Camp Minnesota celebrates lives changed in ’13, prepares for ’14

December 10, 2013

By: Christa Meland

More than 2,000 children and adults participated in Camp Minnesota in 2013—and Minnesota Conference staff members are currently working on some program changes for next year that will further enhance the camp experience.

Camp Minnesota comprises Camp Koronis in Paynesville, Northern Pines Camp in Park Rapids, and Camp KoWaKan near Ely. Close to 150 local churches within the Minnesota Conference sent kids to camp this year, and several dozen staff members worked to provide those kids with a memorable adventure they wouldn’t soon forget. About one-fourth of the 2,000 people who attended camp in 2013 were first-time attendees.

A successful 2013

Camp Minnesota’s goal is to help all campers and guests feel safe, secure, and loved, and to share and learn about Christ and creation.

Each year at camp, there are powerful stories of changed lives. A local church pastor shared one of this year’s stories with camp staff: Last fall, a teenage girl began attending the church after being invited by a friend; she came from a family that didn’t attend church, and she didn’t believe in God or know much about faith. She had been struggling socially at school and cutting herself at home. But the girl started participating in the youth group, entered the confirmation process, and signed up for camp.

After her camp experience, the girl told her youth group that she had the time of her life. She came to camp worried that relationships formed there would be similar to those at school, but instead she felt loved. The girl’s mother reported a positive change of attitude in the girl after she returned home, and the girl is still actively engaged at the church.

“Camp has become part of the faith story of countless young people,” says Director of Camping Keith Shew. “It gives kids an opportunity to discover new things about themselves, like how they want to treat others, what kinds of relationships they’ll seek out, that they matter and can make a difference, and most importantly, that they are loved by Christ. What Camp Minnesota seeks to provide is an opportunity for kids to experience Christ in new ways and return home changed because of it.”

New opportunities in 2014

The 2014 camp season, which will go from June 8 to August 15, is still several months away—but camp staff are already busily preparing for it. Registration brochures will be mailed out in January, and a major change in the way that programs are structured will take effect next summer.

The majority of campers are between the ages of 9 and 16 and their camp experience lasts for five nights. Koronis and Northern Pines previously offered “niche-style” programs in which those kids would sign up for a week of camp based on a specific interest area, like fishing or sports. All campers in each group spent the week together under the guidance of the same leader(s).

Going forward, campers will instead participate in a “session-based” program in which they select several areas of interest after they arrive at camp. Each day, they’ll spend some time with their own cabin group but break into activity sessions with other campers and leaders based on those interest areas, which run the gamut from science and drama to mountain biking and archery. Throughout the week, campers will grow their skills in each interest area because each activity session builds on the last.

“This is camping at its best,” says Shew. “This change is exciting because it allows campers to interact with a more broad range of other kids and leaders and participate in a wider variety of activities. But no matter which activities campers choose, they’ll always participate in their favorite traditional camp activities, like swimming in the lake, boating, spending time in nature and creation, Bible studies, worship, and of course, s’mores and singing around the campfire each evening.”

Campers will be able to sign up to go to camp almost any week(s) of the summer that they so choose, not just those in which a specific niche program is offered. Additionally, the shift will allow camps to more efficiently use staff to fit the ideal staff-to-camper ratios rather than assigning them to a particular niche group, regardless of the number of campers signed up for it.

The programming shift was endorsed by both the conference’s Camp and Retreat Board and Kaleidoscope, Inc., a nationally recognized camp consultant that has been working with the board to create a business plan that ensures Camp Minnesota offerings are vital and viable ministries.

There are also plenty of opportunities for younger campers, ages 5 to 9, with Camp Minnesota’s day camps and “mini camps.” These compact versions of the new session-based events offer a sampling of the weeklong camp experiences but are designed for younger campers.  “We want to show our youngest campers some of the best parts of the camping experience—parts they will really get to dive into when they’re old enough to stay for the week,” says Shew. “We want them to come back!”

All Camp Minnesota campsites meet American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation standards, which focus on camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. Because the standards are so rigorous, only one in five American camps opts to go through the accreditation process—which requires the submission of an annual compliance statement and a complete site evaluation every three years. The fact that Camp Minnesota camps are all ACA accredited is “a huge feather in our cap,” says Shew.

Other shifts in camping and retreats

In recent months, there have been a number of changes to the conference’s camping and retreat ministries. In late June, the conference closed on a $2.25 million sale of Camp Kingswood to the Three Rivers Park District. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the 127-acre Mound property is being used to pay down camp debt, and the remaining funds are being strategically reinvested in camping and retreats.

Then in September, the Camp and Retreat Board made the difficult decision to cease operations of Servant Heart Ministries, which offered short-term mission trips. Ending Servant Hearts was a key operational recommendation of Kaleidoscope, which found that the program was diffusing staff time and resources rather than focusing them on the offerings that were most effective—the residential camps. 

In addition to operating Koronis, Northern Pines, and KoWaKan, Camp Minnesota owns Decision Hills Camp in Spicer, where summer youth programming has been suspended for more than a year. Kaleidoscope is working with the conference to determine what to do with that property.

The conference also owns Star Lake Wilderness Camp in Pequot Lakes, which has been leased to an independent wilderness camping organization.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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