Old Kia Kima History
Old camp Kia Kima traces its history back to 1916, shortly after the Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America was organized. Mr. Bolton Smith, a Memphis, Tennessee investment banker and the first president of the Chickasaw Council, purchased and donated the original Kia Kima site. Bolton Smith went on to serve as Vice President of the Boy Scouts of America and is the only Chickasaw Council Scouter to ever receive the Silver Buffalo award, the highest award presented to adults by the Boy Scouts of America on a national level. The name chosen for the new camp was Kia Kima, which could hardly have been more fitting. The main campsite was to be situated on a bluff overlooking a pristine riverfront on the South Fork of the Spring River, in Sharp County, Arkansas. Kia Kima, in the Chickasaw Indian native language, means "Nest of the Eagles".
Through the years, this area of Arkansas, in the foothills of the Ozarks, became a center of camping and outdoor activity. One of the first camps in the area, Kia Kima, attracted other camps and was instrumental in the continued development of north central Arkansas. The first Scout Executive of the Chickasaw Council was a young man named Edward Everett. He also served as the first camp director of Kia Kima. His wife served as the director of a nearby girl’s vacation camp.
The Hardy, Arkansas area, where old Kia Kima was located, was a logical choice for a summer camp. Many Memphis families had vacation homes there, where they traveled to escape the oppressive summer heat in the city. Hardy was a short four-hour train ride from Memphis.
In the early days, Scouts came to the camp as individuals, mostly because in those days few Scoutmasters could arrange for a week off from work to accompany their troops to camp. Later, with growth in the scouting movement in Memphis, more and more troops began to come to camp as a unit, and learn and practice organizational skills as well as individual camping skills. A special sash was presented to Scouts who qualified as good campers at camp. The camp provided many activities including camping, cooking, swimming, pioneering, lifesaving, canoeing, rowing, handicrafts, archery, a rifle range, field sports and games and plenty of hiking.
In 1925, Chickasaw Council acquired Camp Currier, near Eudora, Mississippi and in the 1930s began to expand that site to include summer camping. Camp Currier was little more than an hour from Memphis and the proximity and familiarity of the closer camp helped increase its use and lift some of the overcrowding from Kia Kima, which had grown very popular with scouts and their leaders.
As a result of transportation costs and a shortage of supplies and leadership, Kia Kima was closed for summer camping during the World War II years. The camp reopened in 1948.
In 1948, the Chickasaw Council adopted the Order of the Arrow, an honor camping brotherhood, as a part of its camping program. Chickasah Lodge of the Order of the Arrow was founded at Kia Kima and held its first Ordeal Ceremony there that year. The Order of the Arrow program has played a vital role at Kia Kima ever since, enjoying the recognition of those scouts and leaders whose spirit, character, and integrity best represent the Scout Law and Scout Oath or Motto.
The 1950s and 1960s were a tremendous growth period for the Scouting program in the Memphis area and the use of Kia Kima grew during those summers. The lodges were no longer the preferred method of Scout camping. By this time, most troops were coming to camp under their own leadership. Many more campsites were needed to accommodate the additional troops wanting to attend summer camp. There was little room left for expansion on the then existing 160-acre tract. By the early 1960s, the Council's Executive Board was seeking property alternatives.
Old Kia Kima Closed In 1963
The End Of An Era
West Memphis, Arkansas businessman John Cooper had owned property in the Hardy area adjacent to the existing Kia Kima property and in the late 1950s and early 1960s conceived of and developed the Cherokee Village resort community near Hardy. From Cherokee Village's beginnings, the Village and Kia Kima were good neighbors. Over the years, Mr. Cooper supported the old camp in various ways. He provided a water supply pipe, a rifle range, a septic field and numerous other services. The land where Kia Kima was located was in the heart of Cherokee Village, and Mr. Cooper’s continued development of the community made his acquisition of the Scout property desirable.
In the fall of 1963, Mr. Cooper approached the Council's Executive Board with a proposal to exchange a 540-acre tract a few miles upriver from the old camp on the edge of the sprawling Cherokee Village for the 160 acres of the old Kia Kima property. In addition, his construction crews would build a dining hall, water system, other buildings, roads and a lake for the new camp. After deliberation, the offer was accepted and work began immediately on the new camp Kia Kima. The new camp was ready for its first camping season in 1964. The new camp continues to be used extensively during the regular summer season, and the Council has added improvements over the years since to enhance the camping experience for those Scouts able to squeeze in a week or more in their busy youth summers.
Cherokee Village continued to be developed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and became a popular retirement community as well as an exciting summer vacation destination for persons of all ages from around the Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi adjacent areas. The original old Kia Kima lodges and buildings became abandoned in place and the immediate property surrounding the buildings was itself soon surrounded by the advancing development of retirement or resort properties within Cherokee Village.
Weather and age took their toll on the wooden roof structures and support beams for the Kia Kima lodges, and by the early 1990s the lodge roofs were caved in and the remaining natural field stone base foundation mortar was beginning to deteriorate. The immediate old camp property, the few acres providing a perimeter around the original buildings and lodges, also became an eyesore due to its use as a popular dumping site for trash, old appliances, and evidence of vandalism was apparent.
The Rescue and Restoration of Old Kia Kima
1993-2003: The Beginning of a new Era
The year was 1993, and it was the fall of the year when four former camp staff members came back to Old Kia Kima thirty years after the camp had closed. Those who are reading this will understand why. It was the Spirit of Old Kia Kima that brought them back, drawing them like a magnet to rekindle the fond memories of another time and another place that still burned brightly in their hearts after so many years. It was forty years from when they were first at camp, yet they came back to remember when they were young men and shared the unique common bond of this former Boy Scout Camp on the South Fork River.
Yes, it was also an opportunity to renew friendships, but the real draw was to pay homage to that magic place that turned boys into men. It was a place that had taught the values of Integrity, Achievement, Responsibility, and Courage with experiences that wrote in indelible ink on the fabric of their character -- just as had been the case for so many that came before and would come after them.
Two of the original four, David Fleming, and Gordon “Scotty” Monteath, returned to Old Kia Kima again in 1994, joined by Roy Riddick, John Hurt, and Lofton “Buddy” Keltner. They were appalled at the deterioration of the property and its misuse over the years. The camp lay in ruins, the roof of the lodges and Thunderbird Lodge had succumbed to the ravages of time and neglect, caving in long ago, with a tangle of trees and vines growing up from the decayed wood on the floor. Old refrigerators and discarded washing machines littered the grounds.
It was heartbreaking, but it was also inspiring because they saw clearly in their mind’s eye exactly how the camp used to be – and how it could be once again! Haunted by what they saw that fall day in 1993, and the return trip in 1994, these five former staff members were inspired with the Dream and the Vision to go on in 1996, to become the founders of The Old Kia Kima Preservation Association, Inc. (OKKPA).
A watershed event occurred in 1998, with the purchase and donation by Boyce and George Billingsley of the forty-three acres that was the core of the old campgrounds. With the land under the ownership of OKKPA, the Dream of a restored and once again fully functioning Old Kia Kima easily spread from the original five founders, to “work parties” for cleaning up the grounds, and from there to active and vibrant Board of Directors and Restoration Committees that worked hard to make the Dream come true. The Dream grew stronger and was quickly taken up by the OKKPA membership who pitched in with donations, encouragement, and moral support.
Bathhouse with separate facilities for men and women
In the spring of 1999, a new Bathhouse facility was built, and restoration began on the 16 original stone lodges flanking the Quadrangle. By the fall of 2000, the lodges were fully restored and work began on the restoration of the Thunderbird Lodge. A Group Cooking and Dining Pavilion was built in early 2001, along with a Camp Office, walk-in cooler/freezer, and Storage area built around the original old pump house. The Dream was taking shape to the point that it was obvious to everyone that we were going to make it come true!
16 Native Stone Lodges Fully Restored
“Pancho’s Pit” with cooking/dining facilities
These restoration efforts were quickly followed by a restored Camp Staff Lodge, known as the “Rat’s Nest”, which was dedicated to George Billingsley in the fall of 2001. By the spring of 2002, restoration of the Thunderbird Lodge was nearing completion and a new Covered Bridge over Spirit Creek was taking shape to connect the Quadrangle with the majority of the property to the east.
“Rat’s Nest” overlooking the South Fork River
“Ole ‘97” covered bridge over Spirit Creek
All that remained for this Dream of a fully restored and active Old Kia Kima to become a reality, was the presence of Scout Troops once again occupying the lodges of Old Kia Kima. On May 17, 2002, the Dream came true when the camp was officially opened to Scout camping for the first time in 39 years. Two Boy Scout Troops marched into history late on that Friday evening. Troop 190 from Southaven, Mississippi arrived first with Keith Keel in charge. They had 9 leaders and 11 Scouts occupying Lodges 2- 6. Troop 457 from Memphis, Tennessee arrived later with Steve Taylor in command with 7 leaders and 22 Scouts. They stayed in Lodges 7-10 and 12-15.
On June 16, 2002, David Logan’s Troop 55 from Nashville, Tennessee became the first Boy Scout Troop in 39 years to spend a week at Old Kia Kima, followed on August 4, 2002, by Steve Demster’s Troop 187 from Clarkson, Michigan. Many additional Troops came to Old Kia Kima that first year of reopening, while the restoration efforts continued through the fall of 2002, to include a new Campfire area with natural “amphitheater” seating and Totem Poles, along with a Pioneering Project “Barn” near the newly developed camp activity area on the east side of Spirit Creek.
The Restored Thunderbird Lodge
June 16, 2002, David Logan’s Troop 55 from Nashville, TN
Yes, the Dream really came true, and in the process provided for future generations to be exposed to a timeless place where the Spirit of Old Kia Kima now lives on in perpetuity. The Spirit was rekindled for the Youth of Tomorrow to once again have the life-shaping experiences that a restored and fully functioning camp offers, in that magic place “High Above The South Fork Waters”, that turns boys into men.
Today, the members of the Old Kia Kima Preservation Association remain proud of what was accomplished in such a short period of time. Working together with that Old Kia Kima Spirit during the years 1993 through 2003, the OKKPA Board Members, Officers, Committee Members, Donors, and the membership at large made The Dream Come True! Their vision and hard work insured that as many of the Youth of Tomorrow as possible would have that special experience, high above the South Fork waters, known as Old Kia Kima.
View a Timeline of Old Kia Kima's history.