The former Boy Scout camp on Silver Lake takes on new life
Have you ever wanted exclusive use of an entire summer camp?
On an early sunny morning in May, I was invited to tour Camp Saturna, a 133-acre retreat at the north end of Silver Lake, just north of Maple Falls. It is remote in terms of being off the grid, but it is easily accessible for those coming from Bellingham or Seattle or even lower British Columbia. The immediate setting takes one’s breath: one can imagine sitting on the lakeside deck, with picnic tables dotting the nearby lawn, and contemplating the beauty of our local wilderness — including Black Mountain, elevation 4,459 feet, across Silver Lake.
What I saw matched the descriptions I had read about the camp: “The pristine forest, private lakeshore and mildly rugged terrain of Camp Saturna provides excellent outdoor recreational opportunities where campers can learn about environmental stewardship while immersed in nature.”
When not being used as an environmental education center, the camp is rented to private groups for business retreats, church gatherings, summer camps and events. It also is a great place for groups to use as a winter base for skiing Mount Baker.
Saturna Capital Corporation, a Bellingham-based financial services company, was established in 1989. In addition to the headquarters in Bellingham, the “values-based global asset managers” have offices in Henderson, Nevada, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
A subsidiary, the Saturna Environmental Corporation, was formed to purchase the property in 2015. With the purchase came a commitment to renovating and refurbishing the former Boy Scout camp known as Camp Black Mountain.
Why would a group primarily known for its financial acumen seek this type of investment and choose to focus on educating youth in the natural world? The reason is twofold, according to Jane Carten, president of Saturna Capital.
The first is that Nicholas Kaiser, the Bellingham-born founder of Saturna Capital, had served as a scout in local Troop 5 in his youth, spending many summers at Camp Black Mountain. He credits the camp for helping him discover and develop his leadership skills. On one particular visit in 1959, the then-13-year-old Nick took charge of a group of scouts for a full week after the scoutmaster did not make it up to camp due to a family emergency. This experience was a turning point for him, and he went on to achieve Eagle Scout status a few years later.
The second reason is that Carten, who heads Saturna Capital Corporation, said the camp aligns with the organization’s core values.
“We are educators,” she said. “We are community contributors. We are risk managers. The purchase of Camp Black Mountain put all these values to work at once.”
One of the main goals of the camp is to get children out into nature and to give them experiences and education that are not possible in a standard classroom.
Walking outside the main lodge via a bridge and up a short trail, you’ll reach the Chapel in the Woods — complete with an open A-frame focal point and rustic, moss-covered log seating. Further down the hillside is one of several outdoor fire pits to inspire camaraderie and conversation. Along the lakeshore, the boathouse has a variety of watercraft, paddles and safety vests of all sizes, the use of which is included in every rental. A covered patio, underlit by lights, is a central gathering space, perfect for smaller breakout sessions or as an outdoor dining area.
On the east side of the camp, you will find archery and shooting ranges, a climbing wall and an outdoor challenge course. Nathan’s Wall, the indoor climbing facility, is named for Nathan Nakis, a Sedro-Woolley High School graduate and member of the Oregon National Guard who was killed in Iraq. Nathan was an avid climber and an Eagle Scout. To honor him and his service to our country, the local Boy Scout council partnered with community groups to construct the wall — an integral part of the educational programming at the camp to this day.
The nearby outdoor challenge course includes various stations — a trust fall, slack line, balance challenge and more — designed to create a team-building experience that marries outdoor education and fun with the development of problem-solving skills.
Camp Saturna partners with several local schools and agencies to bring environmental education programs to the children of Whatcom County. Connections, one of the many programs, brings 150 fifth graders from the Mount Baker School District to the camp each year. Partners in the teaching programs include Common Threads Farm, Wild Whatcom, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, North Cascades Institute, Western Washington University, Whatcom Conservation District and the Community Boating Center.
Saturna Environmental Corporation is also part of the Snow to Sea program, through which middle schoolers follow a water molecule from the top of Mount Baker to the Salish Sea. The students visit Camp Saturna as part of the curriculum, learning about the water cycle and completing hands-on science activities with camp counselors. The kids also participate in the recreational activities the camp offers.
When not in use as an environmental education center, Camp Saturna is available for private rentals. It is great for family reunions, corporate or church retreats, weddings and other celebrations. Several Boy Scout troops still use the camp for outdoor camping retreats. The camp is rented to just one group at a time, affording privacy and the freedom for groups to design their own programming. Guests can make their own food or select vendors, giving them complete control over the look and feel of their events.
In addition to the activity areas, private rentals include the exclusive use of the main lodge, which contains a commercial kitchen, 139-seat dining hall and a massive rock fireplace likely built over 100 years ago. Also included is the use of all lodging at the camp, including a 44-bed bunkhouse, an apartment-style two-bedroom lodging, three small summer cabins, and four group campsites dotting the shoreline. Wi-Fi is available for limited use in the main lodge through Starlink, but cell service is not available otherwise. This allows renters to concentrate on the camp experience without the distractions of the modern world.
Rates and minimum stays vary depending on the season and the day of the week. For those considering use of the property on a more limited basis, the camp does offer day rates for companies to host team-building meetings during weekdays. There are nightly minimum stays of two to four nights, depending on the time of year, for groups staying longer. Rates are available online at https://www.campsaturna.com/rates.
More information is available online at https://www.campsaturna.com or via email to Sarah Kaiser at firstname.lastname@example.org. ■