By Alyssa Ramsfield
The scenic drive to Lost Lake just outside of Shelton, WA leads to a diamond in the rough. Camp Bishop appears seemingly out of nowhere in the grove of trees. Just beyond the entrance gate is a special place for adults and children alike across Grays Harbor, Mason, and Thurston Counties.
The director and full-time resident of the camp, Doug Simons and his wife, Jan, greet every guest who walks through those gates. “Every group is a new event for us,” says Simons. “We try to make it the best experience possible from the moment they pull up to the minute they leave.”
The camp has been a staple in the area for nearly 60 years. “It was built in 1954 in one day,” explains Simons. “700 volunteers from across the area came out to put the place together. It was like a good old fashioned barn raising! There were up to 50 people on the roof of a building at a time. Kids were out of school and the whole thing was considered an event. It was quite the spectacle. Actually, it is one of the biggest volunteer efforts in our area’s history!”
Finding the right property for a proposed camp of this size was an even bigger task than the building of the 17 buildings on the land. “Hal Davis was from the Grays Harbor County area and believed deeply that they needed an outdoor summer camp,” stated Simons. “He used to drive around the area looking for potential property. Soon enough, he stumbled upon this area and encouraged the Aberdeen YMCA to acquire it. The E.K. Bishop Foundation donated the property, Hoquiam YMCA merged with Aberdeen to create the YMCA of Grays Harbor, and the rest is history. Now, our dining hall is named after Mr. Davis for his efforts so many years ago.”
Looking around the current camp, you can identify many different activities, some of which are from the original line up of options. “In 1954, we offered a wide variety of programs: archery, riflery, horseback riding, fishing, water skiing, sports/games, crafts and performing arts. We’ve had to take away a few things like horseback riding and riflery, but we’ve added a ropes course and water trampoline that everyone seems to enjoy.”
“There was a point not too long ago where the camp was starting to fall apart a bit,” explains Simons. “The property as a whole was deteriorating. It just wasn’t getting the attention that it deserved.” Adults who had once camped there were visiting and taking note of the state of the buildings. “We get a lot of visitors who camped here 10, 20, 30, even 40 years ago. We were getting a lot of questions about updates to the camp. It was time to make some much needed changes.”
In 2004, volunteers from Grays Harbor, Mason, and Thurston County went to camp to lend a hand. “While it wasn’t quite like the original building of the camp, it was still an impressive amount of people volunteering their time to improve the buildings,” declared Simons. “It was a $1.5 million dollar investment backed entirely by the people in this community. They took the camp back as their own.”
After weeks of work, the camp has flourished back to its’ original grandeur. “There are still a few things that need renovated,” points out Simons. “Overall, the work that has been done is amazing! I have to do some staining of buildings and a few small projects, but all of the work here has made a difference.”
While the needed modernizations of the buildings are visible, the look of the overall camp stays true to the original design. “We’ve added a few bells and whistles to make campers more comfortable. For example, the Main Lodge bathrooms have heated floors now. We get a lot of compliments for that addition!”
Camp Bishop has had some ups and downs over the years, but the memories that come out of this place remain the same. “We get so many visitors who came to the camp many years ago,” explains Simons. They just come again to have the opportunity to walk the grounds and relive some of those memories that were made here so long ago.”
Thanks to the hard working and dedicated members of our community, the camp continues to create those amazing memories for campers throughout the area, one summer at a time.
Available Camps: Pioneer Mini Camp (Grades K-2), Resident Camp (Grades 2-6), and Junior High Camp (Grades 7-9).
Camp Bishop is also available for private retreats.