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75 years of tradition and history: Camp Crystal Lake shares 'camp magic' with Alachua County

A woman points out a photo of her counselors from the summer she attended Camp Crystal. (Ginger Koehler/WUFT News)
A woman points out a photo of her counselors from the summer she attended Camp Crystal. (Ginger Koehler/WUFT News)

Camp Crystal Lake is celebrating its 75th Anniversary by bringing camp alumni together to celebrate the rich history of Alachua County’s community fixture on Crystal Lake.

On Saturday, former campers celebrated with the classic Camp Crystal Lake activities, including face painting, arts and crafts, archery and a ropes climbing course.

The mission of the reunion is to provide 75 camp scholarships, one for each year the camp has been in existence, to continue a legacy of summer fun and tradition.  The celebration continues with another reunion on Dec. 9.

It’s an opportunity to raise scholarship funds for students who can’t afford the camp’s cost of $600, said head counselor Kelly Leitner.

The camp raised funds through donations, the silent auction and 75th anniversary T-shirt sales. Many donated items were offered to bidders in the silent auction, most notably were many of the signs that had been posted around camp property for decades.

Jasmine Klein, programming director for Camp Crystal Lake, said this reunion was a first-of-its-kind experience for not only campers, counselors and alumni to visit camp during the school year, but anyone in the public who would like to experience the “camp magic.”

Years of tradition and camp memories were on display in the Rec Hall, where alumni were encouraged to bring in photos and stories to share with one another at the respective decade to their time at camp.

Since its opening in 1948, memories have been made of the 140-acre camp in Alachua County.

Siblings Mark and Susie Lyons attended camp from 1965 to1973, and Mark reminisced about his coining of the classic camp lingo, “Katawa.”

Mark said Camp Crystal Lake was hugely influential in their lives and inspired his love of fine arts, which he later studied at university.

More than 250 attendees of all ages came to the event, the youngest being the seven-week-old daughter of Camp Crystal Lake’s new director, Landon Strack.

Strack said that in a collaborative effort with the Alachua County School Board, he has helped put together a new schedule for summer 2024 that will allow 164 new campers to attend CCL, which often has an extensive waitlist. Summer camp registration opened on Nov. 18.

Parents should note the change from four one-week sessions and two two-week sessions to five one-week sessions and one two-week session, Strack said.

Much of the “camp family” expressed their view of the change as a fair compromise.

Earlier this year, the school board faced major backlash after changing the schedule to all one-week sessions.

Camper Oliver Love-Leonor, 13, shared a petition in August called “Stopping ACPS from Eliminating CCLS 2 Week Sessions.” The petition amassed 834 signatures and many passionate commenters asking for the two-week sessions to return.

Following the popularity of the petition, Klein reported that many of the staff members and campers reached out by email to the school board members asking to bring back their favorite part of the summer.

After thoroughly weighing the options, Strack said, he did his best to balance what would be best for current campers and what would be best for all the potential new campers that would have a chance to experience what he refers to as paradise.

Strack said he is excited for his staff to have the opportunity to “create and make new ‘Strawberry’ moments for new campers and show them why Camp Crystal Lake is the best place on Earth.”

The camp has The Strawberry newspaper that shares moments of fun from campers and alumni.

The reunion raised $6000, according to Brian Beckett, Associate Director of Programming at Camp Crystal Lake, opening the door to 10 potential new campers.

As for Klein, a third-generation camper, she has hope to keep the camp magic alive in her family for years to come. Her grandma was a camper and staff member in the 1950s, followed by Klein’s aunt taking the same path, and then her father and cousins who were all campers.

“I’m going send my kids here. I hope they send their kids here,” Klein said, “It’s an invaluable family tradition that I will never give up.”

Ginger is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing