Camp Kern History

We've come a long way since 1910! In 1919 Carl B. Kern arrived as a Boy's Work Secretary at the Dayton Y.M.C.A (now the Greater Dayton YMCA), with a dream to give local boys the chance to spend time in nature; camping, learning and growing. The following summer, he fulfilled his mission and together with Christ F. Kunz (Piqua YMCA Physical Director) they took 28 youth to the North Overlook at Ft. Ancient for a three day camping trip. The boys named the site, ‘Camp Ozone’. The following year, the camp was expanded to a 12-day camp, and in 1913 the Dayton YMCA purchased a 68 acre farm on the west bank of the Little Miami River establishing a permanent base for ‘Camp Ozone’. Camp continued to grow with permanent lodges and cabins being built through the next 20 years. Sadly, in 1917 Carl B Kern was killed in a car accident and Camp Ozone was renamed Camp Kern in his honor.  By the late 1930’s, capacity was becoming an issue, so sites were scouted for a new location for Camp Kern; Michigan, Indiana and Ohio were all considered but at the last minute, in 1943 a deal was reached with the farm owner at the top of the State Route 350 hill. Camp Kern had a new permanent location.

Historical Pool Picture

To see more historical images, view the galleries below:

Gallery One      Gallery Two

In 1947 the first structure was built on the new land at the top of the hill, a pool and bath house. A new lodge and kitchen, entrance gate, baseball diamond and two tennis courts soon followed and in 1950, Camp was officially moved to the top of the hill. In 1954 the historic Pete’s Tower was constructed. 1962 saw horseback riding introduced for summer programming, and 1964 saw a further expansion in programming as the Outdoor Education (’School Field Trips’) Program was launched. ELK Lake was completed and the Sugar Woods Cabins were also built. The success of horseback riding as an activity led to the creation Ranch Camp in 1965, closely followed by ELK Lodge’s completion in 1969 - giving Ranch Camp a permanent home. (ELK Lake & Lodge were named after Edward L. Kohnle, hence the capitalization, although nowadays it is simply referred to as Elk).

1971 saw the small bathhouse being built and the new pool being constructed, and in 1977 Camp operated their first season of co-ed camping, while the camp administrative offices moved from YMCA Downtown to Camp. The 1980’s saw an ELK Lodge expansion, main camp cabins 11 and 12 relocated, a new bathhouse built, a new indoor riding arena and a new boathouse at ELK Lake. 


Horse History

In 1992 the Cross Keys Tavern was restored and the Brisben Family Center was constructed in 1996. The 1997 reinvestment campaign saw more than $1 million being spent in infrastructure, including the Moore building, Old Pool Bathhouse (which by now was staff housing) became the Boda Welcome Center, new tennis courts were built and main camp kitchen saw a renovation.  Year round programming continued to grow, especially in our Leadership and Conferencing departments.

The 2000’s saw rapid expansion and growth, with Singerman Lodge being renovation, Tango Tower construction, Schiewetz Assembly Hall constructed and indoor climbing facility completed. Camp expanded its boundaries in 2007 with the purchase of the Clark Farm and utilized some of that space immediately to construct our own wetland habitat.

A new department opened in 2009, with Ozone Zipline Adventures becoming the YMCA’s first educational canopy tour in the country, supporting the Outdoor Education department. Later that year, two new Casper Lodges expanded the capacity of Sugar Woods and in 2010 construction began on Wilderness Pavilion and Yurt Village.

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