By Petula Brown
The Circle Pines Center in Delton, Michigan, distinguishes itself as a getaway locale by offering opportunities to build self-awareness via interaction as well as introspection. Their mission is to promote peace, social justice, environmental stewardship, and cooperation. Through their scheduled family-friendly events (see their online calendar), and children’s summer camps, they aim to demonstrate cooperation as a way of life. Become a member of Circle Pines (for $120.00 a year, less for low income families) and you’ll get access to early event registration as well as ticket and rental discounts, but you don’t have to be a member to have access to this 294 acres of rolling hills, forests, and lakefront property—most Circle Pines events are open to the public and the property is also available for corporate retreats, family reunions, weddings, and community gatherings, as well as being able to accommodate the lone traveler.
The annual Buttermilk Jamboree is a three-day festival that provides guests the chance to either camp overnight or visit for the day. With educational workshops, local vendors, a kid’s area, and a craft beer/wine tent, the summer Jamboree is a cornucopia of activity that highlights cooperative practices in action. The festival also gives a platform for entertainers to set a celebratory vibe for attendees. Past performers include the indie group Last Gap Collective, folk musician Britt Kusserow, and vintage blues/jazz artist Luke Winslow-King.
September’s Midwest Mushroom Camp is an opportunity to explore the area’s population of mushroom species. Culinary, crafting, and educational sessions are available throughout the weekend and make Circle Pines a prime destination for mushroom lovers. In October, visitors can experience Apple Cider Weekend. After picking apples from the Center’s orchard, guests press them into cider to enjoy during the season.
In addition to scheduled events, visitors can arrange private visits, as well as site rentals. The Center has hosted a variety of activities, including weddings, yoga retreats, and craft clubs, though Circle Pines is particularly interested in events with a focus on social justice or that have a cooperative angle. The property can accommodate 100 people during the summer season and 30 during winter months. Rentals can include use of the Center’s kitchen, or catering arranged by Circle Pines is available.
Circle Pines’ focus on group experiences is grounded in a philosophy established in 1882. As part of the Central States Cooperative League, its philosophy emphasized economic reform and peace education as well as embracing the cooperative movement of that era. Hosted at the Ashland Folk School in Grant, Michigan for 60 years, the co-op expanded and moved to its current location in 1940. It now makes its home on the property of Stewart Farm in the town of Delton. Operating as a folk school and family camp, over the years Circle Pines members (CPC’ers) have engaged in activism related to civil rights, peace initiatives, and environmental consciousness, illustrating commitment to the Center’s primary mission—to show the advantages of cooperation as a way of life.
Circle Pines embraces the natural beauty of forests, meadows, and a beach off of Stewart Lake. Although the Center has over 30 buildings, most blend into the wooded surroundings and have rustic interiors. The hub of activity, the Farmhouse, includes a commercial kitchen, dining hall, library, and meeting rooms. Its eclectic style reflects renovations done by Center members since the early 1900’s. Nearby, Swallows Lodge provides heated lodging and close access to the main bathhouse and laundry room. Dispersed throughout the property, cabins (some heated), tent sites, bathhouses, and outdoor toilets supply other accommodation options. Other amenities include picnic tables, fire pits/rings, a wood-fired pizza oven, a stone labyrinth, and a wood-fired sauna. In the spirit of sustainability and economy, overnight guests should bring their own bedding, towels, and toiletries.
As an institution founded to support cooperative and sustainable living, the Circle Pines culinary staff sources locally whenever possible. Mud Lake Farm in Hudsonville provides greens and herbs, Crane Dance Farm in Middleville supplies meat products, and the coffee served at the Center is sourced from Higher Grounds Trading Company in Traverse City. Circle Pines also has a garden, an orchard, and uses wild foods available on the property. The Center’s crops include apples, peaches, mushrooms, nettles, and black walnuts.
Given the Center’s focus on education and cooperative living, Circle Pines camping programs are well suited to create collaborative and communal opportunities. Three full time staff provides oversight for property management and public relations. There is a seasonal food service staff as well as volunteers. Many volunteers are former campers whose fond memories encourage a desire to give back. Geared toward youth participants, summer camps are the ideal time to introduce cooperative practices such as daily chores, working the camp store, and tending the garden. Campers also enjoy traditional activities like water sports, crafts, and outdoor games so their summer experience is fun as well as educational. On the Circle Pines website, interested parents can download a camp guide and apply for financial aid.
Throughout spring, summer, and fall, Circle Pines programming allows adults to experience its cooperative environment. Workbee retreats and weekend retreats offer free lodging and meals in exchange for labor to complete a variety of maintenance activities around the camp. Interspersed between cooperatively planned work tasks, free time is available to use Center amenities as well as socialize and refresh. The retreats are an ideal introduction to the Center’s philosophies as well as an opportunity to engage with the natural beauty that surrounds Circle Pines.
The Center’s membership model offers an opportunity to contribute to and influence its initiatives beyond occasional visits. It also reinforces the Circle Pines mission as an organization committed to cooperative living. During non-event periods, the rustic setting and secluded woodlands are well suited to accommodate solo travelers looking for a quiet respite. With the variety of activities, Circle Pines allows visitors to experience an expanded definition of wellness in a beautiful, natural setting.
Circle Pines is located at 8650 Mullen Road, Delton, MI 49046. You can reach them by phone by calling: 269-623-5555. Midwest Mushroom camp is September 27 – 29 and Apple Cider Weekend is October 11 – 13. To find out more information, visit the Circle Pines website, circlepinescenter.org or send an email to: email@example.com.