The University of Michigan has offered summer field geology courses continuously from 1874 to the present. Until 1909, these classes were situated in various locations across Michigan, with some excursions into Ohio and Kentucky. In 1909 the University established a facility in northern Michigan, at what is now the University of Michigan Biological Station, where surveying was taught. By the mid 1920s the forests around the Douglas Lake property had begun to recover from the 18th century logging boom. The thick undergrowth was making surveying training increasingly difficult.
By 1928, it was clear that a new location for surveying camp was needed, and the wide open spaces of the American West were the most appealing option. A small group of faculty in the company of Wyoming State officials, some UM alumni, scouted the west for suitable locations. Their final recommendation to the Regents was to purchase a 120 acre property on the Hoback River, about 25 miles south of Jackson, Wyoming. The $2500 purchase was approved, and in 1929 faculty, staff, and students arrived and began construction of the Rocky Mountain Field Station.
During that first spring, 14 student and staff cabins were built, along with a mess hall and kitchen, 2 workshop/labs, and a keeper’s residence. A spring on the slope above camp provided water and enough volume to power a Pelton wheel and generator to supply electricity. Additional housing was added over the next few years, as well as a recreation hall.In 1938, summer classes in geology were moved to the Jackson, Wyoming location from State Bridge, Colorado, where they had been taught for the previous three summers. Engineers, geologists, and occasionally biologists shared Camp Davis.
Camp Davis was administered by the College of Engineering from 1929 to 1964. In 1965, “ownership” of the facility was transferred to the Department of Geology and Mineralogy. Despite the addition of a few buildings and periodic service upgrades, Camp Davis remained largely unchanged for the next 30 years. The original sheet metal covered cabins with their wood stoves and cold water sinks were the summer home for undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty and staff. Between the weather and the ever-inquisitive gophers, conditions could be challenging. By the end of the 20th century, Camp Davis was in need of major upgrades to buildings and services.Renovation fundraising efforts to improve the facilities at Camp Davis began in 2004. The significant capital required to undertake the renovations came from a combination of department and college funds, and from generous donations from alumni and friends. The first major phase of renovation in 2008 replaced the staff/faculty cabins with pre-fabricated units. The second major renovation phase occurred during the winter of 2018-2019, when the student cabins were replaced and electrical, fire suppression, and septic systems were improved in order to bring the camp up to current occupancy codes. In addition, a new recreation hall was built to replace the one lost to a roof collapse during a storm in the winter of 2016. With these renovations, and those yet to come, the facility at Camp Davis will continue to be one of the nation’s premier geology summer field schools.
The Future of Camp Davis
The updated facilities extend the useful season of Camp Davis by several weeks in the spring and fall. This extra time creates opportunities for other departments and institutions to use Camp for classes or special events.
Visit the Camp Davis website at https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/camp-davis/