PUBLISHED: 11:07 AM on Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Fifty years at the Methodist Camp
Community camp grew out of humble beginnings

Photo courtesy of Bea Shepard
  Before the road was built through the Methodist Camp, traveling across the river was kind of an adventure. While the first group of people who came to scout out the location had the privilege of being carried across by a pastor with the foresight of wearing rubber boots, later campers could ride across on a ferry.
When the Methodist Camp was started, naming it became an issue. Some people wanted to name the camp for some individual who had worked hard and long in its development.EFor a while we actually did name it Argetsinger Camp for John Argetsinger, who unarguably dedicated much of his free time to seeing to it that we had a good, usable camp. But the problem was, it was impossible to forget all the other people who had devoted much of their lives and resources to the camp. EThere were many names that we could have used.

Finally, we admitted our difficulty, and decided to use the name that we used for it when we first started work on it: Eagle River Methodist Camp, or now, after a few changes: EEagle River United Methodist Camp (SE). We solved the problem of naming for individuals by using their names on the buildings: Argetsinger Lodge, Jacoby Cabin, Maier Cabin, Treat Cabin, Gotschall Cabin.

The Camp certainly could have been named for Mrs. Grant.

Frances Grant was a charter member of the Douglas Methodist Church when it started in 1945.EIn fact, the church began as a Sunday School in the Grant living room, soon expanding to a couple of bedrooms, also.EThen when a few adults in Douglas began wondering why they didn't have a church service, too, that was added - in the living room also.

After a church building was erected on the corner of 3rd and E Streets in Douglas, the Grants continued to be strong supporters (some call them "pillars"). Douglas was widely known as a city of children and dogs, and the question arose of what more we could do for the children.

Frances Grant knew what we needed. She insisted that we needed a camp; she was so persistent in her suggestion that a number of us in the two Methodist Churches formedEsmall "committees" to search for a suitable campsite.

Suggested sites throughout the area, from one end of the road to the other, were visited and evaluated. EBut we had trouble finding everything we felt we needed. EOf course we wanted a beautiful site, with flat land for developing. EMuch of the usable land was already taken up; Ethere seemed to be some nice sites, but none of them were big enough - or flat enough.

After a couple of years of searching, we found it! Everybody who saw itrealized that it was the place for the new Methodist Camp. EThere were only a few drawbacks. EOne was that it was on the other side of two rivers from the end of the highway. EThe highway ended at Herbert River. There was an old bridge, not open to the public, across Herbert River, a very "unimproved" road that led to Eagle River, and no bridge across Eagle River.

Our small "committee" (the Douglas pastor and his wife, [Bob and Dorothy Ann Rings], and Claudia Kelsey and I) went out to survey the new site. EBut how were we to cross Eagle River? EThe river was composed of silty water, from two glaciers - Herbert and Eagle - and there was usually a very strong current.

We had evidently chosen a "lucky day'. EWe had not had rain for several days and the river level was very low. EBob was wearing high boots and was all ready to go across. EWhy were the rest of us wearing tennis shoes?

No problem. EFortunately we were not any of us very heavy and Bob carried us all three across piggyback, one at a time.

What a beautiful campsite! EBeautiful big trees, but several flat, meadowlike areas, suitable for building sleeping cabins. EMountain on one side, the Channel on the other side. EWonderful views. EDuring the early years, before trees grew too high, we could see Herbert Glacier from the camp. Within Ea short walking distance was Eagle Beach; and since no highway reached the beach, it would be almost a private beach for the use of our camp. A nice little stream ran across the site,Eand we could see the Chilkat Mountains on the other side of the Channel.

Other interested persons from the churches investigated the site, and we all agreed we wanted to use it. EOn May 7, 1953 the churches signed a lease with the US Forest Service for a use permit for approximately 88 acres for ten years. EThe fee was very reasonable - about $1 an acre per year.

We had 88 acres of land, and no buildings on it. EWe immediately started to make it into a camp.

But how were we going to cross the river? EThe Highway Department gave us permission to use the bridge across Herbert River, and when the mud wasn't too deep, we could drive through Eto Eagle River. EBut then, what?

There were a number of engineers in the Juneau Church, and they took on the project. EIn a short period of time there was a footbridge across Eagle River. EThe men were proud of it. EThey informed us that the bridge (in 1953 dollars) was worth $30,000. EOne of them added, rather pensively, "It may wash out in a heavy rainstorm."

It did just that - in the next heavy rainstorm. EThe river filled with water and logs and trees, and swept the bridge away as it went by the camp. EFinally, John Argetsinger came up with a solution, which served us for many years: Ea "ferry", made of planks and oil barrels, with a cable stretched across the river which we used to pull ourselves across. EA year or so later, the ferry was "improved" in such a way as to make it possible for the current to carry us across. EAll campers, camping supplies, building materials - everything -Ewas carried across on the ferry for many years, until the highway was extended to Eagle Beach, going, incidentally right through the middle of our camp.

The highway was partly a blessing and partly a curse. EWe solved the problem by allowing the half of the land that was on the other side of the road to revert back to the Forest Service, and we continued to develop the 48 acres that was left. EThree sleeping cabins were moved across the highway, and we built a new fire circle to replace the one that was on the other side.

With the help of some money from the National Division of the Board of Missions, and much volunteer labor from many of the members of the two local churches, Juneau and Douglas, as well as volunteer labor from several work teams from Outside Alaska, the campsite was developed, with a large lodge building with dining and kitchen facilities, a wash house, nine screened sleeping cabins, and more recently a modern comfortable residence for the camp manager andfamily, and two winterized cabins for use by families and small groups. E

Since the first organized camping experience at the Methodist Camp, which just happened to be a 4H camp late in the summer of 1955, the camp has been used for 50 years on a space-available basis by all qualified user groups who request it. EOur Methodist Youth Camps, which began in the summer of 1956, have been attended regularly by campers from our churches in Juneau, Douglas, Ketchikan and Sitka. All four churches have representatives on the Camp Committee and have over the years furnished staff and counselors, as well as campers.

Over the years it has been the camp committee's desire to keep the cost of using the camp low enough that anybody who wants to can afford to use it. EEach year at least two weeks of the summer are reserved for our Methodist Youth camps, Labor Day weekend is reserved for the Interchurch Intergenerational (Family) Camp, and each Thanksgiving Day the lodge is filled to capacity with Juneau and Douglas Methodists who come to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner together. ETherest of the time is available to any groups who wish to use the camp.

A sampling of camp users would include a number of other church denominations, such as Lutheran, Assemblyo f God, Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of Christ, Catholic. EEach year the local schools use the camp for about six weeks for outdoor education programs. The Forest Service has used the camp for its special youth programs. ESAGA, Contra Dancers, Girl Scouts, Brownies, Cubs -- the list is long and varied.

Each summer churches in the "south 48" send work teams (VIMs - or Volunteers in Mission) - to help us in our construction and maintenance work. Almost Eeverything on that camp has been done by volunteers. EUntil recently the camp manager has been paid by housing and utilities, but the job has grown so that there is now Esmall stipend added for the camp manager's position. EThis is the only paid position at the camp.

The local committee works endlessly to keep the camp in usable condition, but volunteers are always welcome. EIf you are interested in helping - brushing trails, covering mattresses, repairing steps, replacing windows, filling chuck holes in the roadway, repairing foundations, replacing roofs, building new cabins, call Don Gotschall at 586-3132. We'll have a place for you!

Also, save the date of July 2 to visit the camp and help us celebrate our 50th anniversary!

Bea Shepard is the State Historian for the Methodist Church.