“Planting Weekend” at Camp Robinson Crusoe

After the former camp land was transferred to the Town of Sturbridge, we rather optimistically contemplated a "Planting Weekend" reunion, to be held on Memorial Day weekend, 2007. The problem was, these plans involved extensive use of the camp land, and the necessary activities that needed to occur first (demolishing the rickety, unsafe buildings, getting clearance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and so on) took a rather long time. Thus, in the end, the hoped-for reunion never occurred.

If you're interested in a bit of the history of our "Planting Weekend" plans, you can read on below, although I should warn you that this has turned into a rather long-winded historical document. Our last attempt at another reunion was aimed at July, 2010, but in the end, various conflicts made it impossible.

Planting Weekend: Bob's vision

A road along the lake
Photo by Robert Handloff, May 27, 2006
Bob Handloff intended to revive a somewhat recent tradition at camp: "Planting Weekend", when the Primitive campers for the coming summer would, over Memorial Day weekend, go to camp, make plans, and plant the Prim vegetable garden (hence the name).

Back in June of '06, Bob wrote: We'll have both work and reunion activities: clearing, building, planting, hauling, cutting, etc. during the day, and then dinner plus music, singing, square dancing, talking, etc. in the evening. We're anticipating a dinner on the refurbished Commons at camp for one night, and maybe even a hidden breakfast.

For those who'd rather kibitz than push a wheelbarrow or manhandle a rototiller, we're counting on Old Sturbridge Village to provide us with a horse and wagon tour of the village. We also anticipate enrolling the participation of various businesses such as The Publick House and Rom's, which were favorites of staff and campers and which can be prevailed upon to offer discounted service. There will be no accommodations at camp; virtually all of the buildings still standing will be torn down and dumpsterized.

There will be one or two significant work projects, which could be completed in the allotted time and which would be considered a memorial to the camp and Josh. They'd be marked with a plaque so saying. These might include an administrative Adirondack, a perennial garden, rebuilt changing rooms at the beach, a refurbished Commons, etc. The choices will be provided by the Sturbridge Conservation Commission under the guidance of Dave Barnicle, a 20-year resident, and Robert Briere, a life-long resident of Sturbridge. Both are sympathetic to the anticipated concerns and wishes of CRC alumni.

I anticipate that the weekend will include a dinner on the refurbished common, a square dance/camp fire with appropriate music either at the camp or at a location near the Publick House, and whatever else might be both feasible and appropriate, contingent on what Sturbridge has in mind for the property. Meanwhile, any ideas on what kind of project might be appropriate for alumni to work on would be appreciated. We'd like something that will be achievable and permanent, and perhaps identifiable by a plaque.

What happened

I (Larry Krakauer) began working with Bob to update our out-of-date mailing list, which dated back to the 1999 Camp Taconic reunion. We got an enthusiastic response from most of the former campers we contacted.

However, things take time. The Town didnít want anyone on the land while the dangerously decrepit buildings were still standing (see A July, 2006 visit to CRC for pictures). The demolition of the buildings was not completed, as it turned out, until December, 2007. That left little time to plan an event in May of 2008.

Visits to the camp grounds in 2006 and 2007

At the invitation of the Sturbridge Conservation Commission and the town historian (Bob Briere), two tours of the camp grounds were held for small groups of ex-campers, in May and July of 2006. As Bob Handloff put it at the time of the July 6, 2006 visit, "The camp is truly in decay (if you're looking at structures), and rebirth (if you take the perspective of trees)." Click here for a description of the July 2006 tour, with photographs.

A follow-up visit was held on July 21, 2007. Click here for a description of the July 2007 tour, with photographs.

The state of affairs in January, 2008

The Town of Sturbridge continued to address the issue of what to do with the land (click here for even greater detail on their plans). By January 2008, the former camp buildings had finally been demolished. The land is subject to a Conservation Easement, owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The standard way these are written is to prohibit pretty much all uses of the land. We canít drive on it, build any structures, or baseball fields, or tennis courts, or walls, or signs, or pretty much anything, according to the Easement.

The Commonwealth (Massachusetts is not a State, itís a Commonwealth) can give back these usages, however, upon being petitioned, and will generally grant reasonable requests. But the Commonwealth will not grant petitions until the Town has filed a Forest Management Plan, subject to review by various agencies. These are the sorts of issues that cause it to take a substantial amount of time to receive approval for any of the activities that we might have contemplated for Planting Weekend. (If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty details, you can click here to see the Conservation Easement. If you do so, it will be opened, in .pdf form, in a separate window.)

As of January, 2008, talks were still proceeding with the Massachuseets Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, which partnered with the Town of Sturbridge to buy the land. This partnership came about because the Town by itself could not afford the selling price Old Sturbridge Village was asking. Fisheries and Wildlife was (and as of March, 2009, still is) considering removing the dams, in order to restore the natural brook that ran through the land. They apparently want to increase the numbers of brook trout in the stream. Many in Sturbridge would like to see the ponds retained, feeling they are an asset to the site.

A brief history of the land

Some further background, as originally reported by Bob Handloff: "Josh sold CRC to Old Sturbridge Village ("OSV") back in the mid-1960s, in order to get his retirement money out of the enterprise. OSV was delighted to have acquired the property, which it intended to use to construct a colonial mill city resembling Lowell, MA. Alas, it never had the capital for that or any other project. Meanwhile, over the ensuing years, the fortunes of OSV began declining, because of changes in American culture, and other factors. Maintenance and operations were being compromised by diminishing cash flow, so OSV decided to sell the camp property. They entertained the blandishments of the Town of Sturbridge, which with help from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, purchased the 847-acre Morgan Tract, which is essentially the entire camp.

Thus, the Town of Sturbridge now owns the camp property. They intend to convert it into a recreation area, with horseback riding trails, bike and hiking trails, perhaps swimming at the lake, and who knows what else. Significantly, they are actively seeking input from camp folks both in planning and implementation."

Go back to the CRC Starting page This page was last updated February 4, 2012