A Long History
Camp Colton has enjoyed a long and storied history, enriching the lives of many. Started as a Lutheran children's camp in 1928, its beginnings reflect the care and hard work of a dedicated local congregation—their hard work is still apparent. In 1985, after a short period of disuse, the sadly run down park was taken in hand by the Lundstrom family, with the goal of assuring its survival, and seeking to leave a legacy of a solid future for this special place.
During the decade that followed, in addition to retreats, Camp Colton was host to the specialized glass art school known as The Glass Program at Camp Colton. Adult glass artists from many parts of the world attended two-week residential classes to learn the many aspects of the then infant craft of glass fusing.
The glass program was discontinued in 1993, and, after the intensive renovation of the wonderful, historic chapel on the grounds, weddings were added to the mix of events that enjoy the lush surroundings to guarantee a special gathering.
Sometimes it is important to ground ourselves with a little perspective. Lest we feel overly self-satisfied about being smart enough to have found and protected such a rich example of nature's glory, it might be worth mentioning that there is ample evidence that the Molalla Indians camped in this protected space between the two creeks, long enough ago to have been using hand hewn stone grinding bowls and stone arrow heads.
The Swedish Settlement
Colton, Oregon is a small country village located approximately equidistant from Portland, Oregon and Salem, Oregon, in the rural north Willamette Valley. In the early 1900’s, there was an influx of Lutherans of Swedish descent to Colton (www.hevanet.com/sundvall/colton/). They started a congregation, known as Colton Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1907, and began building the beautiful steepled church that still serves the congregation today.
This church stands proudly at the corner of Wall Street and Hwy 211, the crossroads in Colton.
In 1927, Colton Lutheran’s regular participation in the annual Luther League District Convention (Portland District Augustana churches) required that it host the annual, week-long, summer gathering. These events were generally held in the host church, with visitors put up in local homes. But August, in Colton, indoors? The beauty of the rolling hills, woods, creeks, and wild flowers all conspired to give the organizers the idea of creating an outdoor setting—a forest chapel. The event was so enjoyable that at the end of the week it was decided by the entire membership to hold these annual summer gatherings in Colton every summer!
A Forest Chapel Becomes A Camp
The following year, 1928, a site known as Canyon Creek Cathedral was developed in the beautiful area near where Canyon Creek and Bee Creek come together. As years went by, land was acquired (the original nine acres donated by Hilma Olson), including and surrounding this spot, and the place became known as Luther League Park, later to be renamed Camp Colton.
As the years cemented the passion for this beautiful forest camp, buildings were added, including a large dining hall, kitchen and camper cottages, and regular sessions were held each week in summer for Bible Camp for boys and girls. In 1947 the Lutherans added a large chapel building, purchased from the U.S. army and rebuilt at Camp Colton. The chapel is now known as Sakrison Memorial Chapel in honor of Pastor Ernst J. Sakrison, who shepherded the congregation of Colton Lutheran Church during many of the years (1928-1951) it was developing the camp. Camp Colton was a priority in his life, and he died in an unfortunate accident at the camp, while attempting to secure the place he loved.
Throughout this time, the story of the evolution of this beautiful facility was most strongly characterized by the vibrant ethic of voluntarism within the Lutheran congregation. Additionally, a fairly large percentage of the church membership had a deep, abiding love for the place they were creating.
As it evolved, Camp Colton became widely known for its beauty and serenity. It remained a Lutheran camp for 55 years, also used for 4-H camp, and a retreat location. Anyone who experienced its delights never forgot the name or the place that brought them such inspiration.
In the late 1960’s the little congregation in Colton was urged to share the responsibilities of maintaining the camp, by giving it away to a larger constituency. Their synod took over Camp Colton, later assigning its care and ownership to another Portland-based Lutheran organization. It represented a huge adjustment for the small cluster of families at Colton Lutheran who had become accustomed to having the rhythm of their years organized around the demands of the camp.
Summer sessions for children continued as before, the outdoor school program for Portland Public Schools was developed, and infrastructure added to meet the
requirements of a culture which had become more aware of sanitation and environmental concerns. However, fifteen years later, those in charge had run out of steam for the project, and could no longer see the value in maintaining a children’s camp in Colton. Things had become badly run down, and the future of the property was seriously in question.
A New Life for the Old Camp
In 1985, the Lundstroms, Boyce, Kathy, Jarred, and Patrick, whose grandparents, Ollie and Martin Lundstrom, had been involved with the camp during its first forty years, as charter members of the Colton Lutheran Church, bought the property. Their goal was to save the camp by keeping it together, maintaining and improving its attributes, and finding a use for it that would allow it a new relationship to the rest of the world.
The family was prepared to experience dynamic culture shock, turning their backs on years spent as city dwellers who occupied a very custom, cozy house. But they were perhaps not entirely ready for the reality that there was not one available building in good enough repair at Camp Colton to immediately meet all the requirements of daily life. Adjustments were made, and really, the call of the forest always made up for any shortfall in comfort. The arts and crafts building, Riverfalls, built in the fifties, eventually began its ever-so-slow transition (over many years) into a pleasing home and venue for meeting with prospective clients.
The Glass Program at Camp Colton
The first ten years of their new life at Camp Colton, saw the raising of the their children coincide with the Lundstroms’ efforts to launch the craft of glass fusing and extend its knowledge base. The decision to establish the Glass Program at Camp Colton was a natural, as Boyce Lundstrom had been teaching glass fusing in far corners of the world for several years. Cabins were remodeled to accommodate adults, the dining hall dedicated to a group of glass studios, ads generated to professional studio glass magazines around the world, and so it began.
The stream of guests, strangers at first, enlightened, delighted and exhausted the family. There was an amazing diversity within the groups.The individuals varied widely in age—from 22 to 80, and arrived from all regions of the U.S. and many foreign countries. They differed wildly in art and/or glass experience. But every one of them gave something special to the understanding of what can be done with glass, to the group, and to the Lundstroms.
Toward a Secure Financial Future
Around the time the Lundstroms’ younger son finished high school, glass fusing really didn’t need a program dedicated just to it anymore. Two out of five past students had become teachers of glass fusing on some level, further extending the knowledge base. While the children and craft had reached majority, the camp still required a much greater investment in order to assure it would survive. In 1993, the glass program wound down. The Lundstroms established a residential community at the camp, to keep the buildings in condition, while alternate financial resources were developed, through pursuits conducted away from the camp.
In 1999, the work began in earnest: complete renovation of the chapel and dining hall, putting utilities underground while replacing ancient water supply lines, replacing aging septics, continuing the replacements of roofs and gutters, landscape designed to maximize natural drainage for improved year round use, and efforts to improve conservation.
Say I Do
In recent years the camp has gloried in a series of weddings, receptions, and wedding weekends. The chapel has finally come into its own again, serving a continuing stream of guests who delight in its understated elegance. Dancing under the stars at a wedding reception, in a beautiful outdoor location next to Canyon Creek has great appeal! The bridal couples are from Portland, Vancouver, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, and Hillsboro. They seem to find this place not only spiritual, but the paradigm of what they believe represents the best of western Oregon.
Couples who opt for an outdoor ceremony find many special spots on the grounds from which to choose. The cedar circle is stately; the meadow at the foot of Trout Lake is sunnier and a bit closer to the center of camp.
Adults of all ages enjoy holding retreats and seminars of many kinds at Camp Colton. The lodge provides a warmly welcoming setting for parties and anniversaries.
And individuals who want a bit of time in these woods find the beautifully decorated, cozy cottages an inviting base for a personal retreat, with the added benefit of the forest at their disposal to explore at leisure. We intentionally leave televisions, phones, and all types of electronics out of the mix, to encourage guests to tune in to the music of the woods and creeks. It is a wonderful place to be and seems to feel quite intimate on rainy days.
We are also lucky to be able to provide long-term stays of several months from time to time, to individuals who seek the inspiration and solitude of our setting, for a spiritual quest or to work on a creative project.
A Teaching Forest
The Lundstroms have made a firm commitment to the advancement of education in Oregon and make the camp available as a learning laboratory for the Colton School District. It is hoped that this school/business partnership can expand to include a broader base of students and teachers, and much consideration is being given to expanding this partnership to include other school districts.
One of the more stunningly successful examples of this partnership was evidenced during the tenure of Rod Karch as biology teacher at Colton High School. For ten years he brought at least one of his biology classes to camp one or two days a week, during their regular class time, to pursue one of many biological investigations that would be unique to our forest setting. The students, now grown ups, often mention how much this meant to them, to be able to study outside the classroom.
In exchange, students participated in executing periodic tasks needed to maintain a healthy ecosystem (such as removing ivy girdling the doug firs), which has helped our camp be able to afford the support we give the schools. Colton High classes even helped design and weld the frame for a replacement of one of our most important foot bridges in camp, which crosses high above Canyon Creek!
It is looking to the future, especially with an awareness that many thousands of acres of forests in western Oregon have been decimated and developed, that the Lundstroms seek a solution to keeping this special place intact for the enjoyment and appreciation of a greater base of people. Maintaining a healthy income base from the camp is part of the necessity of those goals.
The goals are also assisted by contributions from individuals known as Camp Colton Keepers, who may donate funds or talents for specific projects and earn credits toward their personal use stays at the camp.
See Camp Colton Keepers, a link coming soon.
A Forest Haven For Sale
The huckleberries are ripening larger in size than usual this year, baby robins are getting ready to leave the nest, and our dog, Caleb, took us down to the lower field to see a coyote who had wandered into camp the other day. Brides and grooms are celebrating their unions nearly every weekend, and.....it is time for Camp Colton to find its next chapter with a new owner and caretaker.
It is time for us to seek retirement to smaller projects, so we are seeking a buyer for Camp Colton. It was hoped, at one time, that the camp would go back to the home synod of the local Lutheran church that had the original vision for this lovely place. We had thought that their congregants would, in agreement with the synod, be able to handle local operations, garnering an income for their church, while serving the larger Portland metro Lutheran contingency in returning to Camp Colton for retreats and meetings close to Portland.
It is a romantic notion, and maybe even a fiscally practical one, but has not been thought to match the needs and intersts of the Church. So we set out to cast a wider net to locate the individual or group whose vision may be a good match, but always remembering our gratitude to the founders!
Naturally, we only book weddings and events that are within the time frame that we can guarantee we will still be here to execute for our clients.
HERE IS OUR DESCRIPTION OF THE RETREAT PROPERTY FOR SALE: Northwest Oregon Retreat Venue for sale
Please Help Us Enhance the
Historic Record of Camp Colton
From time to time we are lucky enough to have a past camper share with us memorabilia of his or her time at Camp Colton. A book, the Camp Colton Story, by Hilda Anderson, was printed around 1960 and is available in some libraries. However, it stresses the history of a church congregation building a camp, more than it does what the experience was like for the youth who experienced it.
Perhaps you or your friends have experiences at Camp Colton you can share with us? Please call or write your memories for us and, if you are willing to share photos of your times at camp, we will scan them and return them to you. Can anyone tell us more about the clay pit, on some maps called The Dugout, which is halfway up the ridge trail behind the swimming pool?
Once each year we serve a lovely dinner in the old dining hall (Canyon Creek Lodge) exclusively to Camp Colton alumni. It is a wonderful evening of shared memories. This year it will be held on Friday evening, September 14. Call for info.