This is a charming facility that has been serving children with special needs for over 70 years. It is the oldest residential camp for such children in the United States, and is located north of Marquette, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.
I had the opportunity to attend a conference at this facility recently. Although I did not see it in operation with the children present, I did get a good look at the physical layout, ate in the dining hall, heard a talk by the camp director, and had a chance to visit with two parents who had sent children there. These were not pre-arranged parents who were selected just to tell us the good parts, they just happened to also be at the conference.
The camp was founded in 1937 to serve severely malnourished children of the depression era. The next wave of disabilities was the result of the polio epidemic in the 1940's. Other services were added in the 1950's.
The first thing that I fell in love with was the whole atmosphere of the camp site. It reminded me so much of New England and the eastern seacoast camps. The buildings are mostly wood frame with screened porches painted in white and green. They are scattered along a lightly wooded hillside. Paved drives encircle a lovely gazebo. On closer inspection you discover that although they have preserved the charm of another era the buildings are well-kept, and have had modernizations added where appropriate. They own 165 acres of land.
There is a new, large auditorium / office facility with good digital projection equipment, drop-down screen, and a curtained stage. The dining hall has recently been remodeled, yet it preserves what I consider the “summer camp” atmosphere with wooden picnic table style seating.
Vehicles are not allowed past a certain point, for safety, without a permit. There are golf carts or hand carts available to transport your gear to your sleeping quarters. There is a dormitory with group rooms, and many small outbuildings for therapy, crafts, and other things that camps offer.
There is a lovely paved and switchbacked pathway leading down to the Lake Superior shore, making the beach handicap accessible.
The camp offers the following therapies: physical, occupational, speech, hearing, vision, music, and a student therapist program.
Activities include: “waterfront” in a heated, indoor, accessible pool; canoeing and boating; arts and crafts; general recreation; and nature.
Staff includes: counselors, general staff, a pediatrician on call, a resident dentist, dental hygienist, and nurses.
There is a seven-week session for 6 to 17 year olds, and two half sessions for preschoolers each summer. Each camper is provided with an intensive therapy program individually crafted to his or her needs.
Campers with severe handicaps are housed in a separate facility from those who are more mobile.
All clothing and laundry services are provided by the camp, and the camp is funded primarily by private donations.
Parents do not visit during the camp session. Independence for special needs children is a high priority. 200 campers attend each year. They are referred by physicians, teachers or therapists, but the final selection of who may attend is decided by the Bay Cliff Staff.
Both of the families that I spoke with who had children who had come through this program could not say enough good things about it. One of these former campers was deaf, and the other was more severely handicapped with spina bifida.
If I had a special needs child in this age range, I would try to get them referred to this program in a heartbeat! The only reason I did not rate it a full 5 is because I can’t speak as a parent who has actually sent a child there, and some people might not feel that the “old-fashioned camp style” is as appealing as I do.
Bay Cliff Health Camp