It starts with a history lesson  

As we shine the spotlight on our client, Eagle Island Camp, we need to explore the legacy that had its beginnings as a delightful get-away for Levi Morton, who served as Vice President of the United States from 1889 to 1893.  It was Morton who built this Adirondack Great Camp on the 30 acre island in 1903 for his family which used it for several years before selling the island to the Graves, a local Essex County family. They enjoyed the vacation spot until they gave it up in 1937, over eight decades ago, to a northern New Jersey Girl Scout council to be converted into a summer youth camp.

In 2004 Eagle Island Camp was recognized as a National Historic Landmark as a fine example of Adirondack architecture.  The camp was designed by William Coulter, who is considered a preeminent Adirondack architect. But eventually challenges arose and the Girl Scouts were only able to sustain this amazing camp until the summer of 2008 when they shut down operations.

It was a heartbreaking move for so many alumni and friends of the camp who had enjoyed wonderful summers spent on Upper Saranac Lake, which is the sixth largest in the Adirondack area of New York.

In 2015 through the power of passion and persistency, the camp was purchased by friends and alumni (who had it incorporated as non-profit in 2011) with the goal of re-opening the camp and restoring it to its former glory.

The challenge of re-booting

Because the camp had not been in continuous use since the doors closed seven years earlier in 2008, the the organization faced many barriers to getting up and running.  They overcame these issues, inspired by a strong vision to offer a balance of structured and unstructured programming while maintaining a high ratio of qualified and interactive staff to campers. They worked together, adhering to a mission founded on confidence building, strengthening outdoor skills and empowerment, while shaping the camp curriculum and culture around these pillars.

Realizing that the experiences that differentiate the camp from others include access to Upper Saranac Lake, they were focused on providing a wide range of water activities such as sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming, along with the more traditional nature explorations and survival skills, crafts, and team building exercises.

As the camp develops, additional exciting adventures will be available in the coming years - such as one-day and multi-day hiking trips that will take full advantage of the site’s breathtaking landscape.

Starting with no staff, no programs, no pipeline of campers and no recent upgrades to the facilities, the team that refused to surrender had plenty to overcome! But overcome they did.

The next step   

From working with the Department of Health to make sure all licenses and permissions were in place, to hiring a full –time camp director, assistant camp director, and staff, and obtaining almost $1.5M in New York State and federal grants to make necessary repairs and improvements, the network of volunteers approached each task with a ‘can do’ attitude.

In 2019 they held their first all-gender day camp session, attracting 42 local campers for the inaugural year

And now for the best part. The progress made in one year has been amazing. In 2020, there will be two one–week sessions of all gender day camp for grades 3 through 6 and two one-week sessions of all-girls youth overnight camp for those in grade 5-8. In addition, there’s an added bonus of two one-week sessions of family camp for those who want to enjoy the camping experience as a family, with other families!

But that is not all. The alumni who shouldered this project are hosting a special weekend, encouraging each other and any alumni to return to live on Eagle Island once again, enjoying all their wonderful childhood experiences while spending time ‘unplugged’ from adult cares and stress.

There will be a second weekend devoted to women’s wellness, drawing on local experts who will deliver informal classes on yoga, outdoor meditation, and much more in the lovely natural setting of this historic island.  

A lasting impression

In addition to offering school-age children an experience that will build a lifetime of memories, the Board, led by Executive Director Paula Michelsen, and supported by Katrina Dearden, Camp Director and Assistance Executive Director, as well as Carole Mackenzie, Treasurer, and so many others is committed to giving back to the New Jersey families they serve and to filling essential gaps in the local Adirondack Park, New York community at the same time.

With strategic direction from the leadership and a desire to foster a unique camping experience, the supporters of Eagle Island Camp are thoughtfully drawing on more than 80 years of history to forge a dynamic camp that addresses the needs of campers today and tomorrow, while honoring the unique rustic, natural setting the camp. Truly this is a place where “History Meets the Future!”