Schlegel family offering seniors outdoor adventure with purchase of campground
By Kristian Partington
In the rolling meadows and forests north of Ailsa Craig, Ont., there lies a hidden oasis where families have etched memories of outdoor adventure together for more than 40 years. When Wilfred Schlegel bought the land in the 1970s, he pictured a place where people could escape the bustle of modern life and reconnect with the peace and tranquility that can only be found in nature. The family planted trees, carved hiking trails along the property’s two creeks and dug ponds to be stocked with plump trout, and people came, setting up permanent campsites and staying for months at a time. Many have returned year after year.
Since taking over the operation of the campground earlier this year, the new owners have worked to honour their grandfather’s vision by combining it with the other passion that guides his family’s legacy – holistic support for an aging population. To help them succeed in revamping the campground’s infrastructure to be wholly accessible, the Schlegels welcomed Bernie Burnett as the general manager. Shady Pines Campgrounds still offers that same sort of experience today but now, under the stewardship of the new owners, Wilfred’s grandsons Rob, Brad and Jamie Schlegel, the escape will extend to a segment of the population for whom camping has rarely been an option – seniors.
Bernie’s passion has always been the outdoors, and that love guided him in a long and fulfilling career with the YMCA, creating outdoor children’s programming across the globe. He retired, but never slowed, and he imagined a new business supporting older adults in their love of the outdoors, helping them rediscover their connection to the natural world. As a longtime friend of the Schlegel family, Bernie began visiting the villages seeking input from residents and team members as to whether or not his idea had merit. That’s when he was offered the job with Shady Pines and the freedom to imagine all possibilities for future guests, young and old alike.
“I have all kinds of ideas for entertainment and camp activities but the more I get into this the more I realize that it’s just about being in the outdoors,” Bernie says. As the infrastructure improves, he envisions residents from across Schlegel Villages taking advantage of the beauty of the grounds alongside neighbours and families. In those circumstances, planned activities may or may not have merit. “If we get the people here and they sit beside the creek and listen to the water, they’re going to be happy.”
A crackling fire, a walk under the canopy of maple leaves, the joy of eating food cooked over an open fire under the calm hues of twilight; these are the things that will help visitors step back into the memories of past happiness while creating more, and Bernie looks forward to being part of that experience. He’s says he’s honoured to be part of a group of team members and residents from Schlegel Villages who are working together to imagine what the future will hold, and he’ll be tasked with helping these dreams become reality.
Likewise, team members are eager to engage with the residents they serve in the new setting.
“Shady Pines is such a wonderful opportunity for our residents and team members to connect with nature, to rejuvenate and engage in meaningful experiences that enhance well-being,” says Christy Parsons, vice-president of support office service at Schlegel Villages.
“We are beyond excited as we begin to map out what the future may look like in terms of programs, activities and opportunities at the campground. This certainly is a differentiator for our organization and will have tremendous benefits for residents, family members and our team members.”