WALLOWA LAKE — Memories were created Saturday, May 29, when the Creating Memories for Disabled Children camp held a Founders Day open house attended by more than 100 people.
“It’s just an open house for people to come and see the place,” said Jack Burgoyne, a Creating Memories board member. “We’ve had it closed for so many years. Now we’re open up to the public; people have complained that we closed the way to walk to the falls … but you couldn’t open it to some people and not others.”
In fact, the former Boy Scout camp with a trail to Wallowa Falls remains closed to the public, since its primary purpose is to provide a place for an outdoors vacation for the disabled.
“It’s not just for kids; it’s families,” Burgoyne said.
Creating Memories began as a nonprofit in 2012. The group took over the former Scout camp in 2014 and has a 50-year lease on the property with an option for another 50-year lease from the Blue Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts.
The organization to assist disabled children can be traced back to 1960, when Ken Coreson, one of the founders of Creating Memories, worked to do just that in Alaska, taking kids hunting and fishing.
“That’s been my whole career,” Coreson said Saturday.
He dismissed the idea of being honored as a founder.
“They just want somebody to blame when something goes wrong,” he joked.
He moved to Oregon in about 2004 and his work with children developed into Creating Memories in 2012.
Work to rebuild
But when the nonprofit took over the camp, it had deteriorated after years of neglect.
“We’ve had the park closed because when we took it over, there was a lot of graffiti written on the walls, there’d been a campfire set in the lodge, the walls were all blackened from smoke,” Burgoyne said. “It was terrible.”
Now, they have three A-frame cabins and five tepees that can be used by handicapped children and their families. One of the A-frames and the lodge are still works in progress.
“We’re looking at about $350,000 to finish it,” Burgoyne said of the lodge.
The lodge and the cabins are being completely refurbished, mostly through donations of cash and volunteer labor, although some specialized work has been done by contractors.
“We basically gutted out all the cabins … they’re named after different people,” Burgoyne said.
One of the cabins, called Jenny’s Cabin, is named for Jenny Spaur who was killed at 10 years old.
“Her folks have taken on refurbishing that cabin,” he said.
Karen’s Cabin is named for the daughter of a woman killed in a car crash between Enterprise and Joseph. Her family donated $17,000 to refurbish the cabin.
Scarlett’s Cabin is named for Scarlett Russell, a preemie twin died when she was just 4-5 days old, Burgoyne said.
Contact for a stay
He said families can contact him online to reserve a free stay at the camp. All they need to do is bring their own bedding, towels and food. In addition to the lodging in a beautiful forested campground alongside the upper Wallowa River, there is a pontoon boat that takes visitors out on Wallowa Lake from the nearby marina for fishing or just a ride on the water.
For those who are able, a short hike to Wallowa Falls is nearby.
“We have taken some hunting; we have kids who want to go hunting,” Burgoyne added.
In fact, some of the disabled have become volunteers. One youth, who lost both arms in a hay-baling accident at age 17, now helps at Creating Memories’ fishing derby on Brownlee Reservoir. Equipped with prosthetic arms, he helps run the derby including tying fishing tackle.
On Saturday, one handicapped boy was packed in on his father’s back and another handicapped man who serves on the group’s board, joined as a singer with a seven-person band organized by Jay Connolly, owner of J’s Place in Enterprise. After listening to the music for a while, many enjoyed a free barbecue of hamburgers and hot dogs.
Burgoyne said he believes the lower-than-hoped-for turnout was largely because the event was scheduled for the same day Wallowa County schools held their graduations.
“Doing it on graduation weekend was a big mistake,” he said. “We won’t do that again.”
However, he did deem the event a success.
“it was successful because people saw for first time and said, ‘What can I do to help?’,” he said.
In fact, Creating Memories received cash or pledged donations and offers of volunteer labor. Others signed up with their email addresses to help at the camp or on the pontoon boat on the lake.
But the main thing was to show what’s available at the camp for the handicapped and their families.
“It’s a great thing for families of children with special needs,” Burgoyne said.
For more information, call Burgoyne at 541-398-0169 or visit the camp’s Facebook page.