Sunday, April 18, 2010
A Brief History of Camp Anokijig
In the mid-1920s, the Racine YMCA decided they wanted a summer camp for the boys in Racine and they gave two men the task of finding a suitable location, within a reasonable drive of Racine, Wisconsin. The ideal location would be a large parcel of land, located on a body of water that had not been over-run with development. Wisconsin was a popular weekend destination for the Chicagoland area in the 1920s, so this was no easy task.
The two men searched the 1920s version of Google (the real estate listings in local papers) and set out to find the perfect spot for a camp. As they continued to fan out from Racine, they stopped for lunch one day about 70 miles north of Racine, in a town called Plymouth. They were having trouble locating a lake and shared their story with the locals at the restaurant. Upon hearing their story, it was recommended that they take a look at Little Elkhart Lake, a body of water so hidden, many locals didn't even know how to find it, they just knew it was somewhere north of town.
The two men parked their vehicle and hiked through more than a half mile of Kettle Moraine forestland, before emerging on a shoreline and taking their first glimpse of Little Elkhart Lake. A local farmer was building a small cabin on the shoreline, but no other buildings were visible from their position and the water sparkled crystal-clear, with trees surrounding the shoreline and the only sounds coming from the birds in the area and the wind blowing through the trees.
The two men struck a deal with the farmer to lease both the cabin and 40 acres along the shoreline for $50 per year and Camp Anokijig was born. The idea of camping took hold in Racine and the first 40 acres was soon purchased and Anokijig's home was made permanent. In the subsequent years, more land was added and Anokijig's total acreage now approaches 400, including 3/4 of the water frontage on Little Elkhart Lake.
Camp Anokijig hasn't just grown in size. Our summer camp program now operates in nine one-week sessions and we welcome more than 2,000 summer campers (boys & girls) every year from more than 20 different states and seven foreign countries.
Why is Camp Anokijig still appealing after more than 80 years? Because kids are still kids and as much as the rest of the world has changed, much of Anokijig still remains the same. We've added quite a few cabins over the years, but many of our campers still sleep in platform tents. Our ranch program now has more than 50 horses, but it's still all located on our property and ranch campers still earn scarves in our Ranch Program.
We don't have any ipods, computers or cable TV for campers to use, but they can still shoot arrows, paddle a canoe or learn how to catch a fish. In short, anything a kid can do at home, they probably can't do at Anokijig and anything they do while they're at Anokijig, they probably can't do at home. Amazingly enough, even in the digital era we live in now, there's something very appealing about that to kids.
Getting back to the Anokijig story, Anokijig was struggling in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The Racine YMCA was even considering selling the camp at that time, but a former camper and staff member, Jim Scherer, stepped forward and offered to try and turn things around. No previous Camp Director had ever lived at Anokijig year-round, but Scherer felt that being here all the time was the only way to make the camp successful. Scherer was soon joined by other former campers and part-time staffers, Darin Holden, Scott Stewart, and Don Hill. Together they turned Anokijig around in a relatively-short amount of time and soon had it operating in the black.
The Racine YMCA continued to own Camp Anokijig until 2005. At that point, Anokijig had been operationally-profitable for more than 20 years, but the Racine YMCA found themselves in between a rock and a hard place and decided Anokijig had to be sold. Once again, Scherer and his staff rallied camp supporters and a grass roots effort was formed to save Anokijig from development.
A non-profit corporation was formed, financing was secured and the Friends of Camp Anokijig placed a successful bid to purchase Anokijig from the Racine YMCA. 2010 marks the fifth season of operation as an independent, non-profit youth and family camp, but the camping experience is very much the same as it has been for the last eight decades. Anokijig offers a wonderful environment, with a staff dedicated to maximizing the camping experience for all of our visitors.
There are plenty of great stories about Anokijig on this blog, but we'd encourage you to visit Anokijig in person, as there really is no substitute for the real thing. Thanks for stopping by and catching a bit of the Anokijig spirit!
Vice President, Camp Anokijig