First it was Camp Easter Seal, then it was Camp Roger C. Larson. By either name, the getaway on Cottonwood Bay has for 42 years been a playground for disabled campers.
But belt-tightening by owner Washington State University nearly closed the camp on Lake Coeur d’Alene. There was a strong move to sell it.
Now, director Jeff Wood believes, it’s poised for a comeback.
The WSU education professor envisions a year-round, high-tech, laid-back getaway that will be rented for retreats, seminars and research. Those rentals, in turn, will subsidize the disabled campers.
“We’d like this facility to be used year-round,” Wood said this week as he strolled the silent, winter-gray grounds. “To do that, we have to replace some buildings and the infrastructure. We’re basically working from the ground up.”
Caretaker Jim Sifford will oversee the transformation of a 1950s cabin to a retreat center. A ropes course to teach self-assurance and teamwork is being built in the woods. By next spring, a dormitory room will be transformed into a computer studio.
Fiber-optic cable will link the lakeside to the world, via the Internet.
Wood foresees young campers bouncing from the camp’s woodland trails to the computer screens, to investigate their natural science projects. Scientists working across the lake can transmit data to the computers via radio telemetry. Camp visitors can check their e-mail.
Thanks to a $50,000 GTE grant, the computers and internal wiring are paid for. The estate of WSU alum Helen Schmidt has given another $50,000. Washington Water Power will pay for an improved water system.
The camp owes its existence to such generosity. It sprung from an offer by the Washington Society for Crippled Children and Adults, which was willing to help what was then Washington State College establish a teacher institute or summer camp.
Physical therapy instructor Roger Larson was among the faculty members who donated their enthusiasm and dug into their pockets to make it happen. Larson, now deceased, served as camp director.
Wood, then a student at Washington State, worked beside him at the camp.
“He had a way of sharing his enthusiasm with other people,” Wood said.
Over the years a who’s who of charitable groups has supported the 63-acre camp.
The 18 buildings that sprung up over the years were donated and furnished by such groups as the Kiwanis of Veradale and the Pomona Grange, the WSC senior class of 1956.
Rotary Youth, the Diabetes Foundation and Muscular Dystrophy Association host camps here.
Next summer will mark the debut of caseycougarcamp.fun, at which foster children in the Casey Family Program will learn technology and teamwork.
WSU students will be matched with the kids and serve as their mentors for the following year.
“For the survival of Camp Larson, it’s essential that we show a relationship to the mission of Washington State,” Wood said.
He’s enlisted design students to develop a campus plan.
Others arrive to work on the nature trail and tidy the kitchen. Marketing students are spreading word about the camp.
When they polled 450 people at WSU, they found that 68 percent had never heard of the camp that’s 66 miles away and over the state line.
Off-campus, only a handful knew it existed, Larson said.
“They were mostly older residents of the area who laid these sidewalks and built that chimney.”
Wood doesn’t want to lose the camp’s connection with those people.
“We would like to attach the history of the camp to its future,” he said. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MORE INFORMATION For more information about Camp Roger C. Larson, contact director Jeff Wood at 509-335-1875, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.