A Place To Touch Base

By Luther Tankersley

In 1923, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) opened the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, Minn., to provide deep-wilderness canoeing for youth participants.

A modern yet rustic dining hall.

It is located on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and adjacent to the Superior National Forest, along the North American/Canadian border.

The base has served as a “High Adventure” experience, and has continually challenged young men to experience the wild northern forests while canoeing in some of the most remote lakes and rivers in the lower 48 states.

Planning For Perfection
As attendance continued to grow over the years, a larger dining hall was needed at the base camp.

In 1956, a hall was constructed that would serve the BSA for more than 50 years. Over time, structural integrity, ongoing maintenance issues, and regulatory requirements drove the BSA to consider major improvements in dining-facility needs.

In 2008, the BSA budgeted for the construction of a new dining hall. Funding for the project was obtained over the next two years.

As the design development progressed, the organization pursued a multifunctional approach for the new facility. Not only would the replacement dining hall address food delivery, it would contain a trading post as well as conference facilities.

The facility has been named the Sandy Bridges Dining Hall and Conference Center to commemorate a past general manager of the base who instilled much goodwill within the local community and among countless boys and volunteers.

The main entrance into the base also was redesigned to accommodate and complement the new building and its views of Moose Lake.

Visitors are greeted by a lodge-style facility adorned with classic northern Minnesota lodge details--exposed cedar trusses, fiber cement siding, and decorative stone accents--all of which were selected for their durability.

Compared to other buildings on-site, the two-story facility pays respect to its context, and was designed to look smaller by dividing the roofline into a collection of connected parts. The large lakeside patio, wraparound deck, and living “roof” also provide inspiring views of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

The first floor of the facility features a kitchen and multipurpose dining room able to serve 250 Scouts. The second floor features a trading post, snack bar, and three multipurpose conference rooms. An elevator and grand stairway connect each level, providing ADA accessibility.

Sustainable For The Future
The facility contains an energy-efficient mechanical heating system, as well as high-efficiency gas furnaces for backup heat when the electric heat source is interrupted, radiant slab heat, conventional direct-expansion cooling coils, and other cost-saving features.

The spacious eating area accommodates large numbers of Scouts.

Full return on the initial investment in this system versus a traditional system is expected to be in less than five years.

An extensive effort was made to reduce pollution from construction activities by controlling soil erosion and minimizing waterway sedimentation and airborne dust generation. The site has been restored and protected with native and adapted vegetation.

The base center was designed and built to comply with green-level LEED certification standards. Controlling light pollution and preserving the star-filled night sky was a goal, as the majority of Scouts live in urban areas where they seldom see total darkness.

In addition, a portion of the roof is covered with native plants, from which Scouts and visitors have an uninterrupted view of the lake and the great north woods. The selection of plants was limited to six species of grasses and shrubs that will tolerate the brutal Minnesota winters.

The facility opened on May 29, 2011. Scouts and volunteers are enjoying the facility and its presence, and services add value daily to the experience in the great north woods along the wilderness boundary waters.

Luther Tankersley, JD PMP, is the team leader for the Design & Development Team for the Boy Scouts of America. He can be reached via email at Luther.Tankersley@scouting.org.