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Camp hopes to give kids an outdoor experience

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By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald

About three miles from Wilkeson lies a well kept Plateau secret.

Sunset Lake Camp, a faith-based camp owned by the Washington Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, has been open since 1957, but it was only about six years ago that it started to become more well-known in the area. That's when it started offering more camps as part of its program.

Pastor Craig Heinrich, camp director, said the camp's mission is to help kids grow as people and become closer to God. But he said, while the campers have general worship and spiritual thought every day, it is still a summer camp, offering camp activities.

Because people today live in a technology-based society, the camp offers kids a chance to have fun and experience life without the everyday distractions that come with technology, Heinrich said.

"We just feel the kids need to get out into nature," he said. "We're trying to provide a natural environment and a classic camp experience."

Religion is incorporated into the camp, but Heinrich said it is presented in a very broad-based Christian message. "We have kids of all different religions, a kid who's Catholic will have just as good a time as a kid who is a Baptist," he said.

The camp has grown the past few years, and Heinrich said the camp had 178 youngsters last week attending the various week-long camps.

One reason the camp has grown is because there are so many different offerings. Throughout the summer kids of all ages can take advantage of Sunset Lake Camp. There is an Adventure Camp for ages 8 to 10; a Junior Camp for ages 10 to 12; a "Tween Camp" for 12- and 13-year-olds and an "Extreme Camp" for those 14 to 17. Two newer camps are a "Cowboy Camp" and a basketball camp.

There is also "Blind Camp," a specialized camp for visually impaired people age 8 and up, and it is operated by the National Camps for the Blind. Children's Orthopedic Hospital has a camp there at the end of the summer, as do the law enforcement agencies for Pierce and King counties, Heinrich said.

In addition to summer youth camps, Sunset Lake Camp also offers a family camp and year-round group camping, retreats and conventions.

At camp, campers attend classes in ceramics, pottery, rocketry, archery and horseback riding. There are also lessons and activities using the camp's two lakes, Sunset Lake and Kepka Lake. Other activities include a BMX course, a rope challenge course and go-carts.

There are also nature hikes on the trails and a nature center complete with animals for kids to learn about and pet.

An unusual part of the camp experience is "camp time." It's an hour earlier than real time, which allows activities to flow better into the camp experience. Campers wake up at 7 a.m., which is really 8 a.m., and campfire time is at 9 p.m., which is really 10 p.m., to ensure that it is dark for the night's activities.

"We've switched it around some, but it works," Heinrich said.

Brittney McClannahan, 20, the director for the girls camp, said another part of the camp fun are Thursday nights, when the staffers put on a different camp activity.

"It keeps the staff excited and the kids excited, and it's a whole lot of fun," she said.

Last Thursday was Pirate Night, including a special meal, a pirate ship and cannon, counselors dressed up as pirates and a treasure hunt.

Heinrich said this year, in addition to helping make campers lives special, the camp is trying to change the lives of three kids in Guatemala. The camp tries to do a special activity each summer, and this year, they decided to sponsor three kids who were less fortunate.

The camp is working through Compassion International, and Heinrich said the kids are bringing church offerings and collecting clothes and other things for Juan, Gerber and Erik Alexander, the three children Sunset Lake Camp is sponsoring.

Through Compassion International, Sunset Lake Camp will help provide their housing, cooking, medical care and education, along with the church offerings the kids collect.

At the end of the summer, Heinrich said a couple of staffers and older campers will fly to Guatemala and visit the kids. "It should be a great experience," he said.

For information about Sunset Lake Camp, call 360-829-3311 or visit www.sunsetlake.org.

Jessica Keller can be reached at jkeller@courierherald.com

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