Historic Camp Hopkins at a crossroads
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:10 PM
"Though Camp Hopkins has provided decades of fine scouting memories, Gerald Nakata's are tainted by the island park's name.While we Japanese were in the internment camps, just before the ban on us was lifted, this guy Hopkins and his pal...were very defiant about us coming back, Nakata said. So I don't like the name of Hopkins.Nakata dislikes the name so much, he did not bother to attend a recent old-timer's picnic at the camp, even though he was among the first Boy Scouts to use the facility with Winslow Troop No. 497.I was at the ballgame, he said. But even if I was available, I wouldn't have gone. I wouldn't want to be a hypocrite.Nakata's Boy Scout camping experiences at Hopkins predate World War II, when he and his family were forcibly removed from Bainbridge Island.(The name is) a shame, and must be a real sore point to the Japanese-American community, said island resident Dave Lown, district commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America.Lown hopes that Camp Hopkins, which sits at the corner of Yeomalt Drive and Park Avenue, will continue serving as a recreational area. But the historic cabin on the site is in a terminal state of rot and bug infestation, and is likely to be torn down. Earlier this year, the city declared the cabin, built in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration, to be unsafe.I've dreamed of having the building restored out there, Lown said. It would be great to develop nature trails, places for all young people, not just scouts, to have initial outdoor experiences.Surprisingly little documentary evidence exists about Major Hopkins, the camp's controversial namesake. He was chair of the island's civil defense committee during World War II and a retired U.S. Army major, according to documents in the Bainbridge Historical Museum.Nakata and fellow former Troop No. 497 member Shigata Shigs Moritani, however, remember the major with an English accent.I don't know if he was from Canada or England or where, Moritani said, but he used to come and talk to the troop about about fighting in World War I, and I remember he had a strong English accent and a beet-red face.Moritani ventured to offer one explanation of Hopkins' strong public stance against the return of interned Japanese. I think the surrender of Singapore rubbed him the wrong way, he said. The English got pretty well beat up, and the Japanese were arrogant - getting drunk and urinating in hotel flower pots.In fact, Hopkins founded the Olympic Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which purchased the camp's 2.79 acres from Kitsap County for $1 in the 1930s. The county had repossessed the land from private owners who failed to pay their taxes.Though officially turned over to the park district in 1987, Camp Hopkins is tended by local scouts.Last time we were there, the flag pole was broken, so we just fixed it, said Suzy Cook, leader of two Girl Scout troops on the island. We thought, 'this is our place, and we need to take care of it.'But the scouts have been unable to maintain the historic cabin. A 1988 architect's assessment said restoration would require $25,000.That's why it got turned over to the park district, and the cabin is in its current condition, Williamson said. The scouts didn't have enough finances or manpower for upkeep.A local youth is considering putting up a lean-to on the grounds for scout use, but no formal proposal has gone to the park district yet.Camp Hopkins continues to be a favorite site for scouting events.It's a nice place to go and know it's just your group, Cook said. For learning scouting skills like lighting fires, it's good to take the kids some place that isn't quite so public and exposed as Fay Bainbridge. It's nice for the kids to have a place where they can figure things out.Wilkes Cubmaster Marc Williamson recalls cooking on open fires and having Boy Scout ceremonies at Camp Hopkins, as well as one of his favorite scouting memories - building 11 fiberglass canoes.It's just a nice place to be able to go to, Cook said. We absolutely plan on using it in the future. "