Hillsdale County has a history of providing camping experiences for area kids going back as far as the early 1900s. In 1938, Ora C. And Edna Kimball purchased 25 acres on Long Lake for use as a permanent camp location. The operation was officially run by the Hillsdale County YMCA, yet O.C. Kimball took a leading role in overseeing the development of the camp in its early years. He focused on providing cabins that would sleep up to 10 campers and a counselor, and when cabins were hard to come by, he purchased small buildings or even accepted donations of chicken coops from farmers for use as temporary camping structures. Mr. Kimball was a generous supporter of the camp, and encouraged others to join in the work, whether through financial support or help, often from local youth, in planting evergreens, patching roofs and completing other needed tasks.
By 1950, all campers were housed in cabins and the Kimballs funded construction of a log lodge for the camp. Once again, the community came together in support of the project, with the Kiwanis club funding a beautiful fieldstone fireplace constructed by Austin Barber and building 12 dining room tables under the leadership of high school shop teacher Russell Huffman. In 1953, O.C. Kimball deeded Kimball Camp to the Hillsdale County YMCA with the vision of ensuring its continued use for YMCA camping.
The majority of Kimball Camp was leveled in a tornado on Palm Sunday of 1965. It is said that the only thing remaining of the lodge was the kitchen stove, which was used until 1997. Within a week, Mr. Farris Kneen, a local industrialist, sent a check for $1,000 to the YMCA office with the message, “Kimball Camp means so much to the youth of our county. It must be rebuilt, and I want this to help you get started.” The YMCA board, originally unsure of the survival of the camp, began to create a plan for its recovery. For three summers, Kimball Camp ran its summer program at neighboring Camp Selah while campus was rebuilt and restored. The existing main lodge and most of the current cabins were built with $190,000 that was raised with the support of the local community. The owner of Fireplaces of Distinction, Ralph Dormey and his assistant Dennis Scholfield volunteered labor over the course of two years, and YMCA board members, volunteers, and the Hillsdale High School home-building class came together over the course of ten years to fund and build the remaining buildings on campus.
With new buildings came new opportunities, and Kimball Camp expanded its programming to include outings, football camps, band camps and outdoor education. After much discussion, the board adopted “Project Forward” in 1977 and committed to ongoing improvements and innovations. The 1980s saw a partnership with Coldwater Community Schools that laid the groundwork for the current outdoor education curriculum offered at Kimball Camp, and a new direction of programming with the introduction of a mid-ropes course consisting of challenging obstacles set just a few feet above the ground. By the late 80s, Mount Kimball, the original climbing wall, was added and became such a hit that a second route with a more challenging pitch was soon added.
In 1992, Kimball Camp completed its first high ropes course, which required the use of full climbing gear and operated under the principle of “challenge by choice,” allowing participants to push themselves as far as they chose to. A team building course was added around the same time. These facilities increased the appeal of the program to schools, and the outdoor education program at Kimball Camp brought in more participants than ever. In 1998, the construction began on the iconic current climbing tower, Goliath. In August of the same year, the current high ropes course was completed, with Goliath opening the following year. Two fields were purchased that connected the campus to neighboring Kimball Pointe and provided a total of 101 acres to campers and participants.
The 2000s saw continued expansion of the campus and programming, including an expansion on the lodge, an archery range, water trampolines and a giant iceberg, sand volleyball courts and 12 additional rustic shelters.
What was concluded to be an electrical fire, the staff housing was a total loss and was rebuilt shortly after. Neighbors across the lake started calling staff of the camp to ask what was going on. No one was in the building at the time of the fire. The fire was so intense that the car sitting in front of the building melted.
In the morning of August 12, 2021 straight winds ripped through Reading Township causing severe damage to the surrounding area. Kimball Camp received catastrophic damage to its forests and buildings. An estimated 1,000 trees were downed or damaged. This caused the historic Nature Den and shower house to be demolished, necessary repairs for nearly all buildings, and the last week of summer camp to be canceled. The left wing of Goliath even shifted twelve inches. There were 60 campers on campus when the storm came through and not a single person was harmed. Early 2022, metals roofs were installed on all eight cabins, along with many other buildings on campus.
Plans are in place to expand and renovate the bathroom facilities throughout the camp for increased comfort and accessibility, and the Kimball Camp legacy of providing a fun and safe camping experience for all continues.