Lake St. Isaac – Cooling Off Campers Since 1961

Lake St. Isaac – Cooling Off Campers Since 1961

By Pati Egan

There are very few places in Camp that campers’ grandparents or maybe even great grandparents can say, “I remember swimming at Camp!” And they will be thinking the same spot that today’s campers use. Lake St. Isaac is one of those places.  

The creation of Lake St. Isaac is not as well documented as Lake Echon. In 1959 campers used Blue Pool for swimming. According to Fr. Leo Hayes’ interview for the Camp history book, “Blue Pool was so clear that if you stood above it, you could see all the rocks eight feet down.” It soon became apparent that a new lake was needed. This lake would accommodate swimming, boating, and canoeing. Lake St. Isaac was built over the winter of 1960 – 1961. This lake has withstood the test of time and continues in use to this day. 

This photo, from an early 1960s yearbook, shows the lake in full use by campers. Campers can still stand in this exact spot and still take a great picture!
Pre Lake St. Isaac Valley at Camp Ondessonk

After studying the above photo with Chris Midden, an experienced Nature Volunteer, along with others at camp, it is believed that this area is the area Lake St. Isaac was built. The person is most likely standing either above the grotto or on the camp road.  The camp road ended at Brebeuf. The valley would have created a natural area for various waterfalls to empty into to form a lake. 

Snowy landfall at Camp Ondessonk

A dam was created that still exists today. This view of the lake is believed to be from the grotto.  Soon many improvements would make this lake a very popular spot on hot summer days.

The first additions were a swimming dock and boating dock. Canoeing was held at the inlet by the Grotto near where the stage stands today. The boating dock was located close to the area the Shawnee Screamer occupies today.

Canoeing area – the Grotto is in the background
The Shawnee Screamer is located close to this area
The original swimming dock with the first slide. 

The slide was added in the early 1960s. There was also a floating dock in the lake, and the Areopogus, a curving slide with a decorative waterfall attached to it (this was finished in the late 1970s). The floating dock is gone but the Aeropogus and the original slide are still enjoyed by campers today. There were three classifications for swimming:  swimmers, intermediate, and non-swimmers. Each area had a roped-off area. The “buddy system” was instituted. Each camper had to stay near their buddy. The life guards would loudly blow their whistles and yell “buddy check,” and all buddies that were given a number prior to entering the swimming area had to call the number out.

Once Lake Echon was built and operational in 1967, Lake St. Isaac became a swimming lake only. This opened the entire lake to swimming. A new classification of swimmers was added: Advanced Swimmers. The Advanced Swimmers enjoyed the use of a diving platform, the Tarzan Swing, and a cable that carried the campers from one side of the lake to the other. The diving platform is gone, but the Tarzan Swing, and the cable are still hugely popular with campers.

Huge improvements have been made to the swimming area over the years. An awesome addition is the Shawnee Screamer. This slide is immensely popular with the campers. In addition, there is a zipline that begins at old Daniel and ends in Lake St. Isaac.

Campers still enjoy a cool swim on a hot day just as they have done since 1961. The area has changed but the fun and adventures have not changed at all! The entire lake is open to swimming now. Kids still anxiously await “Swimming” being on their schedule, and diligent Life Guards have been keeping campers safe – since 1961!

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s facilities.


Translate »