(This comment article was published in the Aug. 17, 2006, edition of the Whitman County Gazette, page 7. Jones, who is editor of the Gazette, has been an assistant scoutmaster for Colfax Troop 595 for 15 years. His wife, Peg, serves on the troop committee. Their sons, Peter and Hugh, are both Eagle scouts and both former staff members at Camp Cowles. Their grandfathers were also both active scout leaders. The late Norman Jones, who also attended Camp Cowles, was a member of the championship Scout signal flag team for Spokane in the 1920s. )
Heritage of Finch Lodge should
lead to preservation, not razing
BY JERRY J0NES
Some places leave a first impression that
stays. And a generational return to that place can enhance the first
impression. The first one doesn't fade, but it gets an extension.
Finch Lodge on Diamond Lake certainly left a mental notch on one wide-eyed Boy Scout when he had a first look in the mid 1950s. He suspects every scout who first walked inside carries the same sort of memory, a combination of awe and apprehension as each learned the responsibilities of putting a dining hall into operation for the week.
The older staff scout in charge, a fellow who gained instant respect because he stood between each scout and his plate, stated the rules while surrounded by the knotty pine walls, stone fireplaces and banners and flags hanging from the balcony.
It was tough to pay attention to the recitation of the rules..."get the plates over there and the water pitchers over there"... while gazing up at those walls, the massive fireplaces and all those banners.
This was instantly a special place in the world of 11 -year-old males who had been cranking up all summer for a full week of action on the edge of civilization, or a least at Camp Cowles on Diamond Lake.
Scout troops were assigned a table or tables and over a week's time the lodge became home, or at least the table part of a wondrous home with trees, boats, tents, songs and new freedoms. The front porch of Finch at that time was screened, and the lucky troops were assigned a table on the porch where they could see and smell Diamond Lake, less than the length of a football field away.
Finch Lodge for the past 16 years has been on mostly inactive reserve status. It received a new roof and a covering of soon-ugly yellow vinyl siding. The screened front porch has long since been enclosed with windows.
The Boy Scouts Inland Empire Council constructed a new lodge, Carbon Lodge, on another part of the reservation. That has housed the tables and plates, now a sort of plasticated tray, which feed energy depleted scouts during their week-long adventures and challenges.
Finch has surfaced in the news because the Inland Empire Scout Council intends to activate a plan for something called "Cubcamp" in the section of the Cowles reservation centered by the lodge. Included is a plan to raze the lodge and build a new one of concrete and steel with plenty of insulation and a modern heating plant. Cub scouts, one of the council directors explained in the Spokesman Review after a council meeting in June, aren't interested in heritage and they like to be warm and dry.
The announced plan has generated opposition. One of the leaders of the Save Finch Lodge group is Greg Mott who has spent most of his free time working on the small, vintage buildings of Camp Cowles. Mott's volunteer work at the camp would qualify him for a place of honor in the state's hierarchy of historical preservationists.
Why not rehab the cherished old lodge so the coming generations of scouts can experience its magic interior and gobble down the mess hall food while looking out over the lake? Razing the building seems to fly in the face of historical preservation efforts which are now underway around this state.
Colfax, which has had its own historic preservation group at work, hosted a quarterly meeting of the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation board in mid June. During the formal part of the meeting the state board members viewed and listened to presentations to place buildings on the National Register. Vintage school buildings, a whole neighborhood in Pullman, a Seattle apartment, and a waterfront warehouse were among the nominees, all approved.
Finch Lodge certainly could be nominated and from what was seen of the process here two months ago its approval for the National Register would be a piece of cake.
The 83-year-old lodge was designed by Julius Zittel, a Spokane architect responsible for the design of buildings on the campuses of Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga. Zittel's design for a craftsman style lodge fit its site and the service it would render for the next 70 or so years.
Aside from its architectural merits, Finch Lodge should qualify because it endures in the minds those Boy Scouts, now mostly Good Old Boy Scouts, who sat down at those tables in the 1920s through the 1980s, gobbled down the food, and sounded their songs and yells off the knotty pine walls.
Many of the scouts who dined at Finch just before it went out of commission are now raising Cub Scouts who could spend time at Camp Cowles. The prior generation would relish the opportunity to take the new generation into a re-activated Finch Lodge. Imagine the introduction:
"Your father was a scout here, and your grandfather was a scout here. This is your place. This is our place."
Boy Scouts recite their 12 laws... a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, etc. Those laws are guideposts, or maybe trail markers.
Those laws don't offer guarantees.... something along the lines of Scout is dry, warm, and immune to any mind stretcher like the interior of a lodge where generations of scouts have dined before him.