The History of Crystalaire

Crystalaire Adventures began as a residential summer camp, in 1920 as “Osaha-of-the-Dunes” on the shores of Crystal Lake in northwest Michigan. It was later purchased by the Putt family and operated as Crystalaire Camp For Girls until 1958, when Gus Leinbach, a long-time program director, bought the camp and refashioned it as an experiential education platform known simply as Crystalaire.

“The Leinbachs changed the philosophical base radically – everything was more self-selected,” said Dave Reid, who owned Crystalaire from 1976 to 2008. A lifelong educator and social worker, Gus was attracted to progressive educational models built around freedom, such as the Summerhill School in England. Non-competitive, free-form learning environments were encouraged at Crystalaire well before they were a social norm elsewhere. Trips were a priority, with participants spending at least one night of every week on trail. These trips, which included sailing, backpacking, canoeing, and horsecamping, were run throughout the summer, often for as long as 3 weeks. In the early 1960s, Gus aspired to make camping more accessible to women, inner-city youth, and native groups. These efforts culminated in Crystalaire becoming co-educational in the mid-1970s, and the formation of the Washtenaw Camp Placement Association, which still operates today.

Dave Reid purchased the camp and later expanded the residential camping program to include “Crystalaire-at-Lookout” (now Camp Lookout). In 2008, the rising property values around Crystal Lake resulted in a mutual agreement to close Crystalaire as a residential camp, and consequently all operations were moved to Camp Lookout. But the trips element of the camp was not lost. A new trips program, dubbed Crystalaire Adventures, now found its home on the road. Blake Compton, the director for nearly a decade said of Crystalaire Adventure’s renewal: “the future of Crystalaire is that it will be what it always has been, but it won’t be tied to a place.” Gus’s grandson, Micah Leinbach, became the director of Crystalaire in 2013. The work Micah put into Crystalaire Adventures set the program upon a path of innovation and success. Since, Crystalaire Adventures has seen unparalleled growth in both participation and opportunities for education. Micah served as director from 2013 to 2016, when he passed the directorship to Charlie Burnett, a dedicated educator and your current Crystalaire director.

In the Spring of 2018, Camp Lookout and Crystalaire again found a new home at Camp Carvela, a square mile of old-growth wilderness outside of Traverse City, MI. Today, the focus on non-competitive learning environments, the freedom to choose your daily journeys, and opportunities for participants to discover friends, themselves, and the world around them endures with adaptive programming strategies to meet the needs of kids in the 21st century. Camp Lookout continues to offer the residential summer camp experience. And Crystalaire continues in the spirit of adventure-based alternative education, as it has for almost a century.

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