Historic Cascade icon undergoing upgrade
MCKENZIE BRIDGE: A Depression era development brought some 400 young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps to Camp Belknap in the spring of 1934. Many of the transplants - mainly from the Chicago and St. Louis areas - had never seen mountains before. But on January 1st of the following year the work they did resulted in an opening day celebration of the White Branch Lodge that drew a crowd of 1,200 celebrants.
Over the years the site has been operated as an organizational camp serving church groups, Boy Scouts, and other family organizations. The camp - which currently has a capacity of approximately 156 campers, counselors, and staff - was purchased by the Association of the Churches of God in Oregon and Southwest Washington in 1957. The association oversees 17.4 acres under a 20-year US Forest Service lease and special use permit.
Existing facilities include 18 buildings, an in-ground swimming pool, several gravel parking areas, internal roads, a large open space, a snow tubing hill, and several small outdoor gathering areas. The buildings include the historic lodge, the dining hall/dormitory, a maintenance building, manager’s house, office, assistant manager’s house, restroom building, pool bathhouse, pump house, seven cabins, tent platforms and two small storage buildings.
The association reports the site has been fully utilized in the summer months (June to September). Small groups and families also use it in the winter and spring months (January through May), as well as outdoor schools during the fall and spring. When the weather allows, a public snow play hill is open to the public along with a warming area and snack bar in the log lodge during winter snow play operations.
As a developed recreation site under the Willamette National Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan, Camp White Branch “is expected to help the Forest meet current and future demand for developed recreation generally and for organization sites specifically.” That directive led to the development of both a new 20 year master plan along with a 30 year special use permit for the property that was approved last year.
Details of the master plan identify a variety of improvements ranging from upgraded facilities and services for campers to complying with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. It also sets out measures to “enhance the natural environment and improving transportation circulation and access as well as maintaining the historic character of the camp.” On the agenda will be the construction of new structures, modification of existing buildings, and the retention of other existing facilities.
The first change visitors will encounter is the construction of a new multipurpose that started last week. The building will be used for indoor recreation and meeting activities - including basketball, volleyball, environmental education, and large worship services. At approximately 9,000 square feet, it would be large enough to accommodate a basketball court, sideline areas, a small stage and restrooms. When not being used for recreation, the new building can accommodate up to 250 people for large worship services or meetings.