Camp Koolaree – Fundraisers planned to help popular summer camp

Royal Theatre hosting event Wednesday night

Camp Koolaree has weathered some mighty West Kootenay storms over 83 years.

The summer camp for Greater Trail children faced financial hardship in 2013 and was in danger of having to shut down.

After surrounding communities and long time donors pitched in, enough money was raised to pay off a $25,000 debt and keep the site operational for another season.

The rustic camp, which is owned by the United Church of Canada and run as a registered charity, was just getting on its legs last summer when it was hit with more bad news.

“There is no power at Camp Koolaree,” explained registrar Julianna Marko, of the site which is located on the west arm of Kootenay Lake and only accessible by boat.

“We were surprised with a fire and gas inspection, and no longer allowed to operate our propane stoves, ovens or refrigerators without installing a commercial range hood. Which needs electricity and re-doing all the venting.”

She said the inspection came at the beginning of June, two weeks before the camp had its first rental scheduled.

“Not having enough money or resources to solve our kitchen problem we moved our stoves and cooked mostly on barbeques and fires throughout the summer,” Marko added.

While the teen co-ed camp embraced the experience by incorporating simple meals into a “Survivor” theme, the Camp Koolaree Society (non-profit) was brainstorming how to come up with funds to upgrade the facility.

“We have large financial goals this year to make our camp fully functional and allow us to upgrade things around the camp,” said Marko. “One of our big goals is to bring electricity to the cookhouse.”

With bookings, registrations and volunteer applications coming in earlier than usual, the board is planning fundraising events in advance of the new season.

A spring fundraiser is slated for Wednesday night, 7 p.m. at the Royal Theatre in downtown Trail. In partnership with the theatre, the society is hosting a special showing of the documentary “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.”

Through the stories of six Christian pilgrims, the film centres on the ancient spiritual path, the Camino de Santiago, which leads to a shrine of the apostle St. James in northern Spain.

“I walked the Camino in 2009 and now I get to combine my two favourite things – Camp Koolaree and the Camino,” said Marko.

A portion of tickets sold will go directly to the facility, and there will be T-shirts for sale in the lobby.

Aside from required amenity upgrades, camp operations face another challenge, she noted.

Finances allow the hiring of five staff, a groundskeeper and assistant, one lifeguard and two cooks – volunteers are responsible for everything else.

“All of the operation management, fundraising, planning etc. is done by volunteers,” she explained. “And these volunteers easily burn out. The other problem is that most of the board members have other jobs and facilities, and can’t keep up with the amount of work that needs to be done.”

She said the society is trying to shift from a working board to a policy board.

“This would mean hiring a consultant to do business planning and marketing and hopefully from there, a full time manager.”

To achieve an operational re-vamp, donations and camper registrations need to increase in order to cover respective costs.

The June to September season costs $45,000 which doesn’t include repairs and upgrades to amenities. “For over 80 years children aged seven to 13 have attended the camp, learning to tell their own story,” said Marko. “That’s why it lives so deeply within the hearts of the parents who send their children back, it was life changing for them.”