The title question is simply enough - What ever happened to Camp Klein?, which today has been repurposed into Lake Metroparks’ Environmental Learning Center. Let’s look back at the history of Camp Klein prior to its 1997 closing - before the 2001 purchase of the property by Lake Metroparks – and before the 2015-2016 final preservation assured its place in our county history annals. This is its story.
Before Camp Klein, there were other camps. In fact, the first fresh air camps appeared in the summer of 1896. George A. Bellamy of Cleveland and Hiram House fame was its first champion. These camps were part of a movement to emphasize social and educational development of a population that at the time was mostly immigrant in composition and definitely urban dwellers. Early camp locations were in Brecksville at the farmhouse of Florence Oakes and the two properties secured by Harley Barnes from Painesville / Concord Township. By 1904, Barnes had acquired an area in Concord known as Fays Mills. The Epworth Fresh Air Camp was a reality. The camp fell under the auspices of the Epworth League of Cleveland and soon thereafter a four-decade partnership with the Methodist Youth Fellowship.The annual camps flourished and the 250 plus children who attended were exposed to religious as well as all- natural experiences. They were housed in dormitories and their outdoor education supervised by mothers and staff alike.
Despite some lean times resulting from the Great Depression and WWII, a brief suspension of the camp paved the way for the 1945-1952 hunt for a new campsite that would mirror the population move to the Cleveland suburbs. Dr. John Flynn, Dr. Clarence LaRue and George Klein of the George R. Klein News Company led this search. 1952 saw the purchase of 157 acres in Concord Township and the ensuing three years saw the formation of a camp named after its key investor. Mr. Klein was not only the founder of the camp but was also the lead chairman for many of the key committees of the Methodist Church that sponsored the site. The camp’s first guests arrived in the summer of 1955. Cabins, a swimming pool, and additional out buildings supplemented the main structure. The ‘Camp Klein Years’ encompassed the decade of the 60s and expansion marked the early part of the 70s decade. Unfortunately for the many outdoor church camps of this era, their popularity and attendance waned. Operating at only 50% capacity led to deficits and maintaining these sites became a burden to the church communities who footed the bills. A church study in 1987 forecast the demise of Camp Klein and others of its kind. Within ten years warm nostalgia met financial cold hard facts. Camp was over.
Lake Metroparks formed in the late 50s had an interest in the Camp Klein properties since day one. In 1994 the park system even applied for federal monies should the site become available. 1998 saw the Camp sold to the Slovene Home. Rancor and legal wranglings resulted between the interested parties. By 2001 a remedy was brokered and LMP assumed ownership of the property. A careful land and resource study was not completed until 2008. The site was to be repurposed as an Environmental Learning Center. Renovations, tear-downs and new construction lasted thru early 2015. Today the property is open to the public with miles of hiking trails, creek access and an educational program building that is the envy to outdoor educators everywhere. Visit lakemetropark.com for more information about this site.
- information gleened from the research of M. Sondey