On the beach, a lone canoe paddle half-covered with fallen leaves shows the name “Christa” engraved on its blade.

Next to a gravel parking lot, a fiberglass basketball backboard is split vertically into two jagged pieces, next to a bent hoop and a pile of broken concrete slabs.

In nearby buildings, the windows, appliances, heaters, bunk beds, and even a fireplace mantel have been pulled for salvage.

Camp Kingswood, a 65-year-old Bible camp and retreat center in Minnetrista, is fast becoming history. Demolition crews began last week to erase all traces of the camp’s lodges, sleeping cabins, wells, septic system, ropes course and other features.

Three Rivers Park District purchased the camp late last year from the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church for $2.25 million and plans to return the land to nature.

The 106-acre area includes pristine woodland surrounding one of the cleanest lakes in the metro area and is the district’s first major park purchase in suburban Hennepin County in two decades.

“What sold us on this property is that it’s unique for its natural resources,” said Margie Dahlof, Three Rivers associate superintendent for strategic initiatives. The camp also contains a stunning trail corridor through the forest, she said, that might eventually be developed to link with several other trails and parks in the area.

The park is closed because of the demolition and landscape restoration, Dahlof said, and will remain so until the middle of 2014. A Department of Natural Resources public boat launch on the lake’s eastern shore is not part of the acquisition and will remain open, she said.

“By next summer, we’re going to have some interim use in there,” Dahlof said, referring to Kingswood land on the west side of the lake. It’s likely to include a couple of hiking trails, a few interpretive signs and a small gravel parking lot, she said. “It won’t be heavily used or heavily developed by any means,” she said.

That’s fine with the church, which realized the ecological importance of the land and negotiated conservation easements on most of the acreage so it would not be developed. Church leaders put Kingswood on the market in mid-2012 because they could no longer afford to maintain it.

Christa Meland, communications director for the church, said leaders are confident they made the right decision when they sold to Three Rivers. “We care deeply about the property, and we’re thrilled that it will continue to be enjoyed as a park and as a natural setting for people for the next 65 years,” she said.

The church recently informed the Three Rivers board that it can use Kingswood as the name for the park if they wish, but commissioners have made no decision on that yet. For now they are calling it the Kingswood Special Recreation Feature.

Recycling galore

Last week, Scott Bauer manned the controls of a 90,000-pound hydraulic excavator as it bit into the Kingswood caretaker’s house. It took two swipes and 20 seconds to drop the chimney in a huge cloud of dust. Then Bauer manipulated the huge claw to crunch into the wooden walls and roof. He nudged sections to the ground and crushed them and deftly separated any metal trim and doors for recycling.

“It’s all about sorting, and then more sorting,” said Bauer, demolition superintendent for Landwehr Construction of St. Cloud.

Most wood, insulation and other debris is unusable and will go to a demolition landfill, he said, but nearly all metal and aggregate products including concrete, foundation materials and asphalt will be recycled.

“We require the contractor to recycle or reuse at least 50 percent of the material,” said Stephen Shurson, Three Rivers landscape architect. “But based on preliminary estimates, and all the salvaging, it’ll be 63 percent or more at Kingswood.”

Unspoiled nature

David Thill, Hennepin County natural resources specialist, said that the Kingswood land is unique because it contains several distinct and high-quality ecosystems. The lake is fed by groundwater, is deep enough to support a two-tier fishery and trout population, and is one of the two cleanest in the metro area, he said. The other is Christmas Lake in Shorewood.

The property also includes an old-growth maple-basswood forest, Thill said, a 25-acre restored prairie, a tamarack bog, and rich fens and other unusual plants.

“You’re looking at all these different ecosystems in one spot, which makes it a really unique place for people to go see,” he said.

John Barten, Three Rivers’ director of natural resource management, said the camp property brackets about 70 percent of the shoreline of the lake, and a steep ridge, or glacial esker, rises steeply about 80 feet above its west shore.

Kingswood’s buildings stretch along the top of the ridge, he said, and after they are removed and graded, the open areas and parking lots will be planted with native trees and shrubs. The trail corridor will be the only thing that remains, he said.

The district will also survey the plants and birds on the property in the next year or two to determine whether any rare species are living there, Barten said, and it will establish a burning schedule to keep the prairie healthy.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” he said. “It’s not something that’s at all common in the area, so we’re really excited about it.”