I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post and I have no good excuse except sometimes life just gets in the way of extra little things that we all enjoy to do… and I truly do love writing and sharing experiences and stories with our Camp community here on our blog, on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook… or just a plain old face to face conversation around Camp.
This opportunity to write a little something couldn’t be missed though and I made sure I carved time out of my busy day to sit and share with you all.
Ten years ago today I was just under a month into my 29th year of life. I was the Assistant Food Service Director here at Camp under the legendary Chef Manny, who some of you may remember. I was already 8 years into my career here at Camp and with the YMCA overall. I was running the kitchen at our own Matollionequay Girl’s Overnight Camp… and married just under a year to the most beautiful and amazing woman I have ever met, Gabrielle, who was the Matollionequay Assistant Camp Director at the time.
Much has changed for me personally over the last ten years and there have been a lot of changes around Camp as well… and on that fateful day… July 12th, 2004… Mother Nature showed us that change can be inevitable and unstoppable.
It was a gloomy, rainy day at Camp and the kitchen staff and I were just finishing up dinner service at the Matolly Dining Hall when I was approached by some counselors asking if I had a shovel or two that they could borrow. The Chef part of my brain thought “What an odd question to ask a Chef”… but “the guy who is married to the Assistant Camp Director who lives here at the Camp and has been around for a while” part of my brain asked them in return… “What’s going on? What do you need shovels for in the pouring rain?”
Cabins in the Seneca and Algonquin Villages on the lakeside were taking on water. The girls simply wanted to try to divert the water around the cabins but little did we all know that this was an early sign of what was to come just a little while later.
Ten years later most of the details of that day are a bit of a blur… not because memories have faded but because the events all happened so quickly that it was all a blur even in the moment.
I called down to Brent Birchler, who was the Assistant Boys Camp Director at the time, to see if he could come take a look at what was happening. The lake was at a level that I had never seen before and nothing seemed to be slowing down. Brent and I did what we could to try to keep some of the cabins from flooding but it was very little use. We walked around to some of the dams and bridges around the Girl’s Camp to see what we could see… assess the situation to the best of our ability… and it didn’t look good. Water behind some of the dams was seriously high and water was flowing in directions and to areas that it shouldn’t have been going.
The call was made to keep the girls safe and dry in the Dining Hall and myself, Brent, Gab and a handful of other staff members started a mad dash to grab some essentials from each cabin for the girls to keep them comfortable at least for the night. Pillows and sleeping bags mostly. At this point much of what we call “Middler Area” was actually underwater… about knee deep… and someone came up with a grand idea to use canoes to load and transport items we were bringing to the dining hall… basically float the items in the canoe back up to the dining hall… and it worked perfectly.
Myself and another Ockanickon staff member, Chris Plunkett, were pulled away from the action at the Girl’s Camp to traverse the Camp roads with our Chief Operations Officer, Tom Rapine, to help assess what was happening all around the Camp… and we were glad to aid him in.
What we witnessed that night was astounding and something I will never forget.
I stood on the “camp-side” of the Ockanickon dam at Lake Stockwell alongside Chris, Tom and Brent (pictured above), soaked to the bone, watching whole trees carried downstream… dams breeching and bursting… the timbers from spillways upstream whizz by like toothpicks… clumps of earth like floating islands bobbing up and down in the overfilled lake headed for destinations unknown. Watching Mother Nature do as she pleased with the usually beautiful and serene landscape of Camp was overwhelmingly powerful and equally heartbreaking and we were powerless to stop it one single bit.
The next day when the rain had stopped and the waters receded, the lakes were gone. Completely. Whittled down to a stream. Besides the missing lakes and the very important dams that held them in place for ages before July 12th 2004, thankfully there wasn’t much damage elsewhere at the Camp. Some soggy belongings that need to be dried out… a canoe or two gone… but no buildings were damaged and everyone was safe and sound save for the broken hearts.
(Rainbow Bridge and the dry lake bed the next morning… July 13th 204)
A few weeks ago when I was contemplating how to write about this event I was talking to one of our current staff members who happens to be our Boy’s Camp Waterfront Director, Ian McCrohan, and he told me that 2004 was his first summer here at Camp and he arrived post-flood. He spent weeks here in the summers when we had no lakes, when we programmatically resorted to a few tiny above-ground pools on our then 565 acres. Ian never even knew we had a front entrance to the Camp off of Stokes Road until he was a staff member because, before everything was restored years later, all traffic was directed into Camp from our back entrance off of McKindemen Road.
Hearing some details from Ian and listening to the way he spoke about Camp gave me a clear glimpse at the the true power this YMCA has. For a young boy who started his Camp experience just after a traumatic and devastating event that changed the look, feel and program of Camp… ten years later he is a bright young man leading the staff that guards the very waters he never even knew about his first few summers here. Ian is a living testament to the mission, values and staff here at our beloved Camp… and carries it on himself to the next generation of Campers who may not have ever known the years of the dry lakes.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of more people than I can name and thank, on April 12th, 2006, we turned the wheel to officially open the lake at Ockanickon once more (pictured above).
And again on July 15th, 2008… 4 long years (and 3 days), Gab, now the Matollionequay Girls Camp Director, turned the wheel to open Squaw Lake at Matollionequay (pictured above).
To those that were here then, in 2004, I salute you for handling yourselves with grace and dedication under very difficult circumstances on that night and the days and weeks that followed.
To those of us still around all these years later, I am honored to continue to serve this wonderful Camp with such a fine group of people who have struggled and persevered through some very trying times to bring this Camp back to life and restore its beauty.
To those that will come after, know deep down that this place is truly special and care for it with the Core Values of the YMCA in your heart and have faith that you will be carrying on great traditions that have been handed down to you by scores of people with amazing spirit and resilience and who give every ounce of themselves to serve it.
Act selflessly and steward wisely and we will all be handing down this magical place for eternity.
Thanks for reading.
P.S… A little known fact about our Camp blog… It was started by yours truly back around March of 2008 to keep folks posted with updates about the reconstruction of the dam at Matollionequay. I posted pictures, updates, stories and interviews all involving the efforts to restore Squaw Lake. Happily, it has evolved since then into the blog as we know it now, with stories, pictures and the like from a wide swath of our core staff covering a variety of topics and various aspects of this Camp we all love. We hope you enjoy it!!