In the late 1800’s, the site of the Shady Trails Camp lay on a well-traveled trail between Ottawa villages of Chief Shabwasson on the present day site of Omena and Chief Onamunsee’s village in present day Northport. The waters were valuable fishing grounds for lake trout and whitefish and its maple trees were part of the important sugar bush in the area.
The first legally recognized owner of the site of Shady Trails Camp was Isaac Shawandase who purchased it in 1851. At the same time, the Ojibwa Chief, Ahgosa, purchased the nearby parcel that became Ahgosatown, the largest Native American settlement between Omena and Northport. Mr. Shawandase’s successor, Louis Shawandase, made the final payment and received title to the land in 1903.
This property was among the few parcels that were purchased by the Native Americans prior to the 1855 Treaty of Detroit. It was, therefore, never part of the reservation lands that eventually ended up under the ownership of the white settlers during the 1870’s.
The camp was the thought and dream of Traverse City native John Clancy. John attended St. Francis School, graduating in 1916. Later he attended Notre Dame where he majored in commerce. For ten years he worked in the business world as a credit manager and accountant. All this time trying desperately to meet people and cope with his personal handicap, a speech defect. Clancy was forced to admit that he had to either condition his speech or give up his career.
Clancy realized that there were kids with the same type of speech problems that he had and wanted to find a way to help them. Clancy presented his idea for a speech camp to his wife, Grace, and together they decided to find a way to make it happen. In 1932 Clancy learned that a 26 acre site near Northport on Grand Traverse Bay was for sale by the Native American owner. The Clancy’s invested their meager savings and Shady Trails Camp was born.
From 1932 until 1945 the camp was held in tents near present day Indian Beach. In 1932 four boys attended the camp. A 1934 photo shows 16 boys. Badly in need of more and better facilities, Clancy broke ground in 1945 on what is the present day location of Shady Trails Camp. Northport native Harry Calhoun, fresh from the service, hired on with a Traverse City builder to work on the first series of building in 1947 and 1948. After the war, lumber was scarce, but the father of one of the campers owned a saw mill in the south and two railroad cars arrived on the tracks above the camp. A mountain of southern yellow pine was unloaded onto horse-drawn wagons and carted down to the campsite where the first fourteen buildings were built. The lodge and all seven camper cabins were among the first buildings constructed.
In 1947, Shady Trails moved to its new home. In the coming years, buildings were added as the camp grew. There are currently 27 buildings on the property. A 1970 photo shows 112 campers, which is the maximum capacity of the facilities.
To further his knowledge, Clancy enrolled in the University of Michigan Graduate School and earned his Master of Arts degree in speech correction. During the school term, he served as full-time Clinician at the Speech Clinic in the University, returning summers to his camp, which continued to grow by leaps and bounds.
In 1949 the Kresge Foundation and the University Of Michigan became vitally interested in Shady Trails and conceived the idea of turning the camp over to a non-profit organization to be supported by the Kresge Foundation. Clancy’s interest was purchased in 1949, and the camp assumed the name of The University of Michigan Speech Camp with John Clancy as its director.
Following the 1994 season, the Board of Regents discontinued the camp activities at Shady Trails and the camp was officially closed on March 17, 1995. In 1996 the University of Michigan approved the sale of the property. Between 1932 and 1995 more than 2,000 young men and women attended Shady Trails Speech Camp.
The new owner, Laura Deibel is dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of this unique facility and to making it available to youngsters between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. In 1997, she began plans to reopen the camp. The summer of 1998 was our first season as a day camp. The program includes typical camp activities such as crafts, sports, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, dance and performing arts, as well as creative writing, nature, photography and a high ropes/challenge course. The day camp runs for four weeks in July and enrolls about 110 children per week.
All who have attended Shady Trails Camp are welcome to stop by and re-visit your memories of this wonderful, magical place on the bay.