The camp’s main revenue stream is secured through summer months. With all activity curtailed in the aftermath of the fire, priorities changed and survival came to the forefront for both the camp and neighboring Angus Church.
Through the volunteer efforts of several relief organizations, much of the debris has been removed. Samaritan’s Purse, The Salvation Army, Baptist Relief Group, Foursquare Chaplains and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Chaplains worked for weeks, along with others. Sites which housed quaint cabins mere months ago are now hollow reminders of former days. Foundations, retention walls and a few block frames remain.
Residents who lost everything have needed to make tough decisions. Some have chosen to remain in the area and have purchased existing homes nearby. Some have needed to move away. A few residents were uninsured. The camp and its affected residents present challenges for Angus Church, which supports the mission of Bonita Park. The church functions as a separate entity, but leaders of the camp and church work in tandem.
“The night of the fire, I wondered if the people who lived at the camp were OK and if the church and camp buildings were still standing. I hoped everyone was safe and tried to find where they went after evacuation,” said Angus Pastor Rick Hutchison who says more than 20 percent of his congregation were camp residents.
Nine days after the fire consumed more than 70 homes and structures at the camp, firefighters continued to work to control persisting fire and hot spots. Live fire still burned at the camp six days after the Little Bear. For safety’s sake residents, staff members and church personnel were not permitted on the grounds, but were shown photographs. Camp staff had the gruesome task of contacting each leaseholder to deliver news of their losses.
When Hutchison was allowed to return to Angus Church, smoke damage was evident, but the building and its contents remained. Many of his congregants, however, faced the reality that their lives were forever changed.
“We’ve had the satisfaction of helping people, touching lives and making a difference,” says Hutchison. Because of the generous outpouring of many, those who lost everything have been able to count on Angus Church for assistance. One whose home burned to the ground was gifted with a laptop computer. Earmarked funds have been given to Angus Church to assist fire victims. Many items have been purchased to give victims a hand in developing a new life. “I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Lincoln County and beyond,” says Hutchison.
Stan Yocom, executive director of Bonita Park lists the priorities at hand. “We’re working now to make sure the mountain is cleared of remaining debris and are taking care of the burned trees which have fallen or are still standing.” Yocom and his staff are utilizing their forest slash by chipping and using the remains as mulch and topsoil retention.
With utility cables on the ground in the process of infrastructure recovery, Yocom is working to assure safety and security for camp guests and staff. In the process of purchasing housing for full time staff members, an area has been set aside for the workforce community, many of which are still displaced throughout Lincoln County. “We’re reestablishing lot lines after the fire and are keeping existing foundations in place until topsoil issues have stabilized,” says Yocom.
Because Bonita Park is owned by the Church of the Nazarene, decisions must be made with the consensus of the governing board. “As soon as everything is safe, we’ll seek permission from the Advisory Board to move forward with rebuilding,” says Yocom. Existing land leases are still in effect, yet several have given the camp their leases since the fire. Yocom plans to use some of the opened space for camp needs as space and finances allow.
“God, through the generosity of His people has helped us to continue. Many lives are being touched. We’re continuing to book groups to use the camp and we’re actively marketing Bonita Park. Our future looks bright,” remarks Yocom. A new event center is already planned and designed, as soon as approval is secured from the governing board. Until then, Yocom and Hutchison work together to facilitate groups. Bonita Park uses Angus Church facilities when needed.
Both Hutchison and Yocom agree. “Our community has been extremely supportive and we’d like to express gratitude for their help. We ask everyone to continue praying for the camp as we do our best to recover.”