July 14, 2024 Donate

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The Latest on the Cassidy Lake Correctional Facility Property

Public input sessions will soon be held to determine the future of the Cassidy Lake property. Photo by Doug Marrin.

From a New Deal educational initiative to a correctional facility, the once controversial Cassidy Lake property now stands at a crossroads of transformation as Michigan officials and the public contemplate its future following the recent demolition of its structures.

Five miles northwest of Chelsea lies the 85-acre Cassidy Lake property, a site with a rich history that began in 1937. Initially developed as Cassidy Lake Technical School by the National Youth Administration of Michigan, a Federal New Deal program, it focused on educating and training young Americans aged 16 to 25.

Ron Olson, Chief of the Parks and Recreation Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, sheds light on the property’s current status and future. “Years ago, they built a correctional facility there as part of the Waterloo Rec Area. It was carved out under an agreement, with a reverter indicating that it would revert back to the Waterloo Rec as the DNR when the prison was no longer needed. That’s what happened,” Olson explained in a phone call. He compares this process to other prisons closed in the state, like the one at Brighton and another work camp in Waterloo.

Aerial view of Cassidy Lake Correctional Facility. Photo from 2008 Legislative Report on the Special Alternative Incarceration Program.

The Cassidy Lake property’s history took a turn in 1942 when the Federal Government classified Waterloo Recreation Area as surplus land, leading to its abandonment along with the vocational school. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources initially took over the land. But in January 1944, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) repurposed it into Cassidy Lake Honor Camp for young offenders, embodying a mission of “rehabilitation through education.”

In its early days, the camp operated without a fence, trusting the young men to stay on the premises. This approach aimed to boost their self-esteem, though it also presented opportunities for escape, which were frequently taken. Subsequent incidents of walk-offs and recaptures led to the installation of a fence in the 1980s. The site then transformed into a Special Alternative Incarceration Facility (SAI), providing a 90-day intensive program to alter negative behaviors into socially acceptable ones through military discipline and positive value teaching.

Photo from Dept of Corrections “Corrections Connection” Jan. 2020.

However, as time passed, the facility aged, and by 2019, a five-year assessment plan indicated a need for $3 million in basic repairs. MDOC’s decision in January 2020 to consolidate and relocate the SAI program to the Cooper Street Correctional Facility in Jackson marked the end of an era. By spring 2023, the entire campus had been razed, leading to widespread speculation about the future of the historic property.

“The Department of Corrections moved along and demolished the facilities. We were offered to keep them but felt nothing there was appropriate to use. So, it was demolished,” explains Olson. The land has now officially been accepted back from the Department of Corrections. “The next step will be a public process for input on repurposing the area. It could revert back to a natural area or be used for outdoor recreational potential. We need first to assess the options,” he adds.

Olson emphasizes the coming opportunities for public involvement in this decision-making process. “There will be a way to link on so interested parties can watch the website, and we’ll release news on that too,” he says.