It’s best described as rustic, snuggled in among the trees on the eastern shores of Okanagan Lake, 15 or so kilometres from downtown Vernon and a few kilometres shy of Ellison Provincial Park.
Thousands of marshmallows and wieners have been roasted in its firepit; thousands of campers have made lifelong friendships and have laid awake at night in the bunks of one of the six non-insulated cabins listening to the bats in the trees outside.
It is Camp Hurlburt, operated by Vernon’s Trinity United Church, which, for more than 80 years, thrived in the summers, full of campers aged five to 17 growing a relationship with God.
Soon, however, the camp will be but a memory as the church has made the agonizing decision to put the nearly three-acre property up for sale.
“The decision was reached after extensive consultation with the congregation,” said Barry Dorval, a past Trinity United Church board member. “We had been wrestling with the issue of how to move forward with the camp for a number of years.”
Camp Hurlburt began in 1931 on its present Okanagan Lake site with the church taking over the operation from the Camp Hurlburt Association in 1967.
Estimates on the number of campers that have attended range between 25,000 and 40,000, and Hurlburt has also been used by school districts for field trip outings in May, June or September, as well as rented by families for family reunions.
But as the camp aged, so did its facilities and the aging infrastructure of the 83-year-old camp needs extensive upgrading.
A fundraising campaign launched in 2006 to rebuild Camp Hurlburt was unsuccessful, reaching less than a quarter of its $3 million goal.
The camp suspended operations in 2012, but held an abbreviated camp season in 2013 to allow kids and teens one last chance to attend.
There has been no camp activity this year.
“The physical plant was definitely in trouble,” said Dorval. “The craft hall is no longer usable. The water system doesn’t have city water and sewer, and the water system needed significant repairs. We had intended to redevelop the site but that triggers new realities in terms of zoning and regulations.
“Bringing it onto the sewer system would have been a massive undertaking.”
With the end of the camp looming, the church turned to its congregation of nearly 500 for guidance.
“We held a dialogue process,” said Trinity United Rev. Jeff Seaton.
“We organized opportunities for the congregation to sit together in groups last fall, and, of course, there were diverse opinions, but we had them talk about what mattered to them, the history of the camp and their attachment to it, but also talk about their dreams and goals for what we might do as a congregation to serve youth and families in our community.
“In the end, we came to the idea that we love what we have been able to do with the camp but, with heavy hearts, we realized that can’t be sustained into the future in a way we’d like.”
Added past Trinity United board chairperson Warren Grabinsky: “It’s a decision I certainly agree with.”
A straw vote of Trinity’s congregation showed more than 80 per cent in favour of the church’s vision to put the camp up for sale in order to help with more extensive year-round programming for youth, young adults and young families.
“What we can say at this point is Trinity is exploring a range of options for the sale, including public use such as a park subject to zoning, local bylaws and environmental regulations,” said Seaton.
That 2006 fundraising campaign, with the goal of collecting $3 million, raised $673,666 of which $346,377 came from congregation members and the remaining $327,291 came from the Vernon community.
“The tax-receipted community funds have not been spent and are being held in trust,” said Seaton. “We will be contacting the donors to determine what they wish to do with their donations, subject to tax regulations.”
There will be a chance for the public to say goodbye to Camp Hurlburt, those that have attended or may have never set foot on the property.
On Saturday, Aug. 23, the church will host an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Carpooling (or arriving by boat) is encouraged as the camp has room for a maximum of 20 vehicles to park.
The next day, Aug. 24, will be a Camp Hurlburt windup for the Trinity United congregation.