Lions Camp Horizon, a nonprofit summer camp for teens and adults with developmental disabilities, is seeking donations to replace the aging stoves and fire-suppression systems in the kitchen and cafeteria of the former Cold War-era Air Force base east of Birch Bay.
Camp Horizon hopes to raise $17,000 by April 1 toward a $90,000 remodeling project to bring the facility’s commercial kitchen and cafeteria fire-suppression system to current building standards and fire codes, said Jan Polen, president of the Camp Horizon board of directors.
“There’s an old hood above the stove that needs to be replaced, and a couple of the stoves are old. That’s the main thing,” Polen said. She said other Lions Clubs have donated money and the camp has received some other grants. A GoFundMe account has been started to raise the rest, she said.
“We’ve made huge gains” in fundraising, Polen said. “We’re trying to reach out as much as we can.”
Kitchen equipment is some 65 years old, dating to its origin as Birch Bay Air Force Station, which was built in 1951 as part of the Air Defense Command’s radar network and later called Blaine Air Force Station. Campers stay in dorms – the former barracks that housed Air Force personnel who staffed the surveillance station and monitored the skies for Soviet aircraft and missiles.
Whatcom County fire investigator Mitch Nolze said county and camp officials have been working to make sure the camp meets current building codes. He said the kitchen is currently limited in the menu items it can offer because of restrictions on the type of food service allowed without modern stoves and fire-suppression system.
In recent years, the camp has replaced dozens of dorm windows to allow safer exit for campers in case of fire, added better lighting and upgraded its smoke-detection systems, Nolze and Polen said.
Camp Horizon, which opened in 1974, is owned by the Lions Clubs of District 19H, which includes 57 clubs in southwest British Columbia and Northwest Washington, according to its website. Lions International is a nonprofit service organization, with a focus on youth programs and eradicating blindness. It maintains a close relationship with the United Nations and its humanitarian programs.
In 1986, Camp Horizon moved to the site at 7506 Gemini St., which was renamed Bay Horizon Park after the radar installation closed in 1979. It’s owned by the Whatcom County Department of Parks and Recreation and used by the Lions under a long-term lease.
“We have campers that have been coming for years,” Polen said. “It’s quite a wide variety of people who we serve. We also provide respite for their caregivers and parents. A lot of the counselors go on to careers working with disabled people, and they get a real uplift from it.”
The nonprofit summer camp is open for residents of the Puget Sound area with developmental disabilities from 14 years old to adult, serving about 250 campers from July to August. It’s also used for private functions such as family and school reunions, and weddings, conferences and seminars.
Its grounds also have been used at times over the years for training of local volunteer firefighters and by emergency responders practicing disaster responses.