By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A campsite known for hosting 4-H groups was destroyed in a fire, and investigators believe someone set it on purpose.

It happened last weekend at the Ann Lake Campground, located just west of Zimmerman. Jeremy Wheeler, a volunteer and counselor, learned of the fire over the phone.

“The phone call opened with, ‘I hope you’re sitting down, Jeremy. Camp is gone.’ [I said] ‘What do you mean camp is gone?’” Wheeler said

He said visiting the campsite left him numb and at a loss for words.

(credit: Jeremy Wheeler)

“I see it, I keep seeing it, but I still don’t believe it,” he said.

Wheeler said he used to be a 4-H member as a kid, then a counselor. His passion continued as he joined the Sherburne County Camp Association, which now owns the campground.

He said the campsite dates back to the 1940s, and had been hosting 4-H campers for several decades.

The dorm was just weeks away from being filled with 4-H campers from around Minnesota.

“Now all of a sudden that’s gone and we’re scrambling,” Wheeler said.

Investigators are calling it arson. Wheeler said they believe someone took a mattress from a neighboring dorm, then lit it on fire on the grass outside.

(credit: Jeremy Wheeler)

He said it appears as though the person dragged the mattress around the campsite before throwing it in or on top of the dorm that caught fire.

“I just want everyone to know that camp is going to be OK. We’re going to bounce back from this. Our 4-H motto is to ‘Learn by doing and make the best better,’ and that’s what we’re going to work on,” he said.

Wheeler said neighboring counties and fairgrounds are offering up their campsites for the 4-H groups that were supposed to visit Ann Lake. He said the plan is to demolish the dorm and rebuild, that way young campers can continue to make new memories at the place so many have grown the love.

“There’s a lot of history in that building, but we’re looking forward to getting a new building in place and creating a lot more history, too,” he said.

The damage is estimated at $180,000. An online fundraiser was set up to cover the loss and help rebuild.

They are also hosting a clean-up day at the campground the morning of Sunday, May 20.

Jeff Wagner

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