By Jeff Wagner

SHERBURNE COUNTY, Minn. (WCCO) — A twin cities youth campsite had to go another summer on hold after a fire destroyed it more than a year ago.

The Sherburne County Camp in Big Lake was destroyed in a fire in May 2018. Investigators believe it was arson.

The hope was to rebuild in time for this summer, but that process was stalled.

“There’s a part of me that still expects to be able to walk up the stairs and walk into the building and see all the things that we saw,” said Jeremy Wheeler as he stood in front of a flat, dirt covered space. He’s a member of camp’s board of directors who years ago was a camper and counselor.

It’s hard for Wheeler to think about what used to be in this specific spot, especially since the last memory of the Sherburne County Camp was a charred skeleton of cabin. Decades of memories turned to torched rubble by a fire that investigators believe someone intentionally set.

“There’s nothing we could do. We couldn’t save that building. Now it’s time to move forward to something new,” he said.

That process got started last year when volunteers tore it down piece by piece. The expectation was to rebuild during this year’s spring thaw, but Wheeler said their contractor backed out on their deal.

“It was back to the drawing board, getting bids,” he said.

As they navigate the red tape of building permits, Wheeler said they’ve at least been able to get electricity back on line and lay out fresh dirt for a new foundation. The new cabin with be 40 by 80 feet, larger than the previous one.

“We’re going to be able to double the amount of kids that have an opportunity to come and stay in this dorm for camp,” he said.

It’s a good feeling, especially after going another summer with the empty campsite. The campers instead went so summer camp programs in other counties.

“The overbearing tone that I heard from most of the counselors and even a lot of the kids was ‘When are we going back? Is camp finally going to be ready next year?’ So it was a little deflating,” said Wheeler.

With a new contractor in the fold, Wheeler expects crews to break ground and complete repairs this fall, bringing them one step closer to a finish line that’s finally feels in sight.

“We only get one shot at building this building. We want to make sure that it’s right for our needs and it’s gonna be something that’s gonna be here as long, or longer, than the last building was,” he said.

The state fire marshal’s office says this case remains under investigation, but had no further updates.

Organizers are still in need of donations for all the supplies and furniture to go in the camp’s building.

“Believe it or not a bunk bed for the style that we need for this runs around $1200 for one set of bunks. That number adds up pretty quickly,” Wheeler said.

For more information on how to make monetary donations or share supplies, visit the Facebook page for the Sherburne County Camp.

Jeff Wagner

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