Camp Fish Tales commemorates 25 years with new 24-bed cabin
MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) — Camp Fish Tales, a barrier-free camp that serves individuals with special needs, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with an open house and 5K fun run.
Located on 67 acres, Camp Fish Tales provides specialized camping experiences for individuals of all ages with varying types of disabilities — from rock climbing and ziplining to fishing, archery and more.
Campers get to do things at Camp Fish Tales that they normally wouldn’t get to do, said Executive Director Shannon Forshee. She said her favorite part about it is the friendships the campers make with one another.
“They call each other from year to year and say ‘Hey, I’m going week three, can you go?’ and they all get together and meet up,” she said to the Midland Daily News. “It’s truly their vacation for them.”
Board President Jennifer Page said this is just the third year that an open house event was held.
“We really thought it would be for people who maybe are thinking about coming to camp, and we get some of those, but for the most part, it’s like a kick-off for those people who can’t wait to get to camp,” she said. “They’re the ones who love to come out here and say hi.”
As part of the recent event, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to dedicate a new 24-bed cabin, which will double the camp’s capacity, Forshee said.
“This expansion demonstrates that even as we celebrate our beloved camp’s 25-year legacy, we are even more focused on our future and the incredible experiences we can provide to our camping community,” she said in a statement.
Since 1996, the camp has been located in Pinconning and has expanded in numerous ways. However, Fish Tales got its start in 1993, as a week-long camp hosted at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University.
Despite a setback in 2015, when a camp secretary embezzled $50,000, Camp Fish Tales has continued to grow and expand, Page said.
“A lot of board members had to pitch in, kind of bring it back from the ground up,” she said. “So, it’s really important to us that not only did we manage to keep the camp going, but it’s thriving.”
Jan Lampman, vice chair of the camp’s board, said Camp Fish Tales has been able to implement more programs and include more people since Forshee became executive director last May.
For example, there have been day camps for those who aren’t keen on staying overnight, or for campers who have more serious health concerns. In addition, the space is used by outside groups such as Her Power.
“It’s really great that we have our own programming, but it’s also great that we can provide this facility for other groups to come in and do their specific programming as well,” Page said.
Expanding the camp’s uses and outreach are continued goals for the future, she added.
“We don’t want to be so rigid, like ‘this is how we do things,’ that we’re excluding people, because that’s not the point of this camp,” Page said. “We want to include as many people as possible.”
And this summer, the camp will have yet another use and make good on another partnership - one with Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI).
During the open house, Forshee announced that SOMI has chosen Camp Fish Tales as the location for its first Michigan Camp Shriver, a camp program designed to provide a normative, fun, camp-like experience for young people with intellectual disabilities, similar to Camp Fish Tale’s mission.
“When they chose us and they came in to tour our camp, they said this is exactly where they want to be,” Forshee said.
While the camp is in the northern part of Bay County, there are several Midland Stakeholders and donors who volunteer and play a role in the camp, including those who donated toward the new bunkhouse.
Donors included the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, the Thelen family, Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, the Riddle Family, Dow Corning Foundation, the LaTulip family, the Ieuter family, the Massnick family, Memorial Presbyterian Church, Kiwassee Kiwanis Foundation, the Rowley family, Mary Ellery Trust and Community Wishes.
“This is the first grant we’ve given to Camp Fish Tales,” said Jenee Velasquez, executive director of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. “And it’s just an exciting opportunity to provide this camping experience.”
In addition, the camp serves families from all over the Great Lakes Bay Region.
“We’re the only camp in the area that provides what we provide here,” Page said. “It’s a rustic camp experience for individuals of all ages with disabilities, and we know statistically there’s a lot of people out there that could benefit from coming here and having this opportunity. So, I’d like to see them all be here.”
Camping sessions at Camp Fish Tales begin on June 2 this year - just weeks away.
There will be 11 week-long camping sessions - three for youth campers, one for SOMI during week eight, and seven sessions for adults. In previous years, the camp has only hosted two weeks for children, Page said. So, the additional week, plus the new bunkhouse, will allow for a larger capacity.
In addition, there are multiple respite weekends to accommodate even more campers and their individualized needs.
Information from: Midland Daily News, http://www.ourmidland.com