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updated: 10/1/2012 11:54 AM

Final season at Lake County's oldest campground comes to an end

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  • Carol Rychlee of Wilmette reminisces as she looks through old pictures of her life at Lake Marie Camp near Antioch.

       Carol Rychlee of Wilmette reminisces as she looks through old pictures of her life at Lake Marie Camp near Antioch.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • A tradition for generations of campers will end Sunday as Lake Marie Camp near Antioch, said to be the first licensed campground in Lake County, closes for good.

      A tradition for generations of campers will end Sunday as Lake Marie Camp near Antioch, said to be the first licensed campground in Lake County, closes for good.

  • Butch Schneider, with his wife, Kathie, has operated Lake Marie Camp near Antioch the past 26 years.

       Butch Schneider, with his wife, Kathie, has operated Lake Marie Camp near Antioch the past 26 years.
    Steve Lundy/slundy@ dailyherald.com

  • Wade Jarrell of Green Oaks recalls his experiences at Lake Marie Camp in Antioch. His grandparents first camped here in a tent in 1959.

       Wade Jarrell of Green Oaks recalls his experiences at Lake Marie Camp in Antioch. His grandparents first camped here in a tent in 1959.
    Photo by Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Lake Marie Camp on ABC7

 
 

In recent years, plenty of digital cards have been filled with photos of the typical goings-on at Lake Marie Camp near Antioch -- fishing off the pier, socializing around the picnic table, kids playing in the water.

But it is the dated snapshots stuffed in shoe boxes, bundled by rubber bands and arranged in albums, that for many define their lives and times here as the final season of Lake County's first licensed campground ends today.

So it is for Bob and Carol Rychlee, who on May 27, 1962, paid a $100 assessment to park their trailer facing Lake Marie. They lived in Chicago then and liked what they saw after journeying north to visit friends, who had a trailer here. They didn't realize they were creating a home as snug and treasured as their main residence and the base for what has become a lifetime of memories at what is known by many as "The Lake."

"We've celebrated every wedding anniversary (at Lake Marie) since then," Carol recalled on a postcard-perfect afternoon. "I guess this is our last one."

Anyone who wants to move their trailer has until noon today to do so. Any that aren't roadworthy and are left behind will be demolished and the pieces carted off -- at the owners' expense.

By November, the 150 acres that included the campground established in 1936 by Paul "Pop" Ferris and his wife, Jean, will be a clean slate for the new owner -- the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

"All things change," said Tom Hahn, the district's executive director. "I understand the campers had an emotional attachment to the property. It's really quite lovely out there."

The district inquired 10 or more years ago, but the property owners weren't ready to sell, Hahn said. That changed last year when attorneys for the three sisters, who own the camp and farm land on the southeastern shore of the lake, approached the district about a sale.

Early this year, forest district commissioners agreed to buy the land for about $6.1 million. A separate, adjoining 77-acre rectangle to the east also was purchased for about $1.35 million to form what will be a new forest preserve stretching west from Route 59 and north of Beach Grove Road. It will be the third campground acquired by the district in recent years.

Rolling hills and scenic overlooks of the bay are among the unique natural features of the area. The district noted that flocks of the American white pelican, an impressive bird with a 9-foot wingspan, have been spotted on Lake Marie resting and fishing during spring and fall migrations.

"It had always been a priority acquisition," Hahn said. The pending purchase includes 85 boat slips, a valuable commodity on the Chain O' Lakes, as well as piers and docks.

That's little consolation to dozens of families who have forged memories and relationships at Lake Marie Camp.

"I used to save my vacation just to come out here to stay," Bob Rychlee said, reflecting on a half century of good times with a view of shimmering Lake Marie, one of the links in the Chain.

The kids now are sneaking up on middle age and some of the Rychlees' old friends from the campground have died. But like the DeJohn, Jarrell and Taluzek families and dozens of others, they had returned generation after generation. Neighbors, they say, have become family.

"It's a sad thing," he said. "You don't know how hard this is to let the trailer go."

Campers say that's because this is where they grew up, catching turtles and frogs, learning to water ski, or meeting their first boyfriend or girlfriend. There's even been some wedding ceremonies.

Cheri Taluzek, 36, of Plainfield, says every childhood memory she has is from The Lake. Friends from school are no longer together but those from the camp remain.

"We're going to lose all these relationships," she said. "It's absolutely heart-wrenching it's going away."

The property has been family-owned since well before 1900. None of the owners wanted to talk about the sale, though it was said to be a split and emotional decision.

For the past 26 years, Butch Schneider and his wife, Kathie, have run the camp. His mother and two aunts -- who own the land -- and an uncle were born in a home off Beach Grove Road about a century ago. Butch and Kathie live in his grandparents' former home at the camp entrance, where they'll stay. Both homes and about 4 acres were not part of the sale.

The Schneiders don't want to give it up the camp, but "we lease the property so we have no say," Kathie said.

Butch said the camp got its beginnings when the family would have "friends from Chicago come out and they asked if they could pitch a tent. Then, people wanted to know if they could bring in trailers." It is licensed for 150 sites but only about 80 were occupied this season.

On a golf cart tour of the camp with a visitor, he points out an old hangar and the grassy stretch that served as an airstrip until 1984. Towering trees line the gravel road through camp.

"I helped my gramp plant all these little trees," he said. "Now they're all huge -- they hide all the trailers now."

Among them is Wade Jarrell's trailer, which has been in the park longer than he has been alive. The 43-year-old third generation camper said he holds no ill will toward anyone and will remember the good times as he drives up the hill and leaves the camp for the last time.

Tom Hahn of the forest preserve district said the site has excellent topography for wetland restoration and lends itself to a fairly long trail system. But that likely won't happen for awhile. Whatever is planned, he said, will be better than a housing subdivision or commercial development, both possibilities if the county hadn't acquired the land.

"It could have been a lot of things," he said, "but now it will be open space."

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