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YMCA gets final approval for $1.2 million project

Improvements at Camp Algonquin are scheduled to begin in October. 

Staff Writer

Joan Van Houten, Staff Writer, reports that the Rutland Charter Township Planning Commission gave its final approval of a special use permit for YMCA Camp Algonquin. 

With the permit, a $1.2 million improvement project will launch about one year after the plan was publicly announced.

“When this property was originally being developed, it was zoned parks and recreation,” Barry County YMCA executive director Jon Sporer told the planning commission. “Six months ago, the area was rezoned medium-density residential, and that included Camp Algonquin. We needed the special-use permit from the Rutland Planning Commission to allow us to offer the types of services and activities the camp is meant to do. And we couldn't start the improvements until we were given that permit.”

Improvements had been scheduled to begin in mid-October 2018 and completed just before the start of summer camp activities. But zoning issues delayed construction for nearly a year after two years of planning and fundraising. The project is now scheduled to begin in late August and expected to be completed by the end of this year with small details remaining to be completed next spring. 

Sporer said 80 percent of the money needed has been raised, with most of it coming from the camp endowment fund as well as three major gifts from the Dick Foster Estate, the Judith Feldpausch Estate, and the DeCamp Foundation. Future meetings are being planned to discuss how to raise the remaining 20 percent.

“I want to thank the many people involved in making this happen. It took a lot of hands, a lot of time and a lot of work to get us here,” Sporer said. “We are still welcoming opportunities for donors to assist us in completing the project.” 

Design of the improvements was by Slocum Architects, the same company the YMCA worked with when the main lodge was built in early 2000. Designed improvements will dramatically change the look of the Algonquin Lake shoreline in front of the camp.

The improvements include new docks, a boathouse, sandy beach, construction of a footpath and extension of the boardwalk. A bathroom facility also will be constructed closer to the activity area so younger children will feel more confident about using the restrooms by themselves and will have a shorter distance to travel. A retaining wall will be added for children's safety and to protect the shoreline.

Barry County YMCA was formed in late 1916 by six men concerned about the need for a youth program in the county. By the end of the conversation, the six men, including Emil Tyden, Aben Johnson and Marshall Cook, had pledged enough money to hire a YMCA director and finance a youth program.

In the 1920s, developers created a plan to combine Long, Little Dollar, Kurtz, and Dowd lakes into one large basin called Algonquin Lake, however, the Great Depression of 1929 changed their plans.

Aben Johnson of Hastings Manufacturing was one of the investors who received land on the lake. Upon acquiring the land, he approached others and proposed that a YMCA summer camp be built.

With money raised from the sales of surplus World War I 20-mm shells, Johnson, Howard Frost and Bill Bradford, the YMCA camp committee chairman, put up four tents, a Quonset hut and two outhouses. Camp Algonquin was born. 

High school coach Bob King was hired in 1946 as camp director. When asked what his first challenge was, King replied, “Just getting there.” Only a wooded path led to the camp at that time. 

What started with four tents for camping has evolved to hundreds of programs and activities for families and children and cabins for overnight stays. The facility is operated as a summer camp – not a campsite.

Sporer said, “There is nothing in this project about creating a public campground. That is not what we are doing, and there are no plans to go in that direction. We are a camp providing services and fun, educational activities to children and their families. 

“That is what the YMCA is about.”

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