10/10/2013 2:56:00 PM Art Blitz-goers can learn the Ojiketa Regional Park story
by PAUL RIGNELL
Visitors to this week’s Art Blitz event at Chisago City’s Ojiketa Regional Park will have the chance to learn more about life on the land when it was a camp, with anecdotes straight from hosts who were there 50 years ago. Camp Fire USA, or formerly Camp Fire Girls of America, opened Camp Ojiketa in 1926 for girls in grade school through high school from St. Paul and its nearby towns.
Some of the young campers would stay for two weeks, while counselors and other staff would be there from early June through mid-August with one week’s vacation around the July 4 holiday. Chisago City bought the land in late 2008, with support from the Trust for Public Land, and a group of former campers and staff that had bonded to form the Ojiketa Preservation Society as a fundraising arm to further facilitate the drive for saving the land from other development. Five years later, that group has now compiled enough camp history through photos and other artifacts to make any visit through their “Camp Ojiketa Heritage Center” worthwhile for an area resident who wants to know more about this piece of land from decades ago.
Most of the Preservation Society members were active campers and staff here in the 1950s and ’60s. Their coordinator for the heritage center is Julie Redpath, who spent summers in Chisago City first at the former Camp Cheewin, which became the Ridge Point townhome development, and later she camped and worked at Camp Ojiketa through 1967. Adjacent to the Ojiketa land, Camp Cheewin was once the destination for Camp Fire USA’s youngest members, or girls in second and third grades, said Redpath, who now lives in Ridge Point.
As the Art Blitz festival opens 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 12 and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 13, Redpath and other volunteers will welcome guests to the heritage center inside the former Trillium cabin at the north end of “cabin row,” near the park’s main parking lot. They have information to share on activities that campers enjoyed at Ojiketa through its final season in 2005, plus stories on the camp features that faded from the experience through time. Archery fell off of the schedule as a sport. “I think it was just kind of dangerous,” Redpath said.
A major draw of the camp that was gone for at least the last 15 years involved the thrill of horseback riding. “That was a big deal of camp, the horses,” Redpath said. “I was never any good (with them). I never won a ribbon at the horse shows.” Among some documents that are displayed in the museum, one flyer promotes a horse show that was held on a Sunday in August 1985. When Camp Fire had expanded Ojiketa in 1970, by acquiring the 40 acres of a former Lutheran camp – including a chapel – north of the parking lot, camp officials kept some horses on that new land, Redpath said. The camp later kept horses in stables that were away from the grounds but just across County Road 24.
Redpath says camper numbers began declining in the late 1970s, and eventually there were not enough revenues to meet rising insurance costs for the horses, she said. Redpath stated that a key factor in the drop of Ojiketa’s numbers may have come from a move in 1975, when Camp Fire opened its membership and summer programs to boys. She said it is likely some of the camp magic was lost for girls, whereas earlier young females had learned to gain independence there away from boys. “We, as girls, could be independent and build skills (at Ojiketa),” Redpath said. “We learned we could take care of ourselves very well. It was a very freeing feeling. It really made a difference to know you could be a strong girl and grow to be a strong, young woman,” she added.
She acknowledges that the growth of popularity for specialized camps in science, sports or other youth interests had also affected summer registrations. As time slips further away from this park’s heyday as a camp, the Ojiketa Preservation Society wants to welcome visitors to their heritage center, which they opened over Ki-Chi-Saga Days weekend. They hope to schedule more volunteers for regular hours of operation as well.