The Camp Robinson Crusoe land

The former camp land is now owned by the Town of Sturbridge. The Town intends to convert the land into a recreation area, with horseback riding trails, bike and hiking trails, perhaps swimming at the lake, and other activities still to be decided. Significantly, they are actively seeking input from camp folks both in planning and implementation.

As of this writing, January 4, 2008, the camp buildings have finally been completely demolished, their locations covered with wood mulch.

Bob Briere has reported that Mass Fisheries and Wildlife want a meeting in February to discuss the removal of the dams. This would eliminate the lakes, and allow just the brook to pass through the property, to help establish better trout fishing. Bob feels that the ponds are one of the greatest assets of the property, and this proposal should be rejected. However, the Commonwealth did kick in more than 50% of the total cost of the property, so it has some say in the matter.

The remainder of this page discusses the Town of Sturbridge planning process regarding the former-camp's land, including the history of how the ownership passed to the Town of Sturbridge.

Joint Committee/Camper meeting, July 21, 2007

The Town of Sturbridge Public Lands Advisory Committee expressed a willingness to have a Saturday meeting devoted to CRC issues, if that would allow a larger number of ex-campers to attend. Former campers met at 1:00 P.M. behind the Sturbridge Town Hall, and the meeting took place in the parking lot. It then adjourned for a walk-through of the camp property. Click here for a report on the July 21, 2007 meeting, with photographs. Recent photos of the camp grounds can also be seen in this older report on a July 6, 2006 visit to the camp.

Town of Sturbridge planning process

I have attended several meetings of the Town of Sturbridge Board of Selectmen, and one earlier meeting of the Public Lands Advisory Committee (all committee meetings are open to the public, in accord with the Massachusetts open meeting law). Bob Briere, president of the Sturbridge Historical Society, has been instrumental in introducing me to the various committee members, and in encouraging the committees to take the concerns and wishes of ex-campers into account in their planning. On several occasions, ex-campers from Camp Robinson Crusoe have been encouraged to speak.

I have been very impressed with the extent to which the Town of Sturbridge is trying to keep the concerns of CRC ex-campers in mind. The committees have been genuinely interested in hearing the various campers talk about the camp, and what it meant to us. I think they also understand that we can bring to bear a fairly large group of people who can do some useful work on some aspect of the project, and perhaps even provide some financial support. Still, they have a good deal of work ahead of them, and I suspect it would have been easier for them to go ahead without worrying much about the site’s past history.

Recent history of ownership

The camp owner and director Josh Lieberman sold the camp land 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. With help from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Town of Sturbridge purchased the 847-acre Morgan Tract, which is essentially the entire camp.

The use of the land is restricted by a "conservation easement", which is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (this is a standard way in Massachusetts of protecting land intended for conservation purposes from future development). This will, of course, limit what can be done with the land. I got a copy of the conservation easement from the web page of the Town Administrator of the Town of Sturbridge. This public document can be found here, in .pdf format.

At first glance, the conservation easement seems to prohibit some of the activities the Town would like to be able to have on the site, such as reviving the tennis courts. It lists, under "Prohibited Acts and Uses", any "dwelling, building, tennis court, pavement, parking area, utility pole, fence, barrier, a wall, septic system" (there are exceptions, "by permit"). However, this needs to be interpreted in light of the way that conservation restrictions are traditionally written. They first eliminate all uses, and then give them back via a permitting process. Hence, this does not mean that all the "Prohibited Acts and Uses" listed above will actually be prohibited in the final analysis.

Some links

The Town of Sturbridge's home page.

The text of an advertisement for bids for the demolition of buildings at Camp Robinson Crusoe, which appeared in the Southbridge Evening News, Friday, August 3, 2007:
            Request for bids: Demolition of Camp Robinson Crusoe buildings.

The Town Administrator's page, which contains a link to the conservation easement given above.

Town Calendar, Town of Sturbridge. Meetings of the Public Lands Advisory Committee may be listed as "PLAC". It generally meets the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month at 7 PM, in the Town Hall, 1st floor meeting room.

Note that the on-line calendar is not always up to date. It contains the warning, "THE FOLLOWING CALENDAR IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. In accordance with Mass General Laws Chapter 39, Section 23B, the official meeting notices are posted on the 'principal official bulletin board' of the Town, located in the foyer of the Town Hall."

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This page was last updated March 20, 2009