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Families at Camp offers new model for using camp site

Families at Camp has brought 20 to 34 people each week to use N-Sid-Sen Camp and Conference Center on Lake Coeur d’Alene, with the four spaces with kitchens and four cabins almost full every weekend from May through the summer and into September.

Tenter uses one of two new tent platforms at N-Sid-Sen, built with wood from Cabin 8, which was damaged by a fallen tree.

Photo courtesy of Mark Boyd

The “campers” come as families who are “isolating” together. They spend Thursday through Monday at the camp and leaving three days in between families for managing director Mark Boyd to clean and sanitize the spaces.

Families have come from Bellingham, Bellevue, Portland, Walla Walla, Eastern Washington/North Idaho, and Montana.

“I realize it has been quieter than normal, but that’s what I needed in these crazy times,” Mark quoted one camper.  “I needed to get away and be quiet.”

He has enjoyed watching youth bring their parents, who had previously not gone beyond the parking lot.  They were their parents’ guides.

As summer progressed, Mark and his wife, Julie, began to hold socially distanced conversations with families on the porch of Stillwater Lodge.

“We shared about camp experiences, the history of the camp and built relationships with the people,” he said.

Among the families who came were people who usually come to the dance camp, and people from conference churches.

Since funds for other staff ran out, Mark has been the only staff there.  So he stopped providing pizza, lasagna, chili, brownies, cornbread or other “take-out” food, he left for campers in the kitchens.

Mark said there are still some openings some weekends in October and November.

“This spring and summer have been about constant adjustment.  Usually we have a lot of people here and a lot of activity, and I’m involved.  I thought I’d have time, but I have less time,” he said. 

The Camp Campaign succeeded in reaching the goal and exceeding it, raising $200,000 for each camp, which will keep N-Sid-Sen and Pilgrim Firs going through June 2021 in terms of covering taxes, lights and utilities, and Mark’s salary. That’s less than half of the normal income of $460,000 in 2019.

Other UCC camps around the nation, including Camp Adams in Oregon and Pilgrim Cove in Idaho, are struggling.  Some camps have been closing.

So Mark feels fortunate that in the PNC conference the camps are doing well because the conference, churches and communities love and care for the camps.

“We see what is happening with other camps and use it as a mirror to see what we need to change and what we need to do to be more equitable,” he said.  “We are also doing things at our camps to be of value to the local communities, such as the use of Pilgrim Firs as a quarantine center and N-Sid-Sen as the site for a fire department boathouse.”

Mark said the “Families at Camp” will likely continue in the future to help use the camp to capacity, filling it on weekends that are not full. He is uncertain if the camp will operate at capacity in 2021,j because of the economy and lingering concern about COVID-19.

Mark has also been glad that local first responders have accepted the invitation to wander the trails and use the beaches.

“They deserve it with all their work on putting out small fires around the lake,” he said.

One summer project has been to use the lumber from cabin 8, that was destroyed when a tree fell on it, to build two tent platforms.  In the fall, he hopes to secure a contractor to rebuild cabin 8.

Being the only staff at the camp proved to be a challenge on Labor Day during a wind storm that brought in higher waves than he had ever seen.  At 7 a.m., he found the boat, which had been tied four ways was tied only with one line attached, so he got more ropes and secured it, but in the process smashed three fingers between the boat and dock, breaking one.

Just as he was tying down the boat, he heard a snap, and the long swim dock broke loose from the float with the diving board and the shore.  So his next task was to secure that.

“Many people along the shore lost docks and boats in that storm,” he said. “I have not seen winds like that since I’ve been here.”

When he went to drive to to urgent care in Coeur d’Alene for his finger, he a found a tree was blocking the driveway.  He had to clear that before going.

The following week, he repaired boards and the frame on the boat slip dock.  He needs to repair the swim dock, which is usually stored for the winter in the boat slip.

While generally isolated, Mark and Julie have found virtual church services a way—if the internet is working—to go to different churches

For information, call 208-689-3480, email or visit


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Fall 2020


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