Radio club provides Boy Scout camp with electronics building

By Carol South
Herald contributing writer

This summer, W8BSC was on the air.

Thanks to volunteers from the Cherryland Amateur Radio Club, Boy Scouts and Webelos camping at Camp Greilick this summer can earn merit badges in amateur radio, computers and electronics.

A new 384-square-foot building — dubbed the Radio Shack — houses a host of amateur radio, computer and electronics equipment. Over the past four weeks of Boy Scout camp, this equipment has kept interested Boy Scouts nearby, earning some the designation of Shack Lizard after they receive all three badges.

Using the radio equipment on one side of the building, Scouts have contacted HAMs both locally and around the country or practiced their Morse code skills. Workbenches along the other side of the building are filled with circuit boards, chips, soldering irons and other electronics paraphernalia.

“I’ve learned how to do QSOs and make the signal efficient,” said Alex Dewitt, a member of Troop 119 from Bay City. “I’m just getting into amateur radio. I’m still waiting to see if I can get anybody from Canada yet.”

Jill Raymer, a scout mom, volunteer staff member with the Scenic Trails Council and a volunteer with the Cherryland Amateur Radio Club, supervises the Radio Shack. Seemingly everywhere at once and with a great passion for both scouting and amateur radio, the Radio Shack is a slice of nirvana.

“What I like about the station is that we’re real busy: we went through 100 badges in a week,” said Raymer, a Manton resident who is also a member of the Wexaukee Amateur Radio Club. “Everybody is at least learning about radio even if they’re not earning a badge.”

Before the Radio Shack was completed in July, scouts interested in amateur radio previously used a Cherryland Amateur Radio Club emergency communications trailer. Raymer and club volunteers brought this trailer to the camp for a number of years. Then two summers ago, they moved equipment into a 100-square-foot building, whose frequent use demonstrated that there was interest in a permanent facility.

Members of the club worked out an agreement with the Scenic Trails Council to build an amateur radio, electronics and computer facility. They began gathering contributions for the shack in December of 2004 and finished building the structure last month.

“What happened was that some of the guys were out there for an open house or some darn thing and they said, ‘Wait a minute, let’s make this a little bit larger,'” said Chuck Mellberg, project coordinator of the Cherryland Amateur Radio Club, about the small building used two summers ago. “The scouting program has been very supportive of this.”

Club volunteers built the shack over the past year, aided by in-kind donations from area businesses. Members funded most of the cost, though they also received small grants from the Biederman Foundation, the Oleson Foundation, the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and the Rotary Club Good Works Committee.

“I was surprised by the amount of funding we did receive,” Mellberg noted.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to get people interested in amateur radio and we took on this project as a way to get scouts interested through the merit badge program,” he added of the club’s commitment to the Radio Shack.

During the first half of the four-week Boy Scout camp that just ended, counselor-in-training Gus MacNeal, 14, taught an average of 30 scouts a day, about evenly divided between radio and electronics.

“A lot of the boys like taking these merit badges,” said MacNeal.

Raymer did note that boys are still boys: even with the new Radio Shack online, swimming is more enticing in the afternoons for all but the most devoted future amateur radio operators.

“We are very quiet in the afternoons during swim time so the kids interested can do the radio,” she said.