Historic Camp Greentop

Camp Greentop Dining and Recreation Halls
Camp Greentop Dining and Recreation Halls.

Volunteer John Zuke

Cabin with accessible ramp
Cabin with accessible ramp

Volunteer John Zuke

A Camp for Everyone

Decades after their first stay, many visitors return to glimpse the camp that left an indelible mark on their lives. Today, Greentop hosts the oldest camp in the USA for people with disabilities. Historically, other users included Frederick County Outdoor Schools and members of the United States and British Military.

Two boys on crutches walk between 2 totem poles
Some of Camp Greentop's earliest campers (c. 1938). The totem poles remain a tradition, being replaced every generation.

Courtesy of The League for People with Disabilities

The League

"The camp proposed is designed for the use of the Maryland League for Crippled Children, a state wide organization that has exhibited keen interest in the project from the first." G. B. Williams, Project Manager, Catoctin RDA, letter to E. M. Lisle, NPS Regional Office, December 11, 1936.

The Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA) had been intended from its start to provide recreational opportunities for a wide range of populations. Nonprofit organizations were tapped to operate the cabin areas. When The Maryland League for Crippled Children stepped forward to support the construction of the Catoctin RDA, they stayed one summer at Camp Misty Mount to test and review its construction. Following the lessons learned from that summer, the park continued with construction of a novel accessible camp, dubbed "Greentop."

WPA Hewn and Stacked Chestnut Logs to Cabin
Hewn and Stacked Chestnut Logs to Cabin

Volunteer John Zuke

Rescuing the Trees and the Nation

The Recreational Demonstration Areas (RDA) and the Works Progress Association (WPA) grew out of the New Deal as a means to lift the nation out of the dust bowl and Great Depression. Camp Greentop was one of four cabin camps originally approved for the Catoctin RDA. The WPA constructed the cabins using the materials and skills at hand.

One abundant material on Catoctin Mountain during the 1930s was lumber from the blighted American chestnut. WPA builders salvaged the dying trees in an effort to preserve the memory of the former king of the forest. The dark, aromatic wood beams remain stout today as a testament to the chestnut's majesty. Campers may doze in the early morning light tracing the squiggly bores of the trees' killers, reminders of the blight that still prevents the chestnut's return.

Admirers of the cabins' rustic charm might be surprised at the great pains the park took to make them look so simple. Planning documents show the effort taken to design the "NPS Rustic" architecture, sometimes known as "Parkitecture." The cabins reflect local building styles so that they feel comfortable and timeless. The layout of the camp itself follows the natural features, so that it seems to blend in to the environment.

Frederick County Outdoor School students in the 1950s
Frederick County Outdoor School students in the 1950s.

Frederick County Outdoor Schools

From 1957 through 1996, every student in Frederick County enjoyed the opportunity to make a national park their school. Students stayed in the cabins for up to two weeks.

Rather than opening drawers and textbooks to see preserved specimens and photographs, students learned about real living things in a real environment. They traded their slide projectors for binoculars, their slide rules for tape measures, and their playground slides for trees.

OSS Recruits jumping out of truck in front of Camp Greentpo Office
OSS Recruits jumping out of truck in front of Camp Greentop Office

The War and Navy Department

The Maryland League for Crippled Children had only just settled into their new summer home when World War II required use of the park by the War and Navy Department. During this time The League temporarily relocated to French Creek (aka Hopewell Furnace) in Pennsylvania and returned in 1948. During their absence, Camp Greentop was used by the Office of Stategic Services (OSS) for training exercises and British Sailors and American Marines for rest and recouperation.

Last updated: February 13, 2023

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6602 Foxville Road
Thurmont, MD 21788


301 663-9388

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