Camp Maplehurst’s enduring legacy

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A hiker stops to look at a small stream in Maplehurst Natural Area. Credit: Jim DuFresne/ michigantrailmaps.com

By Jim DuFresne

In a ravine below me, something was walking through the woods.

I stopped to peer down through the trees, but I already knew it wasn’t summer campers.

It’s been 10 years since children and counselors gathered at Maplehurst for hikes, stargazing and campfire sing-a-longs in northern Michigan.

It was whitetail deer. A lot of them, six or seven at least. They also stopped and looked up, and for a brief moment we stared at each other – Maplehurst’s current residents and the latest hiker to be charmed by this relatively obscure preserve northeast of Kewadin, Michigan.

Kumbaya.

Located on that strip of land that separates two of Michigan’s largest lakes, Elk and Torch, Maplehurst Natural Area is an unexpected delight to anybody who stumbles across it.

You’re driving through rural Antrim County, passing perfect rows of cherry and apple orchards, faded red barns and farm stands overloaded with just-picked produce, when a sign beckons you to leave the pavement and enter a forest.

The short entrance road climbs to the highest point in the preserve, where you can see the north end of Elk Lake, East Grand Traverse Bay and even a slice of Mission Peninsula from a parking area.

A grassy meadow, where sleeping cabins once stood, gently descends to even more water – the tract’s 60-acre spring-fed gem, Lake Maplehurst.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a summer here?

For more than 50 years, this 389-acre mix of woods and watery views was Camp Maplehurst, founded by psychology professor Thomas Cohn in 1955 as a retreat where gifted students could experience nature.

By 2011, when Cohn’s son closed the summer camp due to declining enrollment, Maplehurst had hosted more than 10,000 campers.

Dog-walking in Maplehurst Natural Area. Credit: Jim DuFresne/ michigantrailmaps.com

Milton Township officials viewed the shuttered camp, one of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels near Torch Lake, as worth saving from development.

They turned to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, which helped the township secure a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant and then fundraised the grant’s required match.

“We had previously identified the Maplehurst Camp property as a priority (to preserve), but we were unsure of how we could pull it off,” said Chris Garrock, the director of stewardship for the land conservancy.

“We were elated when Milton Township reached out and expressed interest in partnering with us to acquire and protect the property as a township park,” Garrock said.

This old summer camp makes for a wonderful walk.

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