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Master Planning Basics

Gregory A. Copeland

CAMP DESIGN: Master Planning Basics Copyright 2011 © by Gregory A. Copeland All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means­—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the author.

ISBN-13: 978-1-46374-994-1 ISBN-10: 1-46374-994-5 15 14 13 12 11  1 2 3 4 5 Produced in conjunction with: DOMOKUR ARCHITECTS 4651 Medina Road Akron, OH 44321-1215

CONTENT CONTRIBUTIONS BY Jacqueline S. Cmunt, Elizabeth W. Iszler, Phil Lanier and Andrew Schneider


Cover photo: Camp Okizu, Berry Creek, California © Greg Copeland


Allison Copeland Levine 1976–2009

CONTENTS INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

CHAPTER ONE  The Foundation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 CHAPTER TWO  The Planning Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 CHAPTER THREE  The Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 CHAPTER FOUR  Baseline Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 CHAPTER FIVE  Master Site Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 CHAPTER SIX  Implementation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 CHAPTER SEVEN  Communication Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 CHAPTER EIGHT  Reevaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153 EPILOGUE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162 REFERENCE LIST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164 QUOTATION SOURCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164 IMAGE CREDITS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165

PREFACE “Greg, you should write a book on camp planning!” Over the hills and valleys of a forty-year career, embracing the world of children living in the outdoors, folks would say, “Greg, you really should write a book.” The notion was a seed of the idea, a dream that would always end with, someday. Consumed with managing a business, serving the needs of my clients and searching for the next new project, finding the time to translate my thoughts and experiences into words never happened. Thanks to Mike Domokur, someday became a reality in 2009. It was a very challenging time in my life. My youngest daughter Allison, had terminal cancer, I closed my practice—which had been in operation for over thirty-eight years—and went to work for a new firm, Domokur Architects. Mike graciously agreed to bring me and the members of my planning staff into his firm. For the first time since I was twenty-four years old, I was working for someone else. The second week I was at the office, Mike and I flew out to California to meet with several clients. It was our first opportunity to begin to shape a vision of camp design services for Domokur Architects.

He asked me, “What one thing could we do to set our firm apart from our competition.” My response was to write a book on camp planning, since the last one published was in 1972. Mike did not hesitate for a second, he said “Get busy and write the book.” Six weeks later we lost Allison. As I tried to resume some sense of a normal life, Mike gently prodded me, “Greg, is it time to start the book?” In May, the pages slowly emerged and over the course of the summer the book began to take shape. By the end of the year, the normal work routine and project commitments forced me to put the book on the back burner. We then needed someone to transform the text into a real book. The opportunity materialized when Carrie Moradi joined our firm as a summer architectural student intern in the spring of 2011. Carrie has nine years of experience as a graphic designer and project manager in the educational book publishing industry. With her help and guidance along with the contributions of our staff—Elizabeth Iszler, Jackie Cmunt, Phil Lanier and summer intern Andrew Schneider—this book is a reality. Someday is today! Thank you Mike.


Camp is an integral part of the North American landscape. Millions of children and families have passed through the gates of thousands of camps in the United States and Canada since 1861. Camps are the common equalizer between the rich and poor. They have served as the incubator for generations of leaders in government, industry, education and religious institutions. Their presence within the fabric of the landscape has preserved tens of thousands of acres of natural space that would have been consumed by houses and shopping malls.

Girl Scouts camp assembly, 1928


“Camping… because it takes place in a natural environment rather than an urban one, has seemed to many to be best served by letting physical facilities develop almost by chance or immediate need rather than in any planned order. It is a mistake to expect that naturalism results or is retained automatically by adoption of a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude. The balance of any segment of our natural environment is upset by entrance of man. The longer he stays and the larger his numbers, the more destructive his presence to this balance. He builds shelters, opens clearings, plants trees, creates roads and paths, drills wells, deposits sewage, and in a hundred ways, impinges on environment, inevitably and irrevocably changing it. A new balance must be created and, if the result is to be controlled, changes must be preceded by intelligent planning.


Planning, therefore, is as necessary for the most natural and informal developments as it is for the most highly urbanized areas.” —Bradford G. Sears


n the beginning, camps were simple places. All it took for a summer of fun was to find a site, solicit a group of willing adult volunteers, set up several platform tents, build a pit latrine and start the camp fire. While this model is still possible today, the following components are a necessity:

ƒƒ An operator’s license from the state ƒƒ Liability insurance ƒƒ Drawing preparation ƒƒ Site and building permits ƒƒ Proper bathroom, shower and dining facilities ƒƒ Water quality testing

ƒƒ On-site licensed health care professionals ƒƒ Security and drug tests for adult volunteers ƒƒ Accessible roads for fire and emergency vehicles ƒƒ ADA compliance ƒƒ No wetland disturbance ƒƒ Endangered species and historic artifact sensitivity ƒƒ Fire marshal compliance, for example, installing sprinklers in the tents Once these objectives have been completed, campers can safely enjoy nature for a few weeks of fun. Planning is simply not an option, it is a benchmark for the success of any camp.


“I understand that if I were starting a brand new camp, I would need to have a master site plan. However, my parents built the camp seventy-five years ago. We are successful, so why should we waste our hard-earned money on planning?” The simple

answer to this type of question is that the buildings are seventy-five years old, not in compliance with current regulations and are at the end of or beyond their useful life. A camp such as this can follow the band-aid approach and tackle one crisis at a time, or effectively take control of the future. Good planning will save money, not cost money.


This book is intended to be an introduction to master site planning for camps. With so much information available on the web, the approach is intentionally simple and as direct as possible. In each case, web links to more in-depth information are included. A consolidated list of websites is included in the back of the book. Every effort has been made to provide current website addresses, however some may change after the book’s publication.  Visit for ideas about how to implement sustainable strategies at your camp.


“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against the house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.� Matthew 7:24-27

Girl Scouts of Colorado, Magic Sky Ranch Red Feather, Colorado




opefully, no one would build a house without a foundation. A camp cannot build a master site plan without a foundation either. That foundation is the organization’s mission, core values, culture and guiding principals. A good master plan is built on a solid foundation.


Positively impacting children’s lives is the universal reason camps exist. The program and associated activities are the vehicles. They drive the course of each camp session in terms of how campers are served, grouped together, taken care of by staff and nourished. The program is grounded in each organization’s beliefs and core values.


Planning is about inclusion. The process needs to involve everyone: owners, staff, parents, volunteers, campers, government approval agencies and donors, whether they be commercial banks, foundations or private individuals. The master plan process creates an opportunity for the camp to share its message and vision with everyone. It provides the interested


Chapter One

participants the opportunity to share their advice and input. Basically, the process is intended to build ownership. It works equally well for a not-for-profit camp or a private camp. The process promotes grass roots ownership. From the beginning of the master planning process, everyone who is connected to the camp must feel they have had their say and that their ideas and opinions matter. This inclusion gives everyone a feeling of ownership and is the most important component of any planning exercise.


Planning is the safety valve for the development of any camp. In comparison to the purchase of land or development of new buildings, it is the safest and the least expensive way to dream about the future and push the boundaries from what the camp is today to what the camp can be in the future. Even the most accomplished directors will change their minds when a new vision is cast before them. Planning is about solving current problems and creating future opportunities. It is about unlocking the creative spirit of the individual and the organization.


The purpose of a master plan is to create a logical road map for implementation of operational, program and physical development recommendations. There are five keys to all successful master plans. The failure of any master plan can always be attributed to the negligence to address one or more of the keys.


The Foundation



The market key defines the characteristics and preferences of each user group. A camp or organization with multiple camps must have a clear, precise understanding about the characteristics of who they intend to serve. Historically, not enough attention is given to clearly defining the target audience who will ultimately enjoy the camp. The needs of five- and six-year-olds are dramatically different than the needs of teenagers, or even worse—adults. For example, a great camp counselor can overcome a decrepit old cabin and motivate a group of kids to do anything in order to have a great time. Kids will happily walk a mile to the waterfront simply to be with their friends and their great leader. Whereas adults want to drive their cars through camp and park next to their living accommodations. They prefer individual four-star hotel rooms for Motel 6 prices. Housing four or five adults in a camper cabin with bunk beds is a bad idea. Whether the camp is private or part of a non-profit organization, it faces increasing competition from other sources such as summer school, travel, sports and specialty camps for the same group of users. 8

Chapter One

In order to ensure that the camp is keeping up with the needs and demands of its users, it is important to do ongoing research and surveys. Research can include topics such as the newest and latest trends, environmental issues, sustainability innovations and parental concerns. It is important to survey the children, parents and people associated with the camp to obtain an overview of opinions and preferences. Understanding why children are not going or coming back to camp is important so that the organization can craft a market strategy to recruit and retain campers.


The program key defines the big picture operational modes for a camp. They are different for each type of camping program. The operation of a summer resident camp is very different from a day camp, a school season environmental education center or a weekend retreat center. Most of the time, the program modes involve the same facilities being used by different groups with distinct needs at dissimilar times. Each operational mode will define capacity, living unit grouping, staffing, duration of stay, scheduling and specific types of program activities.


The operation key defines how a camp is supported and maintained. It is the infrastructure key that describes how a camp is run day-to-day as well as on a yearly basis. A camp’s business operations necessitate a clear understanding of the support requirements for its administration, health care, safety, housekeeping, maintenance and staffing. Another important factor is the logistics of getting supplies and resources to a camp in a cost-efficient and timely manner.


The first three keys—market, program and operation—must be defined before the fourth key, sites and facilities, can be established. Too many master plans seem to focus only on the site, buildings and systems. The first three keys define what type of site and type of facilities will meet the user’s needs. For example, if the camp’s primary activity is sailing, the site must have a lake that is large enough to support the activity. This is just as true with existing camps. By clearly defining the first three keys, all the buildings and program activity areas can be evaluated in terms of their capabilities to meet the proposed

needs. For example, if a youth camp has added a family camp to the mix, then the camper and staff cabins can be studied to determine if they will be sufficient, or whether or not new buildings will be required.


The finance and funding key takes the master plan from paper to reality. It involves two major components— operations and capital. The operational component deals with revenue and expenses. Historically it did not have a significant impact on the master planning process. This has changed as camps look at creating more sustainable operations to reduce operational and maintenance costs. The most important factor impacting the master planning process is the organization’s ability to raise capital dollars—whether drawn from reserves or profits, loaned from a bank or raised through a capital fund drive. Successful plans are always funded. Knowing early in the planning process what monetary resources are available is imperative, as well as understanding the costs for improvements and new construction. 

The Foundation


case study


In 1983, I developed the first master plan for the South Shore YMCA—Camp Burgess—in Sandwich, Massachusetts. Ralph Yohe was the Camp Director. The existing summer boy’s camp was to be augmented by a school season retreat program and a separate family camp. Over the next twentyfive years, the retreat facilities were put into place to include year-round housing, an activity lodge and a beautiful dining hall with meeting facilities.

were no longer valid. A separate entrance to the family camp was no longer reasonable, because of the growing development surrounding the camp over the years. Also, some of the land that had been dedicated to the family camp had been sold to the town for development rights. The state had also changed the setback from the lake from 100 feet to 300 feet, making development along the waterfront impossible and views out to the water difficult.

Ralph served as CEO of the YMCA until 2009 and brought me back several times to fine tune the master plan. In 1999, the town of Sandwich approached the YMCA about purchasing conservation easements to protect the ground water supply. I was asked to revisit the master plan and determine how much land could be reserved as a conservation easement. I had to consider both projected and future camp development to make sure the YMCA did not give up future program opportunities. This necessitated reconfiguration of the proposed family camp to reduce its overall property footprint.

As we walked the property, it occurred to me that we should flip the family camp and the boy’s summer camp. We already had a core of retreat facilities that would work perfectly for families. Then we could develop a rustic seasonal boy’s camp in the woods for summer use. This simple switch eliminated all of the access issues, reduced the costs, created a new environment for the boy’s summer camp and allowed for the family camp to get off the ground much faster.

In 2006, I was asked back to take a serious look at the family camp. Several assumptions made in 1983


Chapter One

One simple idea completely changed the direction of the master plan.

— gregory a. copeland



Camp Burgess 1983 site plan concept

The Foundation




Camp Burgess 1999 site plan concept 12

Chapter One



Camp Burgess 2006 site plan concept

The Foundation






2006 SITE

camp access

camp access

camp property

camp property property sold

Camp Burgess site plan changes between 1985 and 2006 The land sold to the town altered the site access and in turn led to the two camps switching locations.


Chapter One

Camp Burgess cabins, 1987 Something very interesting happened when we designed the new camper village for the boys camp in 1986. The four cabins and the program lodge containing the restrooms were connected by large decks. The cabins were typical camper cabins with bunks. To their surprise, the YMCA discovered that teen and adult groups liked renting the facilities on the weekends even though the bathrooms were separate from the cabins. The decks made the separate structures feel like one large structure. Adjacent cabin villages not connected by decks were not as popular.

The Foundation


Capital Camps and Retreat Center Waynesboro, Pennsylvania



Camp Design - Master Planning Basics  

A book about Camp Master Planning by Greg Copeland of Domokur Architects

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