A Detroit-based nonprofit plans to open a 70-acre youth camp in Koylton Township with big ideas for the site with a sometimes highly contentious past.
Most recently known as Camp Jubilee, 4202 S. Kingston Road, the land about 1.5 miles south of M-46 and downtown Kingston has been purchased by Detroit-based Joy Jem Community Development Corp., a nonprofit ministry operated by Pastor Kurk Edwards.
Edwards, 53, is the son of the late Rev. Eddie Edwards, who started a boys and girls summer camp at the site in 1976.
Kurk Edwards said the goal is to restore the camp to its former state – and then some – by cleaning it up and building a large community center onsite within five years. He envisions the camp fully operational and bustling with activity from young summer campers next year.
“The new name is Camp Creation,” Edwards told The Advertiser. “We want people to enjoy the creation God has made here.”
Douglas Kramer, supervisor, Koylton Township, said he is encouraged to see activity at the site where there hasn’t been any activity (other than illegal trespassing) for 11 years.
“My bottom line is I’d like to see it developed and make it a tax-paying entity in the township,” Kramer said.
The 70-acre site includes several large ponds and several large, open spaces separated by trails and wooded areas.
The camp also includes six cabins with room to sleep up to 14 each. A main lodge is near the entrance off of South Kingston Road. Camp Creation also has an in-ground pool and bathhouse along with an old basketball court and other playground equipment scattered throughout the site.
Since April, Edwards and others have been cleaning up the site: repainting cabins, repairing roofs, replacing damage caused by vandals, squatters, and scrappers, and clearing out brush and weeds, among other things.
Pastor Tim Rich, who leads Kingston’s Meeting Place church, has been involved in overseeing day-to-day activity at the camp. Edwards comes up at least once a week.
Rich said he felt a calling to get involved in the camp.
“There’s nothing like it in the area,” he said. “Other camps have been further out, but not right in our backyard.”
Rich said he’s proud of the work that’s been done at the camp since April.
“When we first walked out here, you couldn’t walk without tripping on the underbrush that had grown,” Rich said. “It’s come a long way.” (Story continues below photo)
“It will be ready for kids next summer,” Edwards said. “But I want to be able to offer others the opportunity to utilize it this year. Like if a church wants to have a retreat they are welcome.”
Edwards said he is in the process of applying for a license to operate a camp at the site.
Kramer said Edwards would also need to submit plans to the township planning commission because the area is currently zoned residential. No plans have been submitted as of press time.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do there, but if they aren’t going to just live on it as a residence then whatever they do they’re going to have to go through the planning commission and get approval,” Kramer said. “When you abandon your use, you have to reapply.”
The site of the planned venture has been a camp of some sort for at least 50 years, said.
Kramer said he worked at the camp 50 years ago when it was known as Camp Hills and Dales and was a summer camp centered on horse-riding and care.
The Detroit Free Press had control of the camp for a few years thereafter, he said, using a trip to the camp as an incentive for those who had the most newspaper sales.
The land eventually came into ownership by Camp Kingston Hills Inc., owned by James Conley and Keith Leenhouts, who served as a judge in 44th District Court in Royal Oak in the 1960s. Edwards said Camp Kingston Hills was essentially a minimum security prison.
“What the judge would do, instead of sending them to jail, he would send them here and rehabilitate them so they wouldn’t get into more trouble,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ father, Rev. Eddie Edwards, bought the land through his Joy for Jesus ministry and opened what would become Camp Jubilee in 1976, operating it for about 12 years.
Kurk Edwards, who was 12 at the time, said he remembers when his father first started the camp.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was so vibrant. So many kids running around. The community was embracing it. It was great.
“This was really where I had my first experience with God, too,” Edwards said. “It really changed my life.”
It’s unclear how it came about, but in 1988, Pioneer Work and Learn Center Inc., a division of Wolverine Human Services, launched year-round operations at the camp.
It was a contentious time.
A group called the Concerned Citizens of Koylton Township were adamantly opposed to the camp’s new use that expanded it beyond a summer camp for youths. Pioneer Work and Learn and township officials went through what was called “a bitter 3.5-year zoning battle” that rose all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Four years later, Pioneer Work and Learn moved to Vassar, its current location, due to what one official reportedly called the “uncertain environment” of the Kingston area.
Joy of Jesus returned to attempt to run the camp as it always had in 1993, but struggled for numerous reasons, including rising costs and a steep decline in donations, Kurk Edwards told The Advertiser. Operations at the camp ended in the mid-2000s, Edwards said, about the time his father died in 2004.
Records indicate that several times between 1999 and 2011, the Tuscola County Treasurer began the foreclosure process on the land for unpaid property taxes. In each instance, the taxes ultimately were paid. Several federal tax liens also were issued against the property.
However, Kurk Edwards was able to strike a deal with current leadership at Joy for Jesus to purchase the land, he said. (Story continues below photo)
Now, he said, he’s only looking forward.
“It’s exactly 40 years since my father purchased it, which is ironic now that I purchased it and we’re renovating it to get it back together and get it up and running,” Edwards said.
Since April, Edwards and Rich, of Kingston’s Meeting Place church, have been leading efforts to clean up the camp.
They’ve been assisted by a group of boys from Detroit who are part of a “youth deterrent program” and qualify because they have encountered trouble in the past and face the threat of further problems without intervention, Edwards said.
The youths travel to Kingston from Detroit, work four hours a day, and then go back.
Edwards said it serves as a summer job for the youths because they get paid and also helps show them that there’s more to life than what they may have been exposed to in the city.
It’s consistent with the positivity he wants Camp Creation to promote for youths from inner-city Detroit to those from the Thumb and any other region, Edwards said.
“These are children who are on the verge of pursuing a life of crime,” Edwards said. “We want to show them the love of God and that there’s a different path in life.
“Most of these kids have never been out of the city,” Edwards said. “And so that’s what my father was doing in bringing inner-city youth up from Detroit to this camp…to share in the love of God and show the love people in the community have for them.”
Helping others is in Kurk Edwards’ DNA.
His father, Rev. Eddie Edwards, gained national attention in 1986 “for his efforts in transforming a 38-block neighborhood on Detroit’s East Side from a blighted area into a respectable neighborhood,” according to Edwards’ 2004 obituary.
The elder Edwards received a Point of Light Award by President George H.W. Bush and was named a Michiganian of the Year. Early in his ministry, Eddie Edwards worked at Project Start, a nonprofit that worked to land jobs for ex-convicts.
He left Project Start to form Joy of Jesus Ministries, an interdenominational ministry that began as an after-school program for young people and was aimed at “breaking the cycle of poverty.”
Joy of Jesus’ offerings also included the summer camp for youths in Kingston.
“With a church you have a congregation and people congregate,” Edwards said. “With a ministry you go out to the community, you engage the community, and facilitate the community needs and that’s what God has called me to do.
“Not only because my father was doing it, but because it’s what’s in my heart to do.”
Edwards’ Joy Jem organization currently provides housing for homeless veterans in Inkster and Detroit. It also runs a reentry program for prisoners set for release.
For Camp Creation, Edwards said he has a five-year plan that includes cleanup and restoration of the site, opening the camp next summer, and eventually building a large community/activity center somewhere on the site. (Story continues below photo)
Economic impact has already been felt to some degree, he said, because the camp has been buying food and supplies locally.
Still, Edwards said he’s aware that not everyone will be excited about his plans for Camp Creation.
“We know that people do get into fear,” Edwards said. “But God has not given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of love power and a sound mind.
“I’m being led by God to offer up that love to the community and share and embrace them,” Edwards said. “Whether they embrace me back, that’s their choice.
“But I’m here on a mission from God…to show God’s love and that God loves everyone.”
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org