the weekends, and snow shelters show where Scouts recently have been during winter camping. But the extremely rustic accommodations can steer some Scouting groups, especially those from out of state, to other facilities. The camp gets heavy use by Scouts in the summer and on weekends, but with better facilities it could be put to better use during the week when children are in school, Tarbox said.

FOCUS ON PROGRAMS

The improvements will allow the southern Maine Scouting group to focus more resources on the actual programs offered to Scouts, Tarbox said.

The camp overhaul also will enable Scouts to sell the service center on Johnson Road in Portland and move the administrative offices to a refurbished John Messer Rotary Scout Training Center at Camp Hinds. Tarbox said administrative meetings can now be held via conference call and cellphone, making the service center less necessary than in the past, and allowing the council to shed the expense of owning and maintaining that building.

A Scout store will be opened elsewhere in Greater Portland so it remains convenient for the bulk of Scout families, he said.

Interest in Scouting in Maine has been growing, Tarbox said, with 7,000 Scouts signed up at the end of the recruitment drive last fall by the Pine Tree Council. That represents 8 percent of available youths between 7 and 20 years old, he said.

A similar – though less ambitious – reconstruction will be launched at Camp Bomazeen starting next summer.

“The 136th Engineer Company is working through the approval process to support Camp Bomazeen (in) the summer of 2014 and 2015,” Steinbuchel said. “The engineers will work on improving the facilities using their plumbing, electrical, carpentry and heavy equipment skills.”

They plan to build new tent decks, install new windows and doors in existing buildings, and upgrade the electrical system, he said.

The Innovative Readiness Program is funded at both the federal and state levels. Maine’s successful application to become a training site will last until the work is done up to a maximum of five years.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @Mainehenchman