I grew up attending summer camp. Every summer from the time I was 7 until I was in my early 20’s I spent all, or part of, my summer breaks at camp. I grew from a camper into a counselor and I consider my time at camp a major contributor to the person I am today.
The camp I spent the majority of my summers at started in the late 40’s and closed down about 7 years ago. A developer bought it and planned to build houses on the property. It is prime real estate in a part of the Tampa Bay area that was growing fast at the time. By the time camp closed, I had already gone through several summers of emotional roller coasters. My wife, who I met at camp, would ride with me as we would hear news of camp shutting down, only to find out that it was going to survive another summer, and then the rummer mill would start over again. So when it did finally shut down I was sad, but not heart broken. I had already come to terms with the fact that my childhood summer home would not be around forever.
We attended the final closing camp fire, shed a few tears, and said goodbye to the old place.
And then a funny thing happened. The real estate bubble blew up and nobody could sell anything. It was a terrible time for new construction. Projects were put on hold. People stopped buying. The market crashed. And here this developer was with all this land and nothing to do with it.
I like to go visit the place from time to time and instead of trespassing on his property, I made it a point to get to know him so I always had permission to go out there. He tore down most of the cabins and other buildings and put cows on the property for tax purposes. The trees once so alive and whose existence served as a source of shade, stolen kisses at night, and endless climbing fun started to fall over. The 50+ acres began to look barren, desolate, sad…dead.
He did, however, preserve a few things.
He preserved the ping pong tables, but probably only because they were made out of concrete blocks and slabs that weigh a few tons. Her preserved the fire circle. He preserved the docks and the ‘hangout’ which served as a shelter from storms during swim class and a place for the lifeguards to hang out between waterfront activities. And, he preserved one of the girl’s cabins. He renovated it to be a place where he could stay on weekends.
He started using the land for parties. At first they were small; just a few friends and some of us camp alumni who wanted to see the place before he bulldozed it. Then the parties got bigger. He had a boat out on the lake taking people tubing. There was live music, camp fires, and hay rides. He learned the history of the camp. And, eventually, like all of us, he fell in love with the place.
Flash forward to a few days ago. I get an email from him asking me to call him when I had some time so he could update me. I figured this was it. He was either going to start developing the land or he had found a buyer. I picked up the phone and dialed, preparing myself for the news.
What he said threw me utterly and completely off my horse. He said he was sitting in a room with one of the old owners of camp, discussing plans to revive the place. Their plan, as I understand it, is to first rebuild the old farm/petting zoo that brought in much of the revenue that kept camp alive for the last 10 year of its existence. Camp might not have ever closed if it wasn’t for some petting zoo scare that shut the place down back in 2003/2004 (along with a lot of other petting zoos). Once that takes off and every school in the county is taking field trips there, like they were in the past, then I imagine they will begin to rebuild the camp.
If you went to summer camp as a child, then you know how exciting the prospect is for me to be a part of this rebirth. The idea that my son could attend camp there some day is so exciting, so out of this world, so much of a God thing, that I am beside myself with hope and joy.
But I hesitate to let myself get too excited. There is no guarantee that this will all work. But, I will do whatever I can to assist them in spreading the word and building interest in this camp resurrection.
Time will tell what happens. Stay tuned.