This is normally the time of year when volunteers converge on the Sherburne County summer camp near Lake Ann for the annual ritual of tidying up the buildings and turning on the water for the arrival of campers.
But not this year. A few weeks ago, an arsonist set fire to the camp’s main building, causing $200,000 in damage to the historic White Building that was camp kitchen, dormitory and meeting space.
On Sunday, volunteers will meet at the camp, about an hour northwest of the Twin Cities, for a town hall-style discussion on its future.
“We’re just in a holding pattern,” said camp volunteer Jeremy Wheeler. The meeting is open to the public.
A fundraiser has generated $3,600 so far, but much more will be needed, Wheeler said. The camp’s bathhouse structure was also slightly damaged by heat from the fire. Insurance will cover some of the loss. (Adding insult to injury, vandals broke into the camp’s other dormitory building and made off with supplies.)
For now, the camp is closed for the summer; volunteers have scrambled to find alternate locations like the Wright County Fairgrounds and some nearby Girl Scout camp facilities to house kids who were set to start arriving June 10.
Both the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office and the State Fire Marshal’s Office have opened investigations.
The May 5 fire was reported about 5:45 p.m. It was well underway when deputies arrived.
The White Building is a total loss and will have to be razed. Gone, too, are the commercial kitchen facilities it housed. Photos of the blackened remains show a scorched upright piano, the metal frames of bunk beds twisted by heat and daylight pouring into the building’s center, since much of the roof is gone.
The damage has been keenly felt by the Sherburne County Camp Association, which runs the facility on land leased from the state.
The White Building first opened for campers in the late 1960s. It had been part of a logging camp built by the Civilian Conservation Corps before it was relocated to the shores of Lake Ann. It has hosted thousands of kids over the years, including Wheeler, who visited as a child.
It wasn’t too windy on the day of the fire, Wheeler said, pointing to one small bit of luck that may have kept the fire from spreading.
“We could have lost the entire state forest out there,” he said.