Scouts do it the old-fashioned way at ‘Step Back in Time’

Justin Cooper Ludington Daily News
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In a wooded clearing behind the Wilwin at Cygnet Cove, an American Legion veterans’ retreat in western Michigan, a blacksmith’s hammer rang out as a two-man saw chewed through a log and tomahawks thudded into targets.

These were the sounds of Ludington’s Boy Scouts of Troop 1193, joined by troops from Hart and Mesick for a weekend of old-world skills and trades dubbed “Step Back in Time.”

Logan Kibbey, left, and Alek De Morrow saw wood together during the Step Back in Time event on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at Wilwin at Cygnet Cove, an American Legion veterans retreat near Custer. Scout troops from several cities participated in a weekend of old-world skills and trades.

Campsites dotted the clearing. Around its perimeter were stations where troops could engage with some of the oldest human innovations like fire-making, knapping, basket weaving, blacksmithing, throwing tomahawks, shooting bows and using atlatls, or spear launchers.

One would have been hard-pressed to find a cell phone in anyone’s hand.

Todd Fessenden, scoutmaster of Troop 1193, said his family held similar get-togethers, but that happened less often as people aged or moved away.

Ethyn Strouse, of Ludington Troop 1193, throws a tomahawk at a target during the Step Back in Time event on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at Wilwin at Cygnet Cove, an American Legion veterans retreat near Custer. The troop was joined by troops from Hart and Mesick for a weekend of old-world skills and trades.

“It basically gave us a reason to be together and have fun and eat,” Fessenden told the Ludington Daily News. “These are skills that I remember growing up with. It’s old skills that aren’t taught anymore.”

He organized the “Step Back in Time” event to help the Scouts resist a mentality he described as, “If you can’t Google it, I don’t want to do it.”

Fessenden also said it was “fun with a purpose,” because some of the activities contributed to the Scouts’ merit badges, such as the pioneering badge.

Kyle Fessenden hands a stone shard to a Boy Scout from Troop 42 of Mesick for him to practice knapping during the Step Back in Time event on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at Wilwin at Cygnet Cove, an American Legion veterans retreat near Custer, Mich. Knapping involves striking a stone to shape it, for example, into an arrowhead.

Wilwin partnered with Troop 1193 shortly after American Legion set up there in 2015. They designated a clearing in its woods as the Scout Village and allowed the Scouts to use their nearly 1,200-acre site for winter campouts.

One Scout even did his Eagle Scout project there, installing maps along the trails that snake through the Cygnet Cove property.

With “Step Back in Time,” Fessenden got other troops involved at Wilwin for the first time. Troops only had to pay for their gas and food for the weekend.

Blacksmith Tim Scovill shows Ethyn Strouse, of Ludington Troop 1193, how to forge a fire striker during the Step Back in Time event on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at Wilwin at Cygnet Cove, an American Legion veterans retreat near Custer. The troop was joined by troops from Hart and Mesick for a weekend of old-world skills and trades.

“We don’t charge (the Scouts) a cent,” said Barry Wood, American Legion state commander of Hastings Post No. 45. “Scouting changed my life. It’s something to have this experience.”

Fessenden said he hopes to host a similar event next year with an additional day of activities.

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