Lutherans in Minnesota

New facilities and new partners at Bay Lake Camp

Bay Lake Camp recently celebrated 100 years of “island stewardship.” The Lutheran Bible camp has existed on the island at Bay Lake since 1926, but the land has been owned by First Lutheran Church in the Swede Hollow neighborhood in St. Paul since 1909. And its stewardship of the island continues to be redefined.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the island belonged to J.F. Landstrom, a recent immigrant from Sweden and a lumberman. His wife had died before Landstrom’s immigration here with a teenage son. His boy died of tuberculosis soon thereafter. With a broken heart, Landstrom started selling property so he could return to Sweden.

One day Landstrom told a local shopkeeper that he was unable to sell the island in Bay Lake. The businessman suggested he donate it to First Lutheran Church, where he was a member. And Landstrom did just that.

The church’s board of trustees took a trip to the island, hoping they could mine for iron ore, but their plans did not come to fruition. In 1912, the congregation put the property up for sale, but there were no takers.

Then, in 1924, a group in the congregation become interested in starting a camp. By 1926, congregants were holding their first Bible camp on the island. “We’re pretty sure it is the oldest camp in Minnesota,” said Brenda Olson, executive director of Bay Lake Camp and mission developer for First Lutheran. “We know of one that is older in Pennsylvania, but we might be next [oldest].”

A new opportunity

In the last few years, camp property was turned into a “conservation easement,” meaning that it is protected from development in perpetuity. Thirteen acres of the 60-acre island can be developed for camp programming, and the remainder will be kept as wilderness, explained Olson.

“We have a permanent management relationship with the DNR [Department of Natural Resources],” she said, “so 9,000 feet of shoreline is protected from development.” The public has access to the land, as part of this agreement, but it is not a park where people can set up a tent. But visitors can hike trails in the wilderness area.

“This arrangement was very unique when we started the discussion,” Olson told Metro Lutheran. “Now more camps are looking at [easements] as an option for all or part of their assets so as to access additional funds.”

Reconstruction of camp buildings was completed last summer. Through good planning by the “design-build firm” Nor-Son Inc., Bay Lake Camp has moved from providing seasonal summer programming to year-round access “except for ‘ice in’ and ‘ice out,’” Olson explained. Brainerd-based Nor-Son donated their labor, so the only costs to the camp were the design fees.

What effect has the new construction had? Last summer the number of campers doubled. “We’re expecting the number to double again in 2010,” Olson predicted. “We offer a really unique experience with crossing over water — whether it is liquid or solid!”

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