For many years the students and faculty of the State University Teachers College at Oneonta have looked forward to having a camp for recreational and educational use. The dream was finally realized on August 15, 1952 when the Faculty-Student Association, Inc. purchased a sixty-three acre farm about four miles north of the College.
So begins the 1952 press release from President Netzer, announcing that the much-anticipated dream of having a college camp had finally come true. The old Hoffman farm couldn’t have been a more perfect location. There were endless possibilities in the hills, the woods, the open fields, the stream. Even the old buildings had potential. Bobbie Roman captured the feeling everyone had at of one of the very first tours of the Camp: “Our active imaginations ran wild…Our plans and excitement were boundless, our horizons – unlimited.” “Horizons – Unlimited” immediately became the motto of the Camp, and to this day that motto lives on.
The Camp Planning Committee, made up of both faculty and students, had been formed in September 1952 to create a long-term plan for the operation and development of the Camp, along with a list of tentative rules for Camp use. Within just two months, both of these goals were met, along with a strong advertising campaign and preparations for winter sports activities. Project subcommittees of student and faculty volunteers soon formed to undertake such missions as campsite shelters, water supply and sanitation, Bugbee School camp, and project financing.
Due to the vision and hard work of a small core of dedicated people, much was accomplished in the next ten years. The upper picnic area was completed, a well was dug for drinking water, the house was cleaned and used for emergency quarters, trails were blazed, a small lake was built, there were group campouts and skating parties, and over 10,000 trees were planted by College and Bugbee School students.
The construction of a lodge was also a high priority from the beginning. Plans for a futuristic-looking structure fell through in 1958, and then in 1963, the lodge that we have today was built. The Lodge was used by many groups and clubs for meetings, social gatherings, and overnights. Individuals used the Lodge for study or just to relax. It eventually became so popular that a lottery system was devised to accommodate all the overnight requests. At the same time, the caretaker’s cabin was also built. Lyall Fletcher became the very first caretaker, followed by Ken Kellerhouse.
In 1970, a new downhill skiing complex was opened. There were contests for naming the ski area, and it was first called Cocaska and later renamed Dragon East Ski Area. In November 1975, Peter Dady became the first Director of the College Camp. New snowmaking and ski equipment were purchased, and more T-bars were added to the lift. Ski classes continued to be offered, and cross-country ski equipment was made available for rental.
In 1978 Sepp Rhoese was hired as the second College Camp Director. He was also the director of the downhill ski program. He strongly believed in the importance of a healthy body and a healthy mind. He began a ‘Winter Weekend’ tradition; he continued the annual Supergames, which were first begun in 1977, and he helped plan and create the Fitness Trail. Tragically, in March 1980, he was killed when a drunk man lost control of his speeding cattle truck, which rolled onto the car in which Sepp was riding. In the words of one editorial, “Inherent within his daily work was the joy which came from the seemingly endless time and energy which he devoted to the well-being of others… Once you met him, you never forgot him.”
Later that year, Snapper Petta was hired as the third Director of College Camp. One of his first goals was to make the Camp more than just a place to ski and have weekend parties. His goal was soon accomplished. He expanded Supergames and turned it into Super Weekend, complete with square dancing, the traditional Supergames (including such new competitions as apple pass, pitch the tent, and others), and the Sepp Rhoese Fitness Trail Run.
He also renamed the ski area to Dragon East Winter Recreational Area to reflect the fact that it is not just a ski area, but a true recreation area where everyone can come out to enjoy our central New York winters. By 1984, the downhill ski facility was phased out due to budget constraints. The Winter Recreational Area was still open for cross-country skiing, tobogganing, and other winter activities.
The use of the Camp during the non-winter months expanded as well, and included hiking, photography, camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities. There were many new programs, such as Moonlight Madness, Moonlight Cross-Country Ski Tours, winter camping, and Springfest. The ropes course was built in the mid-1980s and was updated and expanded in the summer of 2001. Two lean-tos were also built in conjunction with SUNY Delhi construction classes. Snapper's frequent articles in the State Times kept everyone informed with everything from frostbite to great recipes to try while camping.
From 1987 to 1992, Warren Weldon served as caretaker to the Camp. By this time, the College Camp had been expanded to 262 acres. In 1990, the decision was made to move the Observatory to the Camp in order to escape the lights of the city and the mist of the Susquehanna Valley. The Camp provided a perfect setting for the Observatory.
By the spring of 1993, College enrollment had dropped, and there just weren't enough funds to finance the Camp. It was announced that the Camp would be closed in December due to budgetary constraints. The Camp remained unused through the 1990s, and in May 1999 a tornado destroyed portions of the Camp property during the Memorial Day weekend.
Many people were very disappointed that the Camp had to be closed. They knew and appreciated what a treasure the Camp was to the College. They tried numerous times to find ways to make it possible for the Camp to be reopened. Finally in 2000, thanks to such efforts, the enthusiasm of the students, and the joint financial efforts of the Student Association, the College, and the Organization of Ancillary Services, the decision was made to reopen the Camp.
In April of 2000, cleanup of the property and buildings began. The picnic area was cleared, the areas around the lean-tos were dug out, and trees were removed. All the trails were cleared, the road was graded, ditches were cleared, new signs were posted, and trail markings were started. Lodge renovations included a new kitchen, a handicap-accessible bathroom, a ramp and steps into the building, renovations to the downstairs bathrooms (which included showers), a new furnace, foundation repair, and new drainage tile installed.
After a great deal of grounds-keeping work and renovation, the Camp was opened after a ribbon cutting on November 4, 2000. On May 3, 2001, the Lodge officially opened with a campus-wide celebration. According to Tom Ryder, Executive Director of OAS, “the imagination and vision of individuals began to shape the reopening of the Camp first very functionally, and following that success and a great response from those using the facilities, an enormous growth in new facilities and programs” resulted.
From the beginning, a core group of people have seen the possibilities the Camp has to offer, and have put their heart and soul into making the Camp what it is today. Through the hard work and vision of everyone devoted to the Camp, including the previous caretakers, Eric Oellrich, Tim Gargash, and the current caretaker, Mike Hurley, along with many others, the Camp has truly become a “wonderland.” In Tom’s words, “You will find this same kind of attitude throughout OAS staff, the College Camp Advisory Committee, and the OAS Board of Directors. Moving from a camp that we could simply ‘not afford’ in the early ’90s, to creation of a growing, active, and vital pillar of the College at Oneonta , would seem to support the theme of ‘horizons unlimited!’”
This history is provided by conversations and correspondence with Colleen Brannan, Snapper Petta, and Tom Ryder, archival records of the Camp, the previous online history, and written by Heather Heyduk.