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Reflecting on history of 4-H Camp Whitewood

Once in a while an opportunity comes along that causes me to think back quite a few years. One of those happened recently when Jenna Hoyt, 4-H educator in Ashtabula County, asked me to update the history of 4-H Camp Whitewood. The most recent one, that I wrote, was published in 2006.

So, working with Jenna, who is chairwoman of the camp board of directors, and camp CEO Andy Hudak to get me information about what has taken place at camp since 2006, I agreed to tackle the job.

My guess is that there may be a number of folks in this county that were campers at Whitewood a number of years ago.

The camp is located in the corner of southwestern Ashtabula County in Windsor Township. It is one of the most beautiful, historic and interesting spots in all of northeastern Ohio.

My involvement with camp goes back to the mid-1950s when I was associate county agent in Summit County and then county agricultural agent in Ashtabula County.

Located on the banks of and including the Phelps Creek gorge, camp property stretches more than a mile east along the gorge. Several areas include what was known as the picnic area, footprint rock and vesper hill along Wiswell Road. History of the area says that at one time there were fairs with a Ferris wheel held at the picnic site.

Some of you may remember camp in the earlier times. Just three cabins and five tents for sleeping on canvas bunks made from chestnut lumber from the woods. The dining hall with wooden fold-up sides and roll-up canvas over the windows and a combined craft building with a small garage attached.

Many improvements have been made over the years. More cabins have been built, some winterized for year-round use. The dining hall has had more than one update and an open recreation building constructed. A small glass green house was provided by a donor.

A water system was installed along with flush toilets for both the girl’s and boy’s sides of camp. Two sides of the craft hall and a concrete floor were added.

Since 2006 there have been more improvements. A major one was the construction of a central sewage system. There were four individual septic systems being used and the Environmental Protection Agency said they had to be combined into one central system.

This required an investment of more than $400,000, a major undertaking for the camp. EPA did allow time for the camp to raise the money. Several major donations and many smaller ones allowed the camp to proceed with the new system. All camp facilities and the home and office go into the new system that finally cost more than $450,000.

The craft hall, now renamed the Lodge, has been enclosed, paneled on the inside with a small kitchen, restrooms and a stage built in. Then it was air-conditioned, something unheard of for 4-H Camp Whitewood. It is used year-round for meetings, weddings and other events to make more use of the building.

About 1,000 sugar maple taps were available, so a small sugar house with a modern evaporator was built. After several years of experience, it was decided making maple syrup was no longer cost effective, so the evaporator was sold and other uses made of the building. Camp officials are looking for a local buyer to buy sap from Whitewood trees for syrup for camp use and sales.

As was the situation for many organizations, the camp, along with all Ohio 4-H camps, was not allowed to open in 2020. Limited staff have been able to keep the area mowed and facilities maintained. Now the hope is that 2021 will be a better year.

Down the road, the camp faces other major problems. The dining hall needs major improvements or rebuilding. Cabin and roofs of other building face continued maintenance because they are shaded much of the time.

Challenges are ahead for 4-H Camp Whitewood but the camp will be able to deal with them as time goes on.

Parker is professor emeritus, The Ohio State University and an independent writer for the Tribune Chronicle.

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