The Beginnings of Camp Batawagama

Batawagama is Ojibwa for Land between the Lakes, that being Chicagoan and Indian Lakes located in Iron County, Michigan. Camp Batawagama has been around for almost 70 years. Before there was a Camp Batawagama way back in 1938, the idea to build a permanent summer camp and outdoor recreational facility in Iron County, Michigan was first conceived. Men and women from various organizations in the county began to explore the possibilities of building a camp for youth in Iron County.

Many conditions for this undertaking were already in place. The county owned a beautiful section of land on the shores of Indian Lake. It was covered with virgin timber and had extensive lake frontage that could be developed as a beach for swimming and boating. There was a labor force readily at hand. The Indian Lake site was only a few miles from Camp Bewabic on Fortune Lake and was a C.C.C. unit that housed 200 enrollees, and in 1938, they were just completing the work on Chicagoan Lake’s Pentoga Park.

In 1939, Harry W. Willis, engineer-manager of the Iron County Park Commission, forwarded an application to the National Park Service regional office in Omaha, NE, requesting that the Camp Bewabic C.C.C. unit be continued in the county. Mr. Willis’ application was sent to Paul V. Brown, the regional director of the W.P.A., and it outlined a work program at Indian Lake which would keep the enrollees of Camp Bewabic employed building a camp for the youth in Iron County during the winter of 1939-1940. Before the youth camp project could begin, it was necessary for Iron County to generate $3500 in cash, which was matched by the Federal Government, bringing the total cost of the project to $7000.

Several plans were submitted concerning the design of the camp facilities, and a committee of involved citizens agreed that the camp should have 19 buildings. The A, B, and C-Units would each be comprised of four residential cabins. Each of these units would have one latrine. There would be one administration building, one dispensary, one help quarters, and one dining and recreation hall. In December of 1939, the Department of the Interior approved the plans for the youth camp, and the project was begun in the winter of ’39. Approximately 70 young men were assigned to the Indian Lake project and they were transported daily to the site from Camp Bewabic. Today, there are approximately 29 buildings, some refurbished and some built from scratch.