Debris sits on the side of U.S. Highway 1 in front of the sign for the Edward B. Knight Reservation Camp Sawyer in Big Pine Key, FL on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. The camp sustained heavy damage having lost one building, an amphitheater and over 28 feet of beach to Hurricane Irma earlier this year.  The camp also took severe damage to the surrounding mitigated wetland and  camp wastewater treatment system. Leaders remain hopeful however despite the damage. “We want to be open by January,” Cliff Freiwald, program director for the Boy Scouts of America South Florida Council said.

Sawyer After Irma

Nov 28, 2017

Words and Photos by Carter Adams and Aaron Self

Walking down the damaged shore of Camp Sawyer, Taylor Hunt, manager of the Edward B. Knight Reservation Camp Sawyer, looks out toward several lone posts sticking up from the now calm, turquoise waves of the Atlantic.

“That’s where our pier use to be,” Hunt says.

Located in Scout Key, Florida, the Boy Scout camp experienced the worst of Hurricane Irma when the storm made landfall Sept. 10. The camp was further damaged when over 57 inches of flood water caused two cargo shipping containers to collide with the 4,000-gallon waste treatment system on the property, thus destroying its multi-pump system and other key aspects.

After Irma made landfall across the Middle Keys of Florida, it left a wake of destruction in its path that hadn’t been seen in decades according to locals. Over 25 percent of the buildings in the area were destroyed and almost all others were damaged in some way according to FEMA.

Camp Sawyer was one example of that percentage.

If not for the still standing sign marking the camp, to the eye of a passerby, the area would look like just another damaged property on the shore, as most of the camps outdoor structures had been washed away by Irma. One of the structures is an amphitheater that sits near the beach. It is also washed away, with its benches wedged in between the guardrails of US Highway 1, a few hundred yards west of the beach.  Twenty-eight feet of camp ground on the beach was lost due to erosion with another 45 feet of grassland lost to sand deposited by the storm.

“In five years the economy will be back to normal, but the environment is changed forever,” Hunt says.


Seabirds perch on what remains of the scout camps dock after hurricane Irma tore through the central Florida Keys.

Taylor Hunt, camp manager at Camp Sawyer, a Boy Scout camp that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma, discusses damage done to the camp while passing a pile of rubble. There was only one building at the camp built before new building codes went into effect on the islands, and is the one building that was destroyed.

Weights from Camp Sawyer sit in pieces of coral and sand in front of the remains of a building destroyed by Hurricane Irma in the Edward B. Knight Reservation: Camps Sawyer in Scout Key, FL. There are four buildings at Camp Sawyer. The residence of the Camp Director, the shower house, a pavilion, and a bunk house used for storage. Of those buildings, only one was built before Florida’s building codes were implemented and it was the one building destroyed by Hurricane Irma at the camp.  

Cliff Freiwald, program director of the Boy Scouts of America South Florida Council walks under the shower facilities at Camp Sawyer after inspecting damage done to an elevator shaft on property. The camp plans to reopen in January of 2018 according to Freiwald.

Cliff Freiwald, program director for Boy Scouts of America South Florida Council, inspects damage done to the multi-pump system of the camp’s wastewater treatment system.

A damaged fire pit sits among debris on the beachhead of the Edward B. Night Reservation Camp Sawyer in Big Pine Key, FL on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. Bricks and chunks of mortar lay scattered across the entire camp. An amphitheater, a six-foot-tall sand dune, a hedge grove and two brick firepits covered the western section of the camp before the storm hit according to Park Manager Taylor Hunt. After Hurricane Irma, all that remains in that area of the park are several inches of brick buried in the ground. The dune washed away with 57 inches of floodwaters and the benches carried away by winds upwards of 150 mph. Along the entrance of the park benches sit in piles of rubble, waiting to be taken away by containment crews.

Cliff Freiwald, program director of the Boy Scouts of America South Florida Council talks with an insurance adjuster next to the piled remains of a building at Camp Sawyer, Scout Key, Florida.