In the culmination of a sale process from the Lancaster Family YMCA to Lebanon County that began over a year and a half ago, Camp Shand, a summer camp located in Cornwall, was given the new name of Camp Rocky Creek at a renaming ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
In spite of sweltering weather, dozens came out to the celebration held in front of the camp’s rec hall. In addition to the campers and camp staff, those in attendance included the camp’s Executive Director Chris Smith, Program Director Spencer Shambaugh, and representatives and board members of the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA and Lancaster Family YMCA.
Local political figures visiting the camp for the celebration included County Commissioners Robert Phillips, Jo Ellen Litz, and William Ames, Chief Clerk/County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth, 48th District Senator Chris Gebhard, and Jill Weister, representing 102nd District Representative Russ Diamond. Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce President Karen Groh and donors Lee and Sue Allwein and Dave and Laurie Funk also attended.
The 120 acres of Camp Rocky Creek are located just above the border between Lancaster and Lebanon counties in Cornwall Borough. In October 2020, following a summer-long shutdown of camp activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lebanon County commissioners unanimously voted to purchase the property from the Lancaster YMCA for $725,000, arranging for the camp operations to be managed by the Lebanon YMCA through a lease while planning to preserve the acreage itself. Property records indicate that the sale was processed in December 2020. Lancaster YMCA board chair Steve Kirchner told LebTown that the Lancaster YMCA was “very pleased with the outcome.”
“We always felt it was a win-win situation for the Lancaster and Lebanon YMCAs,” Kirchner added.
Camp Executive Director Chris Smith, who has overseen camp operations for 17 years, provided a short history of the camp’s past and origins in the late 1800s as Penryn Park, detailed in a later section.
“This is a special place. It’s almost a sacred place to some,” Smith stated. “But it’s a lot more than a place. It’s a lot more than a program. Most importantly, I feel that it’s people.” She thanked the county officials for their “belief […] in investing in our youth,” Lebanon YMCA staff for helping return the facilities to operation after a season of inactivity, and the camp staff, board members, donors, volunteers, and all others who have aided the camp over the decades.
The camp is located at the end of Penryn Lane accessible from US Route 322 and serves both day and resident campers in the summer months. The eponymous rocky creek, named the Chickasalunga Creek on certain maps, enters the camp from the east and empties into a man-made lake at the center. The creek passes through the entrance to camp and is frequently a site of play and relaxation for campers. Donor Lee Allwein stated that the new name was chosen to reflect “a prominent, highly visible area, a beautiful area, an area where kids congregate and play.”
A long history of recreation in nature
The “Rocky Creek” name is the latest for a place that has served as a recreational spot for over a century. The land now occupied by camp was originally developed as Penryn Park by William C. Freeman, a cousin of Coleman family scion Robert H. Coleman. According to Charles Huber’s book “The Three Faces of Penryn Park,” the cousins had a personal and professional rivalry; Freeman managed the Cornwall Railroad while Coleman managed the Cornwall & Lebanon Railroad.
The development of the park of Mt. Gretna in the late 1800s, then a main feature of Coleman’s railroad, spurred Freeman to create a similar attraction along an extension rail running down to Mt. Hope. Penryn Park was opened to the public in the summer of 1885, boasting sports grounds, a dancing pavilion, bandstand, and observatory among other amenities.
The park was successful for a period of time, but a devastating 1925 flood and the Great Depression left the camp abandoned for years. In 1949, the swampy tract of land then owned by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation was deeded to the Lebanon YMCA at no cost. The Lebanon Kiwanis Club got to work transforming the land back into a usable youth camp, giving it the name Camp Kiwanis in the process. This name stuck from around 1950 to 1984.
In the 1980s, the camp began to struggle. The Lancaster YMCA was searching for a location for its own resident camp program, traditionally called Camp Shand after YMCA supporter James Shand of the famous Watt & Shand department store of Lancaster. The two YMCAs entered a lease agreement, altering the name to Camp Shand-Kiwanis. This arrangement continued for another decade or so. In 1996, the Lebanon YMCA sold the camp to the Lancaster YMCA, which had, until 2020, operated it under the name of Camp Shand.
After much coordination and discussion between the two organizations and county officials, the Lebanon County commissioners voted unanimously to purchase the property in October of 2020. Mark Hackenburg of the Lancaster YMCA board stated that Wednesday was “a bittersweet day” for the board, which he said had to make hard decisions while reorganizing the nonprofit’s operations in recent years. Hackenburg, who also serves as board chair of camp itself, said that the board nevertheless recognized that the camp’s ability to change the lives of its campers is what ultimately matters.
No matter the owners or name changes, the camp experience has always centered around the people, Smith said. “Camp is a beautiful and intricate mosaic of the thousands of lives it has touched and the thousands of lives that have touched it and added to its story.”
“I know that with purposeful planning and heartfelt decision-making we will ensure that camp is here for generations to come.”
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Note: This article has been updated to note that Mark Hackenburg also serves as board chair of Camp Rocky Creek.
Full Disclosure: The Lebanon Valley Family YMCA is an advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.