Before People Came
When you look around at the fossils at Camp Coles Trip, you may find evidence of sharks, crocodiles, fish, mollusks, small mammals and other coastal animals – creatures that lived here 55-60 million years ago. The mixture of land and sea creatures tells us that the area was underwater and close to land, with rivers carrying and burying the remains of coastal land plants and animals. Geologists suspect that the coast used to be about where I-95 is today. The presence of crocodiles tells scientists that the weather here used to be warm, like Florida. The abundance of mollusk shells and occasional cemented beds indicate sediment was deposited slowly here. Over time, this sediment was compressed and eventually formed the sandstone found at camp.
Early Settlements in Stafford County
When the Earth cooled about two million years ago, much of the world’s water became locked in ice caps and glaciers, lowering the sea level and turning this area into a river valley where mastodon, mammoth and other now-extinct species roamed. Humans traveled to the area to hunt this big game. Then about 10,000 years ago, the temperature rose and water began to fill the river valley, forming what we know today as the Chesapeake Bay. People turned from hunting and gathering their food to farming between 1,100 and 3,000 years ago. With farms to take care of, people began to establish permanent settlements along the waterfront. The Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that fed it provided transportation, rich soil for farming, fish, oysters, game and waterfowl.
When European settlers came to this area, there were perhaps as many as 100,000 people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed area. Europeans encountered three separate tribes in the northern neck of Virginia – the Dogue (also known as the Taux or Moyumpse), the Patawomeke and the Piscataway. These people grew maize (an ancestor of today’s corn), beans and other vegetables.
In the 1640s Giles Brent built the first settlement in the area at Brent Point, just across Aquia Creek from camp. When Camp Coles Trip opened in 1955, you could still see the house built by Mr. Brent’s brother across the creek. The good relationship Mr. Brent had with local Native Americans provided the settlers with food and helped the small town of Aquia prosper and grow. By the 1650s, Brent had been joined by hundreds of settlers. The main crop was tobacco, but Aquia entrepreneurs also exported sandstone, which was used to build the Capitol building and the White House in Washington, D.C.
During the Civil War, the Confederate Army built fortifications along the Potomac River to fire upon Union ships trying to supply Washington, D.C. The remains of one of these fortifications, Fort McLean, were still visible when Camp Coles Trip opened. The Union eventually broke the blockade, rebuilt the Aquia to Richmond railroad the Confederates had destroyed and used it to carry supplies as they fought in Virginia.
Camp Coles Trip
The Fairfax County Council of Girl Scouts purchased 229 acres on Aquia Creek in December 1954 and chose the name "Camp Coles Trip" for their newest resident camp. Camp opened on July 3, 1955 and welcomed 150 girls and 10 counselors. From 1956 to 1957, a winterized lodge, a primitive unit called Pioneer and three other units were added. Arrowhead Lodge was added in 1962. Resident campers in these early years had to pitch their own tents, cook their food and carry water to their units from just a few pumps.
When the Fairfax County Council expanded to include the City of Falls Church and Quantico Marine Corps School in 1958, they changed their name to the Northern Virginia Girl Scout Council. It was this council that joined with four other local councils on January 8, 1963 to form the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (GSCNC). GSCNC kept Camp Coles Trip and began renovations in 1966, replacing and adding tents and tent platforms in Ridge and Forest Hideaway to accommodate more girls, adding latrines at three units and routing water to Pioneer so girls no longer had to carry water from Arrowhead. Throughout the 1960s, Camp Coles Trip was a resident camp where girls enjoyed sailing, canoeing and the occasional luau.
If you look at the map on page 2 from the 1970s, you will notice that there was a dining hall and the Ridge tent site at the waterfront. When camp opened, there was a wide sandy beach at the waterfront, but that had slowly eroded away, eventually getting too close to the waterfront camp sites. In 1981, the council stopped offering resident camp at Camp Coles Trip as they developed a plan to control waterfront erosion. By 1986 the erosion control projects were completed.
In the early 1990s GSCNC made major renovations at Camp Coles Trip. The council added three camping units on the Arrowhead side of camp, docks at the waterfront, an access road, winterized lodges, a boathouse and a 151-step stairway from the Aquia side of camp to the waterfront. GSCNC also renovated Aquia Lodge and the shower house, made units at each camp handicapped accessible, renovated and rearranged the White House unit and converted Forest Hideaway from platform tents to glen shelters. With all these changes, girls were able to resume resident camp in the summer of 1995. Starting in 1997, a special week of camp was reserved for Camp CEO, an annual camp where teen girls camp with local business leaders to learn from their experiences.
Another round of renovations is underway as this history is written (see map on page 13). Construction has been completed to expand Ross (Aquia) Lodge, build a wetland boardwalk and renovate Arrowhead Lodge. There are plans to add a multipurpose center, a new glen shelter unit and a primitive tent site to the Arrowhead side of camp and a new troop lodge to the Aquia side of camp. Though some things stay the same (people have been directed to turn at the fish sign since at least 1974), camp is always changing.
Bourdon, Grimsley, Heim & Weems (updated February 2006). Late Palaeocene Sharks & Rays of the Chesapeake Bay Region. Retrieved 5/1/06. www.elasmo.com/frameMe.html?file=paleo/index.html&menu=bin/menu_fauna-alt.html
Mountford, Kent (updated 09/21/99). "In the Beginning" A Capsule History of the Chesapeake Bay. Retrieved 5/1/06. www.chesapeakebay.net/info/hist1.cfm
Sprouse, Edith Moore. "History of Camp Coles Trip" from GSCNC Archive.
(updated 1/4/2005). "Aquia Creek Sandstone" Geology Field Notes: National Mall and Memorials, Washington D.C. Retrieved 5/1/06. www2.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/nama
"Middle Woodland 500 B.C.–A.D. 900" First People: The Early Indians of Virginia. Retrieved 5/1/06. www.dhr.virginia.gov/arch_NET/timeline/middle_wood.htm
"Native Americans and Europeans" Historic Fort Belvoir. Retrieved 5/1/06. www.belvoir.army.mil/history.asp?id=Native
Stafford County Tricentennial, August 1-8, 1964, from the Souvenir Program. Retrieved 5/1/06. www.rootsweb.com/~vastaffo/tricent.htm
Thanks also to the GSCNC History and Archives Committee for allowing the author to use archival collections of photographs and documents.