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Kootenai Camp keeps kids busy

Black Rock facility has video games, stocked pond – and no parents

Gated golf community The Club at Black Rock overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene provides an exclusive playground for wealthy adults.

Now it also offers something distinctive to occupy the young ones while dad plays a round or mom relaxes at the spa.

This is not your father’s summer camp, with leaky cabin roofs, board games and an overgrown lake. Picture riding a zip line into an artificial pond stocked with hundreds of trout, plunging down a zigzagging waterslide into a pool or scaling an indoor climbing wall while nearby campers play the latest video games.

That’s the scene at Kootenai Camp, where the offspring and guests of residents can take tennis lessons, practice archery and eat meals prepared by the camp chef. A metal sign hanging from a large log arch greets visitors: “Parents by invitation only.”

“We’re having a hell of a time keeping the adults out,” said Tanner Bickelhaupt, a sales representative for developer Black Rock Development of Coeur d’Alene.

“When I was a kid, all I had was a bicycle and a place I wasn’t supposed to go,” Bickelhaupt said.

Kootenai Camp is the $3 million brainchild of developer Marshall Chesrown, who started the 1,800-acre development several years ago. It’s part of an expansion that will add 345 lots and a second 18-hole golf course, which is expected to open in July 2009. Located on the west side of the lake, the club is about a half-hour drive from Coeur d’Alene.

Sending a child to Kootenai Camp requires being a club member; that means owning property at the club and paying a deposit of $125,000.

Chesrown, also known for the planned mixed-use project Kendall Yards in downtown Spokane and other high-end Inland Northwest residential developments, said he wanted to create not a baby-sitting service but an “actual hangout” for children. He toured other clubs with similar facilities.

“Our membership has skewed a lot younger than what we originally anticipated,” Chesrown said. “Kids became a lot bigger part. … It wasn’t just retirees like most country clubs have done in the past.”

Black Rock is not alone in paying top-dollar for amenities targeted at kids. Around the lake, Gozzer Ranch’s Coulter Camp – where children can swim in a 75-foot saltwater pool or throw pots in a ceramics studio – is a selling point, said Abby Thom, camp director.

Modeled on another project by Gozzer Ranch developer Discovery Land Co. in Whitefish, Mont., Coulter Camp also provides themed campouts in tepees by the water, wakeboarding with pros and off-site activities, Thom said.

At Kootenai Camp, more than 200 children and grandkids of residents have signed up since the camp debuted in mid-June, said Aaron O’Brien, the 24-year-old camp director.

“The kids would rather hang out here than get a baby sitter,” O’Brien said.

The camp runs seven days a week, employing a full-time staff of 18, all trained lifeguards.

“It’s really fun,” said Ella Varel, 7, as she prepared to pound out a song on an electronic drum kit, part of the Xbox 360 video game “Rock Band” inside the two-story clubhouse. Ella said she spends time almost every day at the camp.

The upstairs houses oversize couches facing a large flat-screen TV with a Nintendo Wii and two classic arcade games, which change from time to time so kids don’t get bored.

Outside, the 30-foot-deep, blue-green pond next to the clubhouse was stocked with nearly 500 trout for fishing, Bickelhaupt said. An osprey hovered on a recent morning, looking for an easy lunch.

A white bus parked outside takes kids on field trips to Silverwood Theme Park and other regional destinations.

Working at Kootenai Camp is “not as tough on the budget” as past camp counselor experiences, said O’Brien, wearing blue board shorts with the Black Rock logo and a backward black company baseball cap.

Instructing tennis lessons on a recent morning, O’Brien asked a young camper whether he had made his lunch selection. A menu posted outside the clubhouse offers kid-friendly selections such as peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs.

“I ordered chicken nuggets,” the boy said.

Friday and Saturday nights the camp is open until 10 p.m. to give parents some private time, said club member Shannon Rummel. Both of her daughters participated in camp activities during their two months in North Idaho earlier this year, despite living on the lakeshore.

“My younger one, who is 9, they were going to build a room on for her because she was there so much,” joked Rummel, 37, who lives the rest of the year in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

“I thought there was a good selection of things to do,” Rummel said. “The kids really never seem to get bored. It was a little cold of a summer for a lot of lake swimming, so I think the pool came in handy.”

Reach Parker Howell at (509) 459-5491 or at