Lions Camp Horizon celebrates 50th anniversary


Lions Camp Horizon is celebrating 50 years of providing community for campers of all ages with developmental and physical disabilities.

The overnight camp has grown from serving 17 campers in its first year to hosting about 300 annually at Bay Horizon Park in Birch Bay. The one-week camp is offered over six sessions from early July through mid-August for campers 12 years old and above – the oldest being 85 years old. 

Most of the campers are from Whatcom County or the surrounding counties, with some traveling as far as B.C. and Oregon to partake in summer activities such as horseback riding, tethered hot air balloon rides, archery, bowling, arts and crafts, campfire talks and a talent show. 

The Lynden Jaycees, a now defunct group, founded Camp Horizon in 1974 and ran the nonprofit in Army National Guard tents at the Lynden fairgrounds and then the Nooksack Bible Camp area until the Lynden Lions Club took it over in 1981. 

Rich Kaiser, former president of the Camp Horizon Foundation, said the Lions Club was looking for a better location for the camp when it stumbled upon the old Blaine Air Force Station that the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department had acquired but couldn’t afford to maintain. Viewing it as the perfect location near activities like rollerblading and going to the beach, the group held work parties every weekend gearing up for the first camp there.

“We hobbled it together enough to get approval in 1985,” Kaiser said. “We just looked at it year by year and kept going at it.”

Kaiser volunteered as foundation president for 21 years, spending vacation days from work preparing for the camp, until 2001. Kaiser said he still has campers who call him occasionally and sees campers at events regularly who are always eager to reminisce.

Blaine resident Courtney Budde, 45, started attending camp at 23 years old. Budde said some of her favorite things about camp include the counselors, arts and crafts, and the weekly talent show.   

“Making beading,” Budde said of her favorite camp memory. “That sounds like fun.”

Budde’s mom, Velina Winchell, said Budde always frames her the talent show awards when she comes home. She and Budde will build excitement for next year’s camp by talking about it and driving around the camp property.

“We’re always thinking about it,” Winchell said. 

Winchell said very few camps like Camp Horizon exist, and even then, they often are not held consistently. The camp, Winchell said, gives her the ability to have a break as a caretaker and allows Budde the opportunity for independence. 

“I don’t have to worry while she’s there. I know she’s in very good hands and enjoying it,” Winchell said. “I know that she’s comfortable and that makes me comfortable so I can enjoy the time off.”

Christina Thomas said she started volunteering at 12 years old after falling in love with the camp while visiting her older sister working as a counselor. Thomas now has 16 years under her belt as a camp counselor and works as a special education teacher herself.

“It felt like home. It felt like everyone had a place,” Thomas said. “There’s a sense of community for both the campers and the staff.”

Many campers come back year after year, with a few who have been attending since 1974.

“Camp is really great at opening the eyes of the community that it’s involved with and opening the hearts of anyone who becomes involved,” Thomas said. “It’s a loving nudge in the correct direction of reminding us that we’re all human beings.”

Don Webster took over as foundation president shortly after becoming involved with the camp in 2005. Webster volunteers 40 hours of his week, 12 months per year to prepare for the camp. 

“You can really see the impact of what you’re doing,” Webster said. “There’s nothing else I want to do with my free time. My pay is being here.”

The camp is powered by volunteers, not all of whom are Lions Club members, who support the camp through providing entertainment, preparing meals and staffing the first aid tent, among other tasks.

The volunteers work to create a memorable experience for the campers, Webster said.

“What we might think are little things can give some people great pleasure because it’s not something they normally get to do,” he said.


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