At Camp of Champs — seven miles north of Park Rapids, Minn. — campers are challenged to break out of their comfort zones.And for many kids here,...
Cool, Christian camp
With a snap of the bat, the wiffleball is … gone! … straight over the boards at Target Field and into the woods of central Minnesota.
At Trout Lake Camps — in the Brainerd Lakes area about 3 hours north of the Twin Cities — anything is possible, including a grand-slam home run at a Major League Baseball park.
The central Minnesota Bible camp deliberately creates outdoor adventures that take campers out of their comfort zones.
Forget Minecraft. In fact, don’t bring your cell phone or iPad to camp at all.
Electronic devices are strictly prohibited, though usually a few parents try to sneak phones into their children’s camp bags each summer so they can call home, said camp director James Rock.
Immersive, new sports
Trout Lake Camps’ Target Field, built to about a quarter of the size of the ballpark in downtown Minneapolis, was actually built before the official home of the Minnesota Twins was completed.
There are a few differences, but that’s because some design specifications for the actual field were changed during construction, Rock said.
And the immersive sports events don’t end there: The camp also boasts a large outdoor human foosball field, in which each camper becomes part of the game inside a large enclosure. Players hold onto straps along a bar and must work together to win the game.
An outdoor dodge ball field, surrounded entirely by netting, also gives campers that I’m-inside-the-game experience. An indoor dodge ball area is lighted only by black lights for a thrilling play-in-the-dark experience.
Crate stacking, added last summer at the camp, is a challenging indoor-climbing game where a camper stacks as many milk crates as possible while standing on the top of the stack without losing balance. Each stacker wears a safety harness since crate stacks can reach as high as 20 feet.
“Every year we try to make new events at camp,” Rock said. “We try to get campers inside the games.”
A popular camp activity for middle and high school campers is playing Mission Impossible — paintball with an up-north twist: Dozens of campers hide in a woodsy area at night, attempting to escape detection by their counselors and other camp staffers.
Another camp favorite is Gaga Ball, a outdoor “dodge ball from the knees down” played inside a wooden enclosure with a single ball.
Simple games, God-focused
Noelle Soltero, 19, of Tucson, Ariz., served as a recreational area coordinator last summer. Her parents met as camp counselors at Trout Lake Camps, and she’s been coming to camp every summer since fifth grade.
“My gift to Trout Lake this summer was sponge dodge ball,” Soltero said with a laugh. The game she created involves campers throwing big car-wash sponges at each other. Each player is armed with a bucket of water, too, of course.
“These are simple games, but they don’t get to do this stuff at home,” Soltero said. “I have the best job. I get to play with them all day long. From day one, they’re going to be safe, they’re going to have fun and they’re going to hear about the gospel.”
The Minnesota Baptist Conference owns the camp, billed as “a meeting place with God,” and driven by a core mission of spiritual growth for all.
While many of the campers who attend camp come from churches within the conference, many do not. During the summer months, more than 400 campers attend Trout Lake Camps each week with about 130 staff members and about 75 camp volunteers.
Trout Lake Camps are busy year round, hosting men’s and women’s retreats, as well as youth weekends and group rentals during the winter. The camp also offers winter activities, including a snow tubing hill with a tow rope.
Ice cream and ‘blobbing’
The camp has plans to construct a new camp on its 300-acre site with a castle fort, tree houses, a Hobbit house and a New England fishing village to provide another fun way to camp.
Trout Lake Camps also offer traditional summer camp experiences — sailing, wakeboarding, tubing, fishing, kayaking, swimming and much more on its more than 4,000 feet of lakeshore. Each day, four cabins of campers get to travel — by pontoon — from camp to the nearby town of Crosslake where they’re able to enjoy ice cream cones from a locally owned ice cream shop.
It’s a fun adventure that allows campers to get a taste of lake country living on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes.
Ella Green, 10, of Blaine, a three-year camp veteran, encouraged her friend, Arianna Cimbura, 10, also of Blaine, to go to camp last summer.
Green was finally old enough to take on The Blob, a massive air-filled cushion tied up next to a diving platform on Trout Lake.
Campers take turns jumping onto the blob, and then move to the side so the next camper can jump on it, catapulting them into the lake. Participants wear life jackets, and “blobbing,” as it’s known at camp, is strictly supervised by camp staff.
“I’m enjoying all the activities and it gives me a new look at God,” Green said during her stay last summer at camp. “I’m definitely looking forward to The Blob and tubing, and I’m doing the zipline today, which is cool.”
Kellen McLaughlin, 12, of Isanti, and his cousin, Cameron Sundstrom, 12, of Elk River, had already gone down a zipline earlier that day last summer.
Four campers can descend at one time down the 36-foot-high, quarter-mile-long ziplines located next to the scenic tubing hill and the back door of Timber Ridge, the camp’s dining hall.
Nearby, campers also may take mountain scooters out to challenge themselves on a mountain-bike course, or they can stop by the stables to go horseback riding.
“It’s a chance to learn about God — and there are so many fun things to do,” McLaughlin said.
The camp also offers family camp weekends.
Ryan Bostrom, 18, of Hudson, Wis., said his parents met as counselors at camp while playing Frisbee in the courtyard. They continued to go to camp as a family each summer.
Last summer was Bostrom’s fifth summer as a member of the camp staff. He started as a volunteer and was later hired as a paid counselor.
“The campers are so much fun, but when you meet the team of staff for the first time, you feel you’ve known them your whole life,” he said.
While Bostrom was unsure whether last summer would be his final year at Trout Lake Camp or not, he said he has no regrets about spending his summers along the shores of Trout Lake.
“This is our little slice of paradise,” Bostrom said as he supervised campers at the swimming beach. “Campers don’t need to be concerned about issues at home or popularity at school. It’s just yourself and your 10 campers in your cabin. No matter who you are, you are accepted here.”
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