Monday, July 2, 2012

Camp Ross Trails




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It would seem like the perfect stand in for "Camp Crystal Lake" in a Friday the 13th sequel, and the Cold War nuclear scares that shut it down could make for the plot of a horror movie, but this abandoned Girl Scout camp is no more.

It's Winter 2002 and I'm in my 8th grade English class. For an exercise, we had to write about what we wanted for Christmas. I penned an essay about wanting a paintball gun, despite being worried about the "Christmas Story" connotation. Luckily, the teacher made no mention of me shooting my eye out and on Christmas morning, I unwrapped a JT Accelerator 5.0. Some of my friends and I had recently gotten into paintball, but it was always tough trying to find a place to play. Speedball at Crazy Jim's in Mt. Healthy was always good, but there was nothing like playing outside in the woods. My friends Alex and Ben knew of the perfect place to play - an abandoned Girl Scout camp near Ross, Ohio.

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- One of the camp's cabins overgrown with brush. At the time the photo was taken, it had been abandoned for nearly 17 years.
In the end, I think we only played at the camp one time before everyone started losing interest in paintball. During the Summer of 2005, a few of us went back there in the middle of the night to check it out. I had just gotten my first digital camera and had no idea what I was doing so please pardon the quality of these photographs.

I also apologize for the annoying MS Paint induced watermark. When I first shared the photos on the internet in 2005, there was a guy who had gone around and taken a bunch of my pictures and posted them on a site claiming them as his own, the watermark was an attempt to keep him from doing it again. I actually had forgotten about these photos and figured they were long gone along with an old family computer, but found them hosted on photobucket in all their pixelated glory.



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The night we went back there, I remember we had to cut through some side yards of people's houses, paranoid out of our minds that we would be seen. No one seemed to notice or care though. I'm not a believer in ghosts now and I wasn't back then, but that still didn't shake the eerie feeling of being back at that camp in the middle of the night. I never went away to summer camp as a kid, my perceptions of such a place had been based off Friday the 13th and Salute Your Shorts. Rumors of campers who had gone missing in the 60's and girls who had drowned in the lake made the place feel incredibly creepy. Combined with the story of how the place had been contaminated by the nearby nuclear facility and it seemed like the perfect setting for a horror movie about irradiated mutant girl scouts chasing you in the night.



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1988 had been the last summer any girls attended Camp Ross Trails.  It never reopened again over fears of environmental contamination from the nearby Fernald Plant which processed uranium for nuclear weapons.

- Fernald Nuclear Foundry in 1988. Photograph by Dr. David B. Frankhauser of the University of Cincinnati.
Fernald had not only been a site to process the atomic payloads of nuclear weapons, but a dumping ground for radioactive waste - the third largest in the nation at the time. It even held waste materials created during The Manhattan Project, which produced the United States' first atomic weapons that were dropped on Japan in World War Two. In the 80's, it came to light how bad conditions were at the plant and how for years radioactive waste had been leaking into the air and water wells. Phil Donahue even aired a show from Hamilton High School about the situation.

While the Department of Energy claimed nearby residents were not in any danger, the negative publicity and perception were enough to kill enrollment at Camp Ross Trails. The Great Rivers Girl Scout Council shuttered the camp in 1989 and eventually sold off the land, it had been located just two miles from Fernald. Another camp, Fort Scott, closed too. It had been owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

- Newspaper clipping from the Hamilton-Journal News featuring a photo of the camp. The caption beneath reads: "Members of Hamilton Troop 1603 perform an Indian dance for visitors at the Girl Scout campout last weekend at Camp Ross Trails near Ross." Image from: VintageGirlScout.com.

The land for Camp Ross Trails was purchased in 1956 and the camp opened in 1959. It featured 11 units, a swimming pool and a lake among other facilities. The lake can still be accessed today for fishing.

- Campers in 1966. Image ©Ann Witz.

Currently, a housing subdivision sits in place of where the camp used to be. When my friends and I were playing paintball, the housing construction hadn't reached that far back yet. These days, very little of the camp remains. Everything seen in my photographs has since been demolished.

- Map of the camp. ©Ann Witz.

The subdivision which now occupies the land had several of its streets named after cabins that had been at the camp. The cleanup of Fernald was completed in 2006 and the area is now a nature reserve that undergoes regular testing by the Department of Energy. This City Beat editorial from 2008 recounts growing up near Fernald and taking part in regular medical inspections as part of a citizen's group winning a class action lawsuit against Fernald.

- Undated photo of scouts at Ross Trails. ©Ann Witz.
While Ross Trails had just begun its operation in the early 60's, a plant just two miles away was increasing production to meet the demand for more nuclear weapons as the Cold War heightened. After nearly thirty years, Ross Trails closed and eventually so did Fernald. For me, I only knew the camp as a paintball battleground, but for my friends who had grown up nearby - this place was an iconic memory in their adolescent adventures. What started out as a youth summer retreat in the "country" is now a suburban subdivision and now it's all just a footnote in local history..

Some more photos from the summer of 2005:



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Note:  The historical photographs are credited to Ann Witz, the assumed name of their owner. They were found using the "Way Back Machine" to access a website that no longer exists. If the images have been improperly credited or a correction needs to be made, please email me.

22 comments:

  1. That is my parent's neighborhood! Pretty sweet to see the old pics. I always knew there used to be an old girl scout camp, but never really knew anything about it. This is awesome!

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    1. ^The place was pretty cool to see back when it was still standing. My two friends who took us out there had been exploring it since they were kids. The one day we spent playing paintball out there was very cool. The cabin in the photo was a main base for one team with a flag in the middle and it was always hard to assault it. I remember one time trying to throw a paint grenade into the cabin and all it did was thud against the wood and slowly drip paint. I got my ass tore up with paintballs right after I threw it.

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  2. I worked at the Fernald plant for many years. The news media and negative publicity is what helped to close down the facility. It was all an overkill. Oh well, at least we now have a nice nature preserve to take its place.

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    1. From what I've gathered, it seems like there were a lot of concerns/violations/hazards in the late 80's. The photo in the article from the UC professor stems from a paper he wrote after touring the facility showing how things were improperly disposed of. However, it never seemed to come to light that anyone who lived in the area or worked there actually contracted any sort of sickness.

      As someone who was too young to remember any of it, it's weird to fathom that there was so much media attention near where I grew up.

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  3. Growing up, we used to walk the "crick" up to the lake and hang out at the camp in the early 90's. It was a great hideout as a kid.

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    1. I can imagine. I wish we would've gone more or that I would've taken better photographs back then, but it was an excellent paintball arena.

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  4. For those of us who spent many wonderful summers as campers and counselor's, CRT was a magical summer haven. I can see why playing paint ball or other hunt and seek games there would be very cool. From the photos, it looks like you stumbled on a unit called "Tree House.". The 2 cards of all of the girls in summer uniforms are counselor photos, not campers. I have been back to see it when the subdivision was partially built. I tried to find any remaining structures, but those apparently were gone. I so much appreciate that you though to take photos so I can see some of the last remaining vestiges and the overgrowth after 17 years of neglect. The Fernald event was probably overkill as noted above. It is sad for me, and I am sure many others, that the camp only remains in our fond memories. Thanks, again, for posting the photos of your great adventure! They bring back some incredible memories.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and info! It certainly was an excellent place to play paintball and for years before that, my friends in the area would often explore it. The tree house was the main "base" for paintball, I think the other cabin we used was the "Art Cabin." That's at least what we called it. It was pretty overgrown and I wouldn't go near it for fear of snakes.

      I'll amend the article to mention that those girls in the photos are counselors not campers. Glad you enjoyed the article!

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  5. Great article! I went to CRT as a Girl Scout many years ago - such fond memories! Now I'm a leader for my daughter's troop and I had always wondered what happened to the place. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. I am the Ann Witz credit in your photos from my old Geocities website. I have created a new site with most of the old information and photos if anyone wants to check it out.

    http://camprosstrails.intuitwebsites.com/index.html

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    1. Ann,

      Thank you for your comment. I will add your new link into the original post. Do you mind if I still use the photos on here? Your new site is great, thanks for shedding light on the history of the place!

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    2. The use of the photos is fine. Thanks!

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  7. Thank you for this post. I grew up in Cincinnati and camped at CRT several times with my troop. Earlier this year I published a short story about one such campout, in an anthology titled Decision at Camp Ross Trails and Other Stories. One of my oldest friends--still in touch after all these years--tells me I nailed it. The photos brought back memories: Oh! sleeping on those bare plank bunks! It's astonishing how quickly nature can swallow a place.

    My thanks to Ann Witz for her photos and especially for the map. I had forgotten all the old campsite names, but a few minutes' study of the map brought them all back: Tall Timbers, Fox Run.... It was a fantastic place to spend a weekend with your buddies.

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    1. Ruth,

      Thanks for your comment. Any chance I could read that short story somewhere? I'd love to hear it.

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    2. Dear Gordon,

      I published the anthology for e-readers. It is available for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007EDBNIO and for all other e-readers on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/175357 . If you don't have an e-reader, shoot me an email at ruth-dot-maclaurin@gmail-dot-com and I will send you that story in plain text format.

      Thank you for asking,
      Ruth

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  8. I grew up here in the 90's. It makes me so sad to see this is all gone. I had SO many great memories in those woods. One of the best times in my life. RIP Longhorn Bill. This place wasn't actually scary. It was great. Me and Joey would stay in those cabins all summer long. The adove pics are mostly from the "cabin on stilts". The very large fireplace from the vintage shot was in the cafeteria. It was large enough to burn several railroad ties. Also. nothing creepy ever happened there. The property was owned by Watson then sold to dev elopers... Thanks Watson!

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  9. My sister was a girl scout back then and my mother would help the troop out when they went to Camp Ross in the summer. Because of that I went on two camping trips in 1959 and 1960 (?). I can remember them expanding the lake one summer, and then seeing it finished the following year. The buildings were very fantastic. Great memories!

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  10. I'm 90% sure that the B splatter movie, "Zombie Cult Massacre" was shot at this girl Scout Camp during the end of the summer in 1994, although it was not released until 1998. It was a shot on video movie that was written, directed and produced by Cincinnati natives Jeff Dunn and Steve Losey. Very gory and not for everybody.

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  11. I too spent many summers at CRT, first as a camper, then as a counselor. I knew the camp had been closed, but didn't know there was a subdivision there now. This will save me a side trip this weekend, I was going to go by there since I'll be in Oxford. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Definitely going to check out Amazon for Ruth's book!

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  12. I too was a camper and counselor at CRT and these pics as well as the pics that Ann posted bring back great memories for me. The camp changed my life and I am proud to say made me who I am today. For those that are still interested in CRT there is a page on Facebook and I would encourage you to join, share your pictures etc.
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/108653051214/
    There has been 1 reunion in recent years of former staff members (with a few loyal campers) and we look to do one again in the future.

    Ruth I would love to read a copy of the book you wrote... look for an email from me soon!

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  13. Thank you for allowing me to think back to a time when Ross Trails was in its glory. I was the Board member who directed the extensive expansion of the camp. I watched with great pride as the camp developed into a sports camp. I camped there with troops, send my four daughters there and later was so proud of what we had accomplished. I also served as president of the Board in the 80's and still believe that we had such a remarkable outdoor program. I left the area many years ago, but what wonderful memories I have of Ross Trails. Thank you for your wonderful pictures.

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  14. I was a counselor at CRT in the summers of 1967-68 and was from Pittsburgh PA. This was my first adventure from home and loved the adventures. BTW the whale in the lake, as the story goes was a mattress that blew onto the lake after a bad storm. Some of the girls thought that it was the back of a whale and the story stuck.

    I was so saddened to find out that the camp closed and why. The irony of life is that I work for the Dept of Energy. "Tic"

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