Crystalaire originally opened in 1920 as a residential summer camp, “Osaha-of-the-Dunes.” Itold-canoe was eventually purchased by the Putt family  and operated as Crystalaire Camp For Girls. In 1958, after several years as a program director, Gus Leinbach purchased Crystalaire Camp.

img_0004“The Leinbachs changed the philosophical base radically – everything was more self-selected,” said Dave Reid, who directed the summer camp from 1976 to 2008. A life-long 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 also prioritized, 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 the Crystalaire as a residential camp program. Blake Compton had been directing trips since 2005, and spearheaded Crystalaire Adventures on the grounds that: “The future of Crystalaire is that it will be what it always has been, but it won’t be tied to a place.” Camp Lookout continues to offer the residential summer camp experience. Crystalaire continues in the spirit of an intentional source of adventure-based alternative education, as it has for almost a century.

Gus’ grandson, Micah Leinbach, went on his first trip in 2006 and continued to participate in Crystalaire through the summer of 2012. In 2013 he became director of the program until the fall of 2016. The work Micah put into Crystalaire Adventures will carry the program successfully into the future. The focus on non-competitive learning environments, the freedom to choose your daily activities, and opportunities for participants to discover their own character continues with a re-kindled focus on adapting programming to the needs kids in the 21st century.