Martin Johnson’s Camp Legacy Betrayed! Part Two


In 1976 Camp Martin Johnson celebrated its 50 anniversary and things were going quite well at that time with up to 500 campers attending CMJ and then a scant four years later it was sold. The Hyde Park YMCA came up with these reasons:
(1) Dwindling Enrollment: That reason I find hard to comprehend given what was said a mere four years earlier.
(2) Financial Problems: Funds for transporting the kids 350 miles to camp but the problem always existed. They also cited stiff and rising real estate taxes as well as strict Michigan Building Codes. Yet these all existed in previous years too.
(3) Too expensive to Operate. A slight raise in fees would have solved that problem.
Four years earlier NONE of these were mentioned as problems. Mike Reynolds has informed me that schools in Ludington and Scottville often rented the camp for various purposes in the off season and that was additional income. The Hyde Park YMCA also gave an alternative option of using Pinewood Camp in that area but would not that camp have the same financial problems? The real culprit in all this was the Chicago Metropolitan YMCA which had the final say on CMJ.
Initially, in 1926 the camp was sold by Martin Johnson himself for the fee of $9,000 of which he was to receive a 6% annual annuity of about $545. Johnson’s lawyer urged him to sell the camp to the YMCA for $50,000. But Johnson had a God inspired vision for his property to be used by boys and girls for camping. He was also to retain his personal house to live in at the camp. His dream became a nightmare when the Metro YMCA saw the chance to financially benefit from that property. Johnson had earlier stated in his history that initially the movers and shakers of Lake County, Michigan, have also become greedy in their quest for timber and now the same greediness had reared its ugly head again!
If the camp was in financial distress, why not sell some of the land off of Bluegill Lake or even Little Bass Lake to pay for the taxes and upkeep while retaining the main camp area around Big Bass Lake?
I would also be interested to learn about the will of Martin Johnson and if it allowed selling the camp for any reason. Did the Hyde Park YMCA make every effort to try and sell the camp to another YMCA, perhaps in Michigan, or even a Boys Club of America organization? Perhaps the Detroit Boys Clubs might have been interested? I would like to know how diligent the Hyde Park staff were in trying to keep the camp with another youth organization. Or what steps were taken by the Chicago Metro YMCA to connect with other youth organizations in Michigan?
Why not also raise camper’s fees slightly to attend camp or add a gasoline fee? I do believe that if Hyde Park had tried to just sell parcels of land on Little Bass and Bluegill Lakes they could have kept operating Camp Martin Johnson for several more years if not much longer.
I also don’t buy that dwindling attendance argument as in 1976 the camp was full of over 500 campers for their 50 year anniversary. And, what about Martin Johnson’s will? It was his vision for this property to remain a camp for kids even if those kids were no longer from the Hyde Park YMCA.
No, I think the Hyde Park YMCA took the easy way out and destroyed not only a man’s dream but also the dreams of countless campers that could have enjoyed this camp for decades to come. Now the area is full of residential mansions and even the boulder over Martin Johnson’s grave has no marker to it. One would think that something could be done about that for a man with such a vision as Martin Johnson. Perhaps his gravesite could be moved to the property or the Camp Martin Johnson Heritage Museum in nearby Irons, Michigan?
It just doesn’t seem right that Martin Johnson’s dream of a youth camp has now been turned into an area for luxury homes known as the Heritage Bay Development Company. Johnson had an alternate “heritage” in mind for his beloved property whose vision has now become non-existent.
Perhaps one day Four Winds Island could be purchased from its present owner for use for a wilderness camp as many of CMJ’s structures are still intact yet today? In that way, Martin Johnson’s heritage could still live on into perpetuity in some manner.

7 thoughts on “Martin Johnson’s Camp Legacy Betrayed! Part Two

  1. Part of the Betrayal involves Ted Nugent, rock star, gun nut, and then real estate speculator. The whole deal smelled like Chicago politics, a decision made in the middle of the night, no public representation, no thoughts of the public good, lots of private profits to be made by connected people. I was always told that the land gifted, under a condition that it to be used as a camp and not sold.
    One note about the camp attendance. by 1976, the vast majority of campers were kids from the projects sponsored by private organizations and donations from companies. not sure if that factors in , but that’s the way it was.

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  2. The YMCA took the easy way out. As Director of the Camp for the last five years we had reduced to deficit substantly. The last year was less the $20,000, a drop from the $90,000 when I had been hired. The Camp had increased it non summer business substanially. George Parmentier did a great job at managing the Ski Area and helping it be a profitable operation during the winter. The YMCA just said it was to far away and and and. I had the properity apprised, at my own expense and had lined up a buyer who made an offer. Tony Butela – Lead of the Letterman Singing group, who had recently held a benifit concert for the camp) but the locial real estate group out bidded the Harvey/Butela group by about $50,000.

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  3. On the subject of Martin Johnson’s gravesite…
    I actually met the family that now owns the property where Martin Johnson’s grave sits. They are really nice people who have gathered lots of info about the camp and campers, and really have done a lot to preserve our heritage. They chose out of respect not to disturb his grave. Yes, the plaque is removed, but the granite boulder still sits atop of his grave, which is quite literally at their doorstep. I respect and admire their decision as a family not to disinter him, and understand also their decision to remove the plaque so as not to creep out visitors and friends. Things change in life, but for now MJ is in good hands if the same family still watches over him.

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  4. This is so interesting to finally learn some of the financial details concerning CMJ’s demise, over and above the Ted Nugent deal.
    And a note of clarity, as a perennial camper from 1972-1976, the camp population was comprised of most of the same parent-paying kids year after year, not impoverished or from the projects. Unless you count the mansions of Kenwood among the projects. The sponsorship I believe you are referring to was for 1 group in 1975, sponsored by Parker House and yes the majority of the group was from the projects. While there were certainly some cultural differences, most of them were really good kids and it was a blessing for them to be able to share in the CMJ experience, even if only once.

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  5. Martin G. Johnson was my Great-great-uncle, and Martin R. Johnson, who was hired as caretaker of the Camp in 1925, and lived there until 1943, was my maternal Grandfather. Good to see some of the tragic truth here online about what happened to this wonderful property.

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