Vandals did their best to ruin two main buildings Monday night at storied Camp Ojiketa in Chisago County, but despite the mess, a weekend open house to promote the land as a regional park will continue as planned.
"It was a horrible thing. It was obviously just a rampage," said Jeanne Miller, a nearby resident and former camper and counselor at Ojiketa, a destination for thousands of Camp Fire girls and boys since 1926. She discovered the damage Tuesday.
Doors and windows were smashed at Zonta Lodge, the camp's longtime gathering spot for games and campfires. Large windows were smashed at the chapel, and at the nearby dining hall, vandals sprayed chemicals on the floor and walls.
The Chisago County Sheriff's Office is investigating.
Volunteers will clean up the buildings before Sunday's open house, which is intended as a preview of the proposed 70-acre Ojiketa Regional Park, said Doris Zacho, Chisago City's parks programmer.
"I was nervous about something like this happening," she said of Ojiketa, a forested refuge that overlooks Green Lake.
The Trust for Public Land has a purchase agreement to buy the land from the Minnesota Council of Camp Fire USA for $3.8 million.
The Trust has until the end of the year to raise money to complete the sale. Chisago City then would buy the land and manage it as a park with a swimming beach and possible hiking trails and tent sites.
About $2.6 million has been raised so far, according to Embrace Open Space, a natural areas advocacy organization.
In the years after World War I, Camp Ojiketa became a summer adventure for thousands of Camp Fire youth, most of them from the Twin Cities. The camp has dozens of log cabins sprinkled throughout a forest overlooking the lake. Camp Fire USA decided to sell the property because of declining finances.
Chisago City and a coalition of former campers known as the Ojiketa Preservation Society have been trying for more than two years to save the land from development. A proposal last year by Minneapolis developer Larry Abdo to build a $90 million hotel and spa complex on a portion of the property fell apart, as have other development proposals.
"It's kind of that little small town dream for us," Zacho said of the regional park. Should enough money be raised to buy the land, the city would develop a final use plan over a year-long public comment period.
Zonta Lodge was one of the camp's most popular buildings, Miller said. It has a kitchen and bathrooms and room for 36 people to sleep, she said. The dining hall, on a bluff overlooking the lake, has stone fireplaces at both ends and sits amid cabins for campers.
This week's vandalism won't overshadow the optimism of Sunday's event nor was it extensive enough to interfere with tours, Zacho said.
Meanwhile, the Camp Fire office will cover costs such as replacing windows, said Marnie Wells, the interim chief executive officer. She said Camp Fire doesn't yet know the value of the loss.
"We'll maintain a high level of safety as always," she said. "We have a lot of pride in that property."
Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554