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September 07, 1984 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-09-07

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Friday, September 7, 1984



The Bert & Toba
Smokler Pioneer
Skills Center

The animal barn, crafts barn, blacksmith shop, water tower and windmill at the Smokler Pioneer Skills Center.


Marvin Berman, resident director of Camp Maas, stands outside the maple sugar


Blythe Rose and Leslie Gruber, above, make slab furniture. Below, making musket
balls and taking care of the horses are favorite activities.

Where can you make rope, spin
wool, dip candles, build slab furniture,
pour lead musket balls, and partici-
pate in beekeeping and musketry? .. .
At the Bert and Toba Smokler Pioneer
Skills Center, located at Camp Maas
— the Fresh Air Society's resident
camp for children age 11-15. The Bert
and Toba Smokler Pioneer Skills Cen-
ter is composed of 12 authentic-
looking, pioneer-type buildings in-
cluding a pioneer cabin, sugar shack,
maple sugar cabin, animal barn,
blacksmith shop, school house, root
cellar, summer country kitchen and
The Smokler Center maintains its
own herb garden and apple orchard,
and takes care of an assortment of
goats, chickens, ducks, and horses —
including two Belgian draft horses
used for hay rides.
The Smokler Pioneer Skills Cen-
ter is the product of six years of effort
that culminated in a formal commu-
nity dedication last Sunday. The late
Bert L. Smokler was a former chair-
man of the Tamarack Hills Authority
and he is credited with the develop-
ment of the Ortonville campsite, now
called Camp Maas. Through the years,
Mr. Smokler maintained a close inter-
est in the facility and he and his wife
Toba were instrumental in the de-
velopment of the Pioneer Skills Cen-
ter. The center is still not completed.
Future plans call for the creation of a
complete Main Street with general

store, post office, barber shop and

The center was conceived as a
year-round facility serving summer
campers at Camp Maas and elemen-
tary school children during the rest of
the year through the Tamarack Out-
door Education Program. During the
summer months, the center is manned
by the Teen Service Staff and is a part
of their counselor-in-training pro-
gram. Participants have completed
the 11th grade and are supervised by
the director of the Pioneer Skills Cen-
ter, a full-time employee of camp.
Bunk groups may do one or all of the
activities offered and it has proved to
be an extremely popular activity area.
The center has become a major attrac-
tion for elementary school groups who
spend up to one week at one of Camp
Maas' four winterized units during the
non-summer months.

Many of the activities at the
Pioneer Skills Center are tailored to
the season of the year. In the spring,
for example, children and staff begin
the production of maple syrup by tap-
ping over 600 maple trees on the
camp's 1,350 acres. The sap is later
collected and processed in the maple
syrup evaporator located at the center.
Honey is harvested through the
beekeeping program, and vegetables
and herbs are utilized at the summer
country kitchen during the summer

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