It was a match made in heaven. This particular paradise sits near a sparkling river, in the shadow of mountains.
The U.S. Forest Service was spending $40,000 a year to maintain the rarely used Shoshone Work Center. A nationwide search for someone who wanted to lease it brought no real leads. The next step was to tear down the cluster of green buildings.
Meanwhile, Camp Lutherhaven officials were turning people away from their church camp on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Their hope of opening another facility was so remote they set it as a 25-year goal.
The goal has been met, decades early.
On Wednesday, Lutherhaven director Bob Baker and his staff were taking stock of the work center, to be rechristened the Shoshone Base Camp when it opens this spring.
“It’s a godsend both ways,” Baker said of Lutherhaven’s five-year permit to operate the camp as a center for outdoor education. “We’d never be able to buy a place like this.”
This place, just up the road from Prichard, lies at the confluence of Shoshone Creek and the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. People who live and run businesses in this sparsely populated valley are thrilled about Lutherhaven’s arrival.
“We’re all for it. We wish them the best,” said Rich Babin, owner of Babin’s Grocery down the road in Prichard. “It’s better than a prison!”
Two earlier proposals to put a minimum security prison here were soundly rejected by local folks.
But the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District could no longer afford to pay for heating, water line repairs and other expenses involved with the eight buildings.
The dining hall is the oldest, built in 1956. Hungry forest work crews chowed down there during summers.
“One hundred forty people would go through that mess hall twice a day, up until 1978,” Forest Service staffer Carl Ritchie said.
At that time, Forest Service crews moved across the road and the camp served as a base for the Young Adult Conservation Corps, a pet project of the Carter administration. The newest building went up in 1982.
The Reagan administration shut down the corps, Ritchie said. The Forest Service crews moved back in briefly. But since 1983, fewer than a half-dozen people have spent time there in the summer.
Ritchie was in charge of the search for someone to lease the property. Advertisements in 20 national magazines yielded 70 responses, with ideas ranging from a hunting lodge to a soccer camp. Only four of them looked feasible, Ritchie said.
Baker didn’t see the ads. What he saw was a newspaper article about the shutdown of Trail Creek Camp, another old Forest Service facility where the Coeur d’Alene school district had long held outdoor education classes.
In the June 1997 story, the district ranger was quoted as saying she hoped the same fate didn’t befall the Shoshone Work Center.
Baker called to ask where that was. He went to see it the next day.
“The timing was incredible,” Baker said. “About 10 days later, the Forest Service prospectus (on the property) was released. We had five days to come up with a proposal.”
Now, they have 10 weeks to make the camp usable. The dedication ceremony and barbecue are set for May 24, and there’s a lot of work to do.
The kitchen needs equipment; 120 beds need to be rounded up; rugs need shampooing; handicap ramps must be installed; walls need to be scraped and repainted. There are plans to build an outdoor amphitheater.
“The big challenge will be to open the buildings up and see what works - the furnaces, the water heaters,” Baker said.
The improvements that Lutherhaven makes will be applied to its $20,000 annual permit fee. If the camp is the success that Ritchie expects it will be, the Forest Service is likely to give Lutherhaven a longer lease when the first five years are up.
Baker is eager to transform the institutional feel of the place into a warmer, camp-like atmosphere.
Volunteer work crews start arriving for weekends in April. Anyone wanting to contribute equipment or labor is asked to call Lutherhaven at 667-3459.
Three outdoor education classes are booked for spring by schools in Coeur d’Alene, St. Maries and Kennewick, Wash. The whole camp must be ready by July 8, when the Fun ‘N Sun diabetes camp is set to use the property.
“They’re taking every bed that we don’t have yet,” Baker said.
Outdoor education director Rebecca Smith will have wide selection of programs for camp visitors. They may range from climbing and forest ecology to rafting and environmental literature.
Groups that want to rent the camp can choose the length of time, the kind of services and programs they want. Shoshone Base Camp also has five recreational vehicle sites to rent, and Baker hopes to put in some riverside tent sites.
Lutherhaven has one built-in source of customers for its new camp: the 2,000 people it has been turning away from the Coeur d’Alene camp each year for lack of space.
The church-sponsored organization is glad to offer programs that focus on “God’s creation,” said Baker. But secular groups are more than welcome, just as they are at Lutherhaven.
The Kellogg school district is especially excited about using the site. It has in the past.
Joe Peak, owner of the Enaville Resort, recalled the fun his children had at camp. He remembers walks at night, counting elk and deer along the river.
“It offers wonderful opportunities for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing,” he said.
His Kingston business is bound to benefit from people visiting the revitalized Shoshone center, and perhaps from catering contracts up there.
But mostly, Peak said, “I’m just glad to see the camp used.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)
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