Evart, Mich. and Freetown, Ind.
Ages: Grades 1-12
There are five degrees of separation between the two SpringHill Camps. The first camp, Camp 44, located in Evart, Mich., sits at the 44th parallel, while its four-year-old sibling, Camp 39, is five degrees south at the 39th parallel near Freetown, Ind.
SpringHill began in 1969 with about 250 campers. This year, the non-denominational Christian camps expect more than 30,000 guests. The camp, obviously, has grown exponentially. There has been no hiccup in SpringHill’s growth trend over the years, even during times of calamity and recession, most recently witnessed in the years following 9-11.
The formula is actually quite simple. The camp has simply kept up with the latest ideas in recreation and has actually turned those ideas into reality.
SpringHill is committed to being relevant to children, teens and young adults without compromising the values and ethos of the camp. The personality remains intact, and is, in fact, magnified by new and exciting additions.
The most recent case in point is the construction of a zero-depth splashpark for the younger campers. Splashparks are a growing quickly in public and private water parks across North America. They’re dynamic, interactive and fun for the kids and are relatively low-maintenance and low supervision for those who run them.
SpringHill’s spraypark, found at its Michigan location, is described as a combination of A Bug’s Life and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The spraypark is currently in Phase II of three phases.
“With the next phase we’re putting in three flowers, an earthworm and three more ground sprays, so that will probably make it an hour-long program,” explains Jeff Perry, project coordinator. “The final plan is a 55′ x 110′ space on two levels. We’ll have all the water from the top level come down in a waterfall and drain at the bottom level. I highly recommend it. It’s simple to put together; if you have any building knowledge you could do it.”
The features, manufactured by WaterPlay, are interactive and computer-controlled. The water cannons, for instance, are timed to shut off and on to throw in the element of surprise when two kids are battling it out. You never know when you’re going to run out of ammunition.
Given its zero depth, the park requires little supervision, says Perry. “I think the water feature adds a professional water park touch to the camp, and there’s no big engineering cost or liability,” he says.
The spraypark supplements an outdoor recreation program that is bursting with new ideas and elements, such as in-line hockey and skating, skateboard parks, BMX tracks, zip lines, climbing towers and indoor climbing walls, water slides, mountain bike trails, paintball, RC cars and more.
These top-notch, innovative features, plus the camp’s dedication to developing relationships with the campers (the camps have a staff-to-camper ratio of 3-1), has bred steady growth. Perry says the camps grew in attendance 9 percent while donations went up 29 percent last year.
Everything at the camp is themed to one degree or another. This includes creatively themed housing units such as railroad cars, walled platform tents, a farm village, a frontier town, a cargo plane, teepees, houses on stilts, and more.
“The theming aspect is a good icebreaker. I don’t care how old you are, but when you get on a caboose with the working chains and couplers you can’t help but play on those things. It’s unique to say you slept in a caboose,” says Perry.
The camps are divided by these thematic, age-specific divisions, with each age group having its own special niche. At the Michigan property, grades 1-3 are housed at Storybrook while grades 4-6 are at separate area called Copper Country, for instance. There are some common areas, but it is very rare for the different age groups to see each other.
Where everything comes together at SpringHill is planning. Perry emphasizes this point, and the camp’s two-pronged approach to it.
“There has to be a lot of planning, especially among the departments. On the construction side of things, as that’s my expertise, I can come up with the perfect construction, but it might not fit programmatically,” says Perry. “The other thing is dreaming programmatically. Our activities department needs to tell the construction department their absolute dream, because it’s a lot easier to cut back on something than it is to try to add something later.”
Shoot for the stars, is Perry’s advice. The last thing you want to hear when a project’s completed is, “I wish we had done something else, or more.”
Dream big at first, then let practicality and reality set in to further hone the plan to that hopefully perfect balance. Inter-department communication is a must. Perry likens it to three circles where planning and communication interlock and dreaming encompasses both. Activity coordinators and carpenters, for instance, ought to be in touch with each other to bring all three circles into a cohesive whole.
This breeds experimentation, which further breeds practical solutions for making the camp operate more efficiently and more environmentally aware. Perry says he’s looking at fiber optic lighting and better, more efficient construction methods that are more expensive on the front end, but stimulate long-term savings.
The spraypark is a good example. It was too expensive to tackle in one big phase, but the groundwork for the entire park was laid down in the first phase. This made Phase I more expensive, but the subsequent phases will happen less expensively and much quicker.
This philosophy has also helped the camp become a year-round destination for all sorts of groups and various weekend parent-child getaways.
The Michigan camp runs 11 weeks of summer camp, and Indiana runs nine. During the non-summer months, the camps run retreats for youth groups and families. In the winter, Camp 44 runs 12 weeks of winter teen retreats, divided among middle school and high-school groups.
Perry reports that for the past five years the camp has run something every weekend. In addition to its summer camp programs and activities, there’s also an indoor pool for programs like water aerobics and lap swims, and a tubing hill (complete with snowmaking and a tow rope).
SpringHill’s operational costs are paid for with camper fees, while capital improvements are met with cash and in-kind donations. As noted earlier, SpringHill is meeting and exceeding both goals.
Perry expects the future to hold more of the same as the camp strives for relevance without compromising its values.