A four-year project to develop a new $425,000 dining hall at Camp Elkanah has been wrapped up.
With the building paid for, all the kitchen equipment in place and campers filling the tables for meals, Marcus Carpenter, the pastor who ran the camp for 15 years and spearheaded the building project, is stepping down this month.
Replacing Carpenter as administrator of the camp, five miles west of Starkey, is Gary Hart, who left a nearly 25-year career with Fleetwood Travel Trailers in Island City a year ago when the company downsized. He had been involved in materials management and accounting.
"I always had a dream to do ministry," said Hart, 54, a member of First Baptist Church in La Grande.
"I was out of work and was presented with the idea" of becoming the camp manager, Hart said.
"Marcus and I got together," he said. "As we talked and prayed about it, the more exciting it became for both of us."
In 1987, Carpenter left his position as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cove to become the manager of the camp, operated by the Blue Mountain Association of Conservative Baptists.
The camp is well known in the Northwest for the railroad boxcars that are used for campers' cabins. The boxcars connect Elkanah to its past when it was a logging camp for the Mount Emily Lumber Co.
During Carpenter's tenure, numerous improvements have been made and he has seen use of the camp grow to 3,000 campers a year.
About 1,000 of the campers come from the 18 Conservative Baptist churches in the region, while the remaining 2,000 are from other congregations or groups that rent the facilities.
Carpenter said when he started 15 years ago there was very little for young people to do at Camp Elkanah.
All that has changed
Recreational improvements have included development of a softball field, a volleyball court, a miniature golf course, a game room and canteen, a skyline trail system, a Frisbee golf course, a challenge course, a rope swing and zip line, a toboggan hill and a slip 'n' slide.
Carpenter said improvements were needed to make the camp fun and draw more youngsters.
"If we were to develop it into a good youth camp, then we had to develop those things that were significantly different than that they (the campers) had back home," he said.
Carpenter said the rope swing and zip line have been "extremely popular" with campers from the fourth-grade on up.
Another popular summertime activity is the slip 'n' slide in which campers slide down a hill on a wet surface.
"It's been amazingly popular and a big hit with kids through high school," he said.
New recreational facilities were not the only additions to Elkanah during Carpenter's tenure.
Camp program improvements have included the establishment of Bible-based themes. Each Conservative Baptist camp this past summer had a theme based on the beatitudes Â— the be-happy attitudes expressed by Jesus in the sermon on the mount.
Program directors were hired by Carpenter to lead camps, and college students were brought in as counselors. A Dream Team of high schoolers was put together to do kitchen and janitorial chores and assist the college staff with games.
Camp Elkanah's buildings have improved in many ways over the years, including remodeling of the Gale Beals Memorial Chapel and winterization of the restrooms. Two new cabins, Shiloh and Nineveh, and a shop building were constructed. Staff cabins were relocated to the side of the hill and remodeled.
But the biggest improvement has been the construction of the kitchen and dining hall which, due to volunteer assistance and the donation of skilled labor, cost about $25,000 less than what was expected.
"We have a centerpiece that is the hub of the camp," Carpenter said of the facility that opened to campers this summer.
The building not only is a place for campers to share their meals but serves as a meeting area for large groups.
Approximately 400 people were seated comfortably in the building when it was dedicated on Oct. 13.
Carpenter, 51, said he'll miss the day-to-day responsibilities as camp manager, but he doesn't plan to walk away from Elkanah entirely.
"I'll remain on the camp board, and I'll be a consultant for Gary Â— maybe into the next year," he said.
Carpenter might also lend his skills to making structural improvements to the bridge that crosses Meadow Creek into the camp.
He and his wife, Sharon, are looking forward to doing some short-term missionary projects outside of Oregon, including a stint in 2004 with the Haggai Institute.
The organization provides Bible training for Asians in Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore. The students return to their home countries to share the Gospel of Christ and help establish churches.
Carpenter also has returned to his old church in Cove as interim minister.
Hart said his goal will be to further the work started by Carpenter.
"My buzzword will be Â‘continuous improvement,' " Hart said.
The new administrator already has his eyes on property the camp owns across Highway 244. A road has been developed on the 90 acres and Hart is looking forward to the day when a fully-contained, 40-to-50-bed lodge might be built on the hilltop.
Meanwhile, the railroad boxcars, enjoyed by the children at Camp Elkanah, are here to stay.
Hart said the boxcars are part of the mystique of the camp.
"We'll keep them for as long as possible."