For Doug Moyer, his wife Alicia and their four children, Camp Sabroske is a family affair.
The camp, located at West Toussaint North Road off SR 19 near Oak Harbor, is over 50-years-old. Doug is executive director for Friends of Camp Sabroske, Inc., which was created by an association of six local churches.
Doug and his family live on site and take care of the 112-acre property, located on the Toussaint River and Packer Creek near Magee Marsh Wildlife Refuge, less than two miles from the shores of Lake Erie and three miles from public boat ramps.
The property was used as hunting grounds and for muskrat fur trapping during World War I, Doug said. In 1961, Fremont business owner Elam Sabroske donated the property to the United Methodist Church. Sabroske, who died in 1984 at age 76, started Sabroske Electric in 1930. He retired in 1983, when he sold the company. The Methodist Church owned Camp Sabroske until 1991.
According to a Toledo Blade article, that year, a legislative committee representing the West Ohio United Methodist churches wanted to sell the wetland camp. Church officials said funding was not an issue because 18 member church groups used the camp in 1984. They argued that the camp had become a nuisance because of flooding and mosquito infestation, explaining to the Blade writer that the camp was under 15 to 20 inches of water at least 10 days a year.
The article said the committee voted 77-23 to recommend the camp’s sale, with 17 abstaining, while dozens were picketing outside the doors of Danbury High School, where 2,600 clergy and lay delegates had met to discuss the issue.
“They were going to disband, and basically the churches around here said, ‘Hey, we want to keep it going,’” Doug said. “Let us create our own (federally licensed non-profit corporation), so basically we did. That’s the way we’ve been running since ’91, and basically we have youth camps out here every year, and we have churches that come in and rent the entire camp for their church camps.”
Doug says mosquitoes and flooding are no longer an issue because two ponds have been constructed, which helps with drainage.
“We have fairly good drainage now. I have put in French drains and small amounts of tile. We are still pretty wet in the spring but that is just the lay of the land,” Doug said.
The camp rents out two “rustic” cabins which sleep five to six people, a public campground, an in-ground pool that is open to the public, and horse riding trails. A $45 family membership allows for use of the pool, pond, and camping, and non-church based organizations are welcome to reserve facilities for group events, such as corporate retreats or family reunions.
Camping is open to the public. Camp Sabroske has 31 recreational vehicle spaces with electricity and water, a dormitory and unlimited tent space.
“The big thing is people think it is a private campground, and we are open to the public,” Doug said. “We sell pool passes, we have a beautiful trail, and it’s a place where you’d just want to pitch a tent and camp.”
Besides swimming, the camp has many areas for recreation including basketball, baseball, volleyball, tennis, hiking, a shelter house for group events, and two ponds for fishing or paddle boating. The outdoor chapel, a meeting room with a kitchen, and even the whole camp is available for rent.
However, that’s not the end of the association’s development plans. Moyer says Friends of Sabroske, a member of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, is looking for funds to build a new lodge, construct an 11,000 square foot indoor horse riding arena, and build more cabins.
Doug says groups are coming from as far as Detroit, Cleveland, and Indiana, but during the Biggest Week in American Birding, hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the camp had visitors from all 50 states and around the world.
The Moyer family had posted this on Facebook, “Beginning of a great day of birding here at Camp Sabroske! On her way out to feed the horses, (Doug’s daughter) Caileigh spotted a Nashville Warbler, Blue-Winged Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Bay Breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and a Common Yellow Throat Warbler. If she saw all of these on the lane, I wonder what one might find on the four miles of trails…if you come out, please be sure to post what you see.”
Family that works together…
For Doug and Alicia, who were raised in Elmore and attended Woodmore High School, Camp Sabroske is their life.
“For my family and I, this is our job. We’re here all the time,” Doug said. “We all work there. We all do pretty much everything in the campground, and we all pitch in.”
After high school, Doug attended ministry school and then helped at a church in southern Ohio before coming back to Ottawa County. Doug, who is not an ordained minister, and Alicia have been married 20 years. They have spent a combined 10 years at Camp Sabroske, but this is their second stint.
Alicia is in charge of bookkeeping and administrative paperwork. Seventeen-year-old Caileigh, who has a background in western pleasure riding since age 10, works with the horses. The horseback trail riding is new at the camp this year.
Another daughter, Denna, 16, and Caileigh take care of the horses at Moyer Riding Stable and Farms, a corporation that the Friends of Sabroske board of directors allowed the Moyer family to establish at their own risk. The corporation leases the horses, which are on site, to the camp.
Doug says his son Elijah, 12, does manure pickup on trails and the youngest son, Zac, 11, helps with mowing and landscaping. Doug added that additional volunteers are always welcome.
“We’re definitely in need of volunteers for clearing trails and doing stuff,” Doug said. “We have two young kids right now who are working through an Ottawa County program who are helping us. That’s really great because the county pays them and then they work for us, so there is no cost involved for us, which is pretty nice.”