Shady Trails, Serving the Next Generation

compiled by Judy Kuster

Many former Shady Trails campers recall with fondness and nostalgia the summers they spent during the years from 1931-1995, that The University of Michigan sponsored special summer programs there for children with speech, language, and hearing disabilities. For those who are curious about what has happened to the Camp since it was sold, the following information provides an interesting update.

The former August 9, 1996 Home Improvement site reported the purchase of Shady Trails by Tim Allen, comedian and Home Improvement host for an estimated 2 million dollars.

"The "Home Improvement" star is buying the former Shady Trails camp on Lake Michigan for $2 million. The camp includes 29 buildings on 26 acres. . . . . Allen and his wife, Laura, already have a cottage on a cherry farm owned by her parents some 25 miles away, in Omena Point. So, why invest in real estate? Allen's mother-in-law . . . apparently whispered in his ear. She is a director of the Leelanau Conservancy, a nonprofit group working against development of the area."

The following year, in 1997, the Shady Trails Camp began a new and important service to children and families. . . . Reported in the Traverse City Record Eagle, Shady Trials worked with the Munson Hospice program to sponsor a weekend camp experience, entitled "Regaining Your Ground," for bereaved children involved in Munson Hospice's art therapy groups. More than 20 children from 4 to 16 attended.

Then in 1998, Shady Trails Camp provided "camping experiences and environmental education opportunities to area children" in a "summer day camp program for children ages 8-14, with four weeks of hands-on studies of the natural and human history of Leelanau County. We offer a full recreation program including canoe and kayak instruction, and field trips to lakes, swamps, dunes, a cherry farm and the Grand Traverse lighthouse. Our craft workshop features tools for leather and stone work as well as other natural materials. Shady Trails is privately owned, and some thirty percent of campers are sponsored by outside organizations."

On May 24, 2002, I received the following news from Northport about the camp.

Hello: I came across your web site and want you to know that Shady Trails Camp is about to open its fifth season as a day camp for kids grades 3 to 8. The owners wanted to maintain the camp as an educational facility, and to preserve the grounds and buildings. Paint, roofing and electrical/plumbing updates haven't changed the look of the camp at all. Emphasis is on fun, nature and the Leelanau environment. Campers still visit local beaches and cherry farms, where they pick cherries they bake into pies.

The day camp format was chosen after careful study of local needs and the realities of sleep-away camp requirements these days. Shady Trails attracts a wide range of kids, including locals, summer folk, grandchildren of new retirees, (these two groups include kids from all over the US and other countries) the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa, Hispanic migrant children, children with various disabilities, and others.

Many of you will be pleased to know that the children and grandchildren of some of the camp staff you remember are now attending Shady Trails. Local residents are delighted that the camp is running, and their stories of the old days are much enjoyed.

Activities include the usual range of games and sports for fun, plus canoeing and kayaking, art, dance and performance, crafts (petoskey stones ad more!) and field trips to swamps, rivers, beaches, orchards, etc. Visitors include wildlife rescuers with hawks and owls, a teacher of local Native American culture, and many Shady Trails campers. The Shady Trails campers from the old days who visit always express their pleasure to see that things look the same, the lodge and the shore are as beautiful as ever, and the kids as happy!

The cabins are used by campers as they form cabin groups, where they assemble, rest, go for quiet time, and keep their things during their weeks of day camp. Day camp includes very popular meals -- a huge home-cooked lunch and two homemade snacks each day, produced in that great kitchen and eaten on the very same china, at the same round tables.

Munson Hospice has sponsored a special art therapy camp for grieving families each summer, wherein Shady Trails works its magic and children and families heal.

The counselors are local and out of town college and high school students who have been returning year after year, plus an Irishman and a Norwegian young lady. Many of them go to the University of Michigan, but there have been a number of Michigan State students too.

The old logo sign was used for a couple of summers, but it had deteriorated and one of the Shady Trails artists painted the new logo -- pine trees, the shoreline and Gull Island.

Camp is in session during July - early August. The address is 6880 Shady Trails Dr. Northport MI 49670 and the email is

I hope that this news comforts you all. You all should know that all of the memorabilia type items found in the buildings have been preserved, along with notes and tokens left by former staff and campers after the University closed the camp. In other words, the past of the camp is cherished. -- AND its past has a very important place in local lore.

added May 28, 2002