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Camp Low Echo funding gets a boost

The Ashland Family YMCA has received a $150,000 grant from the William and Florence Schneider Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation to help pay for renovation of Camp Low Echo.

Camp Low Echo, a Girl Scout camp for more than 60 years on the southeast shore of Lake of the Woods, fell into disrepair as the cost of upkeep steadily rose.

Ashland residents Sid and Karen DeBoer donated $3 million to the renovation of the camp and, in 2014, purchased the buildings and a permit allowing them to turn the camp into a recreational site for all ages. The DeBoers then donated the 32-acre camp to the Ashland Family YMCA.

“Many friends and relatives went to the Girl Scout camp there over the years, and we couldn’t just let it just disappear,” said Karen DeBoer.

The YMCA plans to run activities such as traditional youth camps, leadership retreats, theater and art camps, outdoor education programs, bird-watching and snowshoe outings, health and wellness retreats and senior excursions.

“The primary focus is on youth camps, but it is being designed for a multi-generational facility to serve people of all different ages in all different seasons,” said Ty Hisatomi, development and special projects manager of the Ashland YMCA.

Camps and programs will be available to the public, not just YMCA members. Local organizations will be able to rent the facility, as well.

“Almost weekly I get a call from an organization or school group that is looking to rent a portion of the camp,” said Lisa Molnar, executive director and CEO of the Ashland YMCA. “We think there’s a real need in Southern Oregon for a top-notch camp.”

The site is on U.S. Forest Service land and is protected through the Natural Environmental Protection Act. Construction must be approved by the public and Forest Service to make sure no harm will be done to the environment, according to Hisatomi.

“We’re hoping to have everything approved in the fall,” said Molnar.

Construction is estimated to begin in 2017, according to Molnar.

The largest structure on site is the main lodge, which will need to be rebuilt. Funds will also be used for 12 new cabins, two bath houses, teepees, an outdoor amphitheater, an infirmary and a boat dock. Most of the infrastructure will have to be redone to support the new facility, according to Hisatomi.

Future plans could involve a science center and an arts-and-crafts building.

Construction could be completed for campers to begin using the facility in the summer of 2018.

“We’re really hoping that Southern Oregon will be inspired by some of the donations we’ve already received and see it in their hearts to contribute,” said Molnar. “Maybe people who went to camp themselves as a kid. We’re still going to need another $3.5 million.” 

Cost estimate for the entire redevelopment is roughly $8.5 million. So far, more than $5 million has been raised, according to Molnar. Jed and Celia Meese of Ashland, close friends of the DeBoers, have pledged a $2 million endowment fund dedicated to maintenance of the camp.

“The Schneiders were an amazing couple,” said Amy Cuddy, of the Oregon Community Foundation. “They retired to Ashland after years of working in the community. Even after they retired, they continued to work with local organizations.”

The Schneiders' wishes for their fund was that it be used to benefit residents of Jackson County and to provide opportunities for people who might not otherwise have them, according to Cuddy.

“Our board really saw this as an opportunity in our state,” said Cuddy. “There’s a high demand for outdoor recreation serving youth, but very few opportunities for the camping opportunity this will provide.”

Email news intern Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@dailytidings.com.

The main lodge building at Camp Low Echo needs a full renovation. Courtesy photo
An artist's rendering shows the renovated main lodge at Camp Low Echo. Courtesy image