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.
|- One of the camp's cabins overgrown with brush. At the time the photo was taken, it had been abandoned for nearly 17 years.|
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.
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.
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.|
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.|
Some more photos from the summer of 2005:
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.