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A bright new future for a historic camp

YMCA Camp DeBoer

A bright new future for a historic camp

Story by Valerie Coulman


Sid and Karen DeBoer have always had close ties to Lake of the Woods, going all the way back to their own Senior Skip days in high school. Over the years, days spent swimming, boating, and skiing at the lake became regular time at a cabin as their family grew.

So in 2012, when they learned that what had been a long-time Girl Scouts campground at Lake of the Woods was going to be sold, it didn’t take them long to realize they wanted to be part of what happened there. “We bought it,” says Karen DeBoer, laughing, “and then had to decide what to do with it.” Ultimately, they knew they wanted it to serve Southern Oregonians of all ages.

“The project actually began 6 years ago,” recalls Lisa Molnar, then CEO of the Ashland Family YMCA, “when Sid called me and proposed that he donate the camp and some money to rebuild it.” DeBoers have served on many local boards, including the Ashland Family YMCA, and after several conversations with Molnar and the board, DeBoers gave the camp to the YMCA, along with a substantial portion of the funds that would be necessary to renovate and maintain the re-envisioned facility.

“We wouldn’t have tackled a project of this size without the DeBoers,” Molnar admits. The camp had fallen into disrepair and needed extensive upgrades to be used again. It would also have to meet an enormous checklist of requirements from the forestry department, the State History Board, the Fish and Game Department, and the local Home Owners’ Association, among others. It would be a process of several years just to get a design approved at every level.

Enter David Wilkerson of ORW Architecture in Medford. Wilkerson and DeBoers had worked together on a number of projects in the past, including work done for the YMCA (where Wilkerson has also served on the board). “It’s always a pleasure to work with clients who are engaged, knowledgeable, and passionate,” Wilkerson says. His own personal connection to the original camp and its location on a sensitive resource like Lake of the Woods made it even more compelling. 

As plans progressed, the entire team had input into the end result. “Sid and Karen really had the original vision,” says Molnar, “and David brought a lot to the design.” Architect, donor, builder, camp coordinator, and consultants all remained committed to designing a quality camp experience to anyone that came through the gates. “Everyone has been open to exploring ideas along the way,” adds Molnar, which has given both practical and aesthetic beauty to the final plan.

The design phase also took so long to finalize because 100% of the infrastructure had to be built from scratch, including water, septic, power, and trash, says Chris Adderson of Adderson Construction, who finally began construction after four years of planning. “A huge portion of this construction is underground,” he says, “which no one will ever see.”

According to Wilkerson, every tree on the site was surveyed, along with wildlife studies, historical considerations, and consideration for the neighbors as well. The entrance was relocated to reduce traffic past existing cabins. Bat houses were built to provide creature housing and natural pest control. Cabin spacing was adjusted to accommodate snow plows for winter access. And each change to the evolving design meant a new round of approvals as the plans matured. “There were a lot of moving parts,” he says. Wilkerson also credits ORW partner Andy Owen for coming on board and staying with the project through construction.

The process and the many parts have come together to create a year-round-use facility that Molnar describes as “a dream come true.” The camp not only blends beautifully into the lake’s environment, but has been carefully designed to combine past and present for a bright future. Several historic cabins were preserved for day-use options, a small museum/canteen sits just outside the new lodge with former camp memorabilia, and even the trees that were felled now line the drives and walkways of the campground. The camp features a grand one-story lodge with commercial kitchen, two staff suites, two independent meeting rooms, a high raftered dining area and beautiful views of the lake. Fourteen cabins are arranged in groups around the camp, with two shower houses nearby, as well as a nature lab and arts and crafts labs. A large outdoor pavilion and kitchen sit aside a sport court, and an outdoor amphitheater overlooks the lake.  

Supporting the classic camp experience is a facility now designed with today’s technologies and capabilities at its heart, says Adderson, from the fire-suppression system to the fully ADA-accessible boat ramps, cabins, and more. “The camps like this are disappearing,” he adds. “One thing they [DeBoers] wanted was to make sure anyone could use it,” and the entire team is excited about the potential they’ve created. “Not only have we designed a camp that is state-of-the-art for today’s campers, it is really special to design a camp that is 100% accessible to everyone.”

While the realities of the COVID pandemic did impact the schedule, Molnar notes, delaying the camp’s planned grand opening last fall, the original vision of Sid and Karen DeBoer is now a reality. The final details of this $13.5-million project are coming into place with a new grand opening planned for spring 2021 and an outdoor school schedule in place to open.

For DeBoers, their goal of seeing a beautiful place that can be accessible to everyone has remained the focus that has brought this massive project to its completion. “It’s been rewarding right from the beginning,” says Sid DeBoer. “I think it’s going to serve a lot of people, and that’s what makes our hearts glow.” 



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