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Paydirt and play: Preserving outdoors came soon after century-old club's founding

  • By Peg Siciliano Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — Travel 20 miles southeast of Traverse City, and enter a world quite different from the town’s urban center.
Swaying stands of pines and oaks move in the breeze. Wildlife threads through forests, waters and marshland. Depending on the day, the excited cries of outdoor enthusiasts may echo through the woods.
This is Go-Rec (the Greilick Outdoor Recreation and Education Center), formerly Camp Greilick.
Managed by Rotary Camps and Services, it exemplifies Rotary’s intention to preserve and improve northern Michigan’s ecosystems, while at the same time giving all citizens abundant access to water, land and recreational opportunities.
Incorporated in 1955, Camps and Services is one of Rotary of Traverse City’s three branches.
The other two are the Rotary Club, founded in 1920; and Rotary Charities, founded in 1976.
Today Camps and Services manages over 1,700 acres. They include Go-Rec, the East Creek Reserve, and Camp Carvela in Grand Traverse County, and the Discovery Center – Great Lakes in southern Leelanau County.
Rotary’s encouragement of outdoor activity goes back almost as far as the Club’s founding in 1920.
In 1923 Rotary Club President Clarence L. Greilick led an effort to acquire 450 acres of land around Spider and Rennie lakes. That became the heart of today’s Go-Rec.
Originally used by the 4-H, Boy and Girl Scouts, in 1955 the area was leased to the Scenic Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America for the sum of $1.
In 1956 an additional near-400 acres on Bass Lake, known as Camp Sakakawea (today Camp Carvela), was leased to the Girl Scouts.
In recent years the management of both camps reverted to Rotary.
But through the decades thousands of young people explored the outdoors at both camps — many as generations of the same family.
John Hall and two of his sons, Chris and Jackson, were Boy Scouts at Camp Greilick.
“A summer week at Camp Greilick was always the highlight of my middle school and high school summers,” said Chris, now a mid-20s University of Michigan law student. “I loved spending time in nature with close friends and new acquaintances, and I developed an amazing range of life skills like fire-building, canoeing, first aid, lifeguarding, and marksmanship while at camp.”
His dad currently sits on the Rotary Charities Board of Directors, and in recent years headed the Camps and Services Board.
As a young scout, the elder Hall remembered oil wells dotting the landscape and wondering what they were all about.
As he learned later, by the time he noticed them, those oils wells had already struck pay dirt.
A free-flowing oil well discovered on the Boys Scouts Camp Greilick property in 1976, spurring $600 million in local grants through the present time, plus a $50 million foundation.
(Learn more about this in next week’s article exploring the history and future of Rotary Charities.)
Michigan Crossroads Council closed several area Boy Scout camps in 2016 for financial reasons, and the Girl Scouts vacated “Camp Saki” in 2018.
Go-Rec Director Jamie Lewis Hedges said that today his staff is focused on creating experiences for the general public regardless of age, and on teaching outdoor recreational skills.
The vision is for the area to become a destination space for the outdoor community, he said.
Go-Rec is only one of several areas managed by Rotary Camps and Services.
A comparatively new venture is Discovery Center – Great Lakes, located along M-22 in Greilickville, just over the Leelanau County line. The center was founded in 2007 following a generous donation of land by Mike and Rhea Dow, and expanded in 2016 when Rotary purchased the City of Traverse City’s coal dock.
This purchase allows the offering of a true “fresh water campus.”
For 70 years this stretch of land served the Traverse City community as an industrial waterfront, bringing fuel, roads salt and other commodities to the region. Its development into a recreational and educational hub is symbolic of the entire region’s ecological transition.
Discovery Center CEO Matt McDonough explained that the group’s aim is to connect people of all ages, needs and abilities to the Great Lakes through recreation, education, history, science and stewardship.
The center’s Board of Directors recently developed a 3-year strategic plan:
One goal is transforming the old coal dock into a pubic recreational asset, much like a park, with accommodations for people of all needs and abilities.
Another is to assess current structures and partnerships and adjust in ways that will best further the stewardship of this precious resource.
Currently, the center provides a physical home for several independent organizations, all of which focus on either stewardship, education or historical programs that link the community to the water. The center’s meeting facilities are also available to other public groups.
Other resources managed by Camps and Services include East Creek Reserve in the Boardman River Valley and Camp Carvela on Bass Lake.
In addition to land management, Camps and Services also organizes periodic service activities such as Kids Free Fishing Day, Work Bees to clean up various natural areas, and the Adopt-A-Stream program.
Also, in keeping with Rotary of Traverse City’s broader goal of enabling others to do good, Camps and Services has incubated several successful regional nonprofit organizations. These include the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Northsky Non-profit Network and Homestretch.
Rotary Camps and Services’ motto is “We Steward Land.”
It has certainly done so in the past and is firmly situated to do so well into the future.