Nestled in the north woods high above the shores of Lake Superior, approximately 28 miles outside of Marquette, is Bay Cliff Health Camp. The camp was founded in 1934, during the Great Depression, by co-founders Elba Moore and Goldie Corneliuson, a field physician for The Children’s Fund of Michigan (forerunner to the Public Health Department).

Before the camp began, these health professionals traveled throughout the Upper Peninsula caring for children who were malnourished and underweight due to the impoverished conditions of the times. They often talked about how ideal it would be to bring these children to an outdoor location where they would be given three meals a day, enjoy the fresh air, and be involved in camping experiences. What a difference it could make in the lives of children! As their dream began to take shape, they knew it would require a special place.

In 1934, through generous donations, they purchased an abandoned Big Bay dairy farm, a cow barn was converted into a dormitory, and the first program began with 107 children. In a summer filled with good food and camping fun, each camper gained an average of 5 pounds. They went home healthier, and the program was deemed a success.

The camp’s success continued until 1940, when the polio epidemic caused U.P. hospitals to overflow with hundreds of children left paralyzed by the disease and in need of rehabilitation therapy. While health and wellness in the form of good nutrition would always remain a strong concept of Bay Cliff, camp leaders placed new emphasis on therapy and rehabilitation for children with physical disabilities—and it has been a summer therapy camp ever since. Today, the therapy program serves children with low vision and blindness, speech and language impairments, hearing loss and deafness, and physical disabilities. The camp also provides occupational, music and physical therapy, and instructional classes for children with hearing or visual impairments.

Each year, approximately 175 children attend a seven-week summer session at Bay Cliff, which includes both typical camp fun and therapy sessions. A typical day for a camper begins with reveille, a flag ceremony, and then breakfast (all meals are eaten family style with staff). Therapy and activity sessions continue throughout the day between breaks for lunch, dinner and rest periods. Camp days conclude with an all-camp activity, such as a sing-along, dance
party or talent show.

A dedicated staff of professionals is a huge reason for Bay Cliff’s success. “Bay Cliff is truly a place apart,” explains physical therapist Julia King. “A place where trying new things such as bike riding, kayaking, walking with crutches, and driving a power wheelchair with head control is expected. A place where the phrase ‘triumph is simply trying with some umph behind it’ is true. Little things in life are not so little. It often requires a place like Bay Cliff to teach us this fact.”

And, what kind of impact does Bay Cliff have on a child who attends?

“Every year I’m learning new things,” says Rayna Sherbinow, who lives in Schoolcraft County and has attended the camp for nine summers. “I’ve improved and learned things that weren’t even goals. Because we work so hard here, it transfers to school and home. At school, people only see the outside. Here, there is acceptance. It’s the best part.”

Funding for Bay Cliff has always been through contributions from the general public, including service clubs, fraternal organizations, businesses, foundations, industry, and public spirited individuals. If you are interested in learning more about Bay Cliff Health Camp, email baycliff@baycliff.org or call 906-345-9314.

Bay Cliff is an electric cooperative member.