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Echo Ranch Bible Camp to break ground for lodge

Construction could take two to five years

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005

Faith is a specialty at Echo Ranch Bible Camp on the banks of Berners Bay, and it will be there at Saturday's groundbreaking for a new lodge.

Architectural plans that meet the city engineering standards are close to complete, camp Facilities Director Reed Van Sickle said. Construction could take two to five years. Camp officials are confident they'll get the help they need when the plans are complete.

"All of our work is from volunteers from all over the country, being nonprofit," he said.

Camp Director Rick Shaner said the camp sent out about 150 invitations to Saturday's event.

"The new lodge will open up ministry opportunities," he said.

Echo Ranch Bible Camp, owned by Avant Ministries of Kansas City, Mo., and in its 43rd year of operation, is a nondenominational youth camp with groups as young as 7, 8 and 9 and as old as high-school age. Campers generally come from Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

"Our chief goal is to provide a safe, wholesome environment for young people and others," Shaner said. "We endeavor to reach young people with the love of Jesus."

The younger ones generally arrive Monday morning, stay in cabins and leave at the end of Thursday, he explained. Older campers may stay into the weekend.

Program Director Bill Diggins first came to camp as a counselor for three summers, beginning in 1988. He said it is in a special place and far different than the camps where he grew up in Maryland.

For one thing, you could drive right up to a lot of them, Diggins said.

Shaner said that when the tide is low enough it is possible to get to the camp in a land vehicle from the end of the road about 40 miles north of downtown Juneau. "The tides affect our comings and goings."

For Saturday's groundbreaking, people have been asked to confirm spots on seagoing transportation from the Echo Cove boat ramp, departing at 2:30 p.m.

The groundbreaking ceremony will begin at 4 p.m., with a celebration dinner to follow at 5:30 p.m. in McMurchie Lodge.

The new lodge is planned to be built next door.

Van Sickle said conceptual plans call for it to be 130 feet long and 7 feet at its widest point.

The current lodge is in a special setting, Shaner said. The dining hall looks out onto Lions Head Mountain.

But the lodge is limiting. It can accommodate 160 people at a time, but sometimes when the camp is running at or near its capacity of 136, it can be necessary to run meals in shifts, Shaner said.

Diggins said the hall can get crowded when it's full of campers and counselors. "If kids are coming to camp and they're not having fun, they're missing out," he said.

Shaner said there also are times when groups from the community will come up to the camp for activities. They may come for an arts-and-crafts class from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., but they'll be rushed to leave as the staff prepares the hall for dinner. Building a new lodge, he said, "will allow us to simultaneously carry on activities.

In addition to the dining hall and kitchen, the lodge includes the dormitory area for summer counselors, he said.

Van Sickle, who first came to Echo Ranch Bible Camp as a 10-year-old camper in 1970, said it's an exciting project. But the distance of the camp will present some logistical problems.

Materials will be bought locally, he said, except when they are donated from out of the area. He said two generators have been donated by a church in north-central Minnesota. "You know what kind of sacrifices they're making."

Diggins said the lodge is important even though the campers spend most of the time outside. There is time in the chapel in the mornings and evenings, but also in the evenings they're together singing songs, hearing Christian testimony and watching camp programs.

"It's a neat thing," Diggins said. "We can instill some Biblical principals so they can better themselves and better the world they live in."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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