The Ojiketa Preservation Society continues Camp Fire’s impact in the Twin Cities region long after the camp it is named after closed.
In 1926, the St. Paul Council of Camp Fire Girls opened Camp Ojiketa in Chisago City, Minnesota, on the shores of Green Lake. The summer camp hosted Camp Fire girls (and boys, too, starting in 1977) from the surrounding area for 79 years until it closed in 2005. More than 150 Camp Ojiketa alumni gathered in the summer of 2006 for what they assumed would be a final reunion at the former campgrounds. That was where the seed for the Ojiketa Preservation Society was planted.
After that reunion, a group of former Ojiketa campers stayed in touch via email and began discussing how they could keep the spirit of Ojiketa alive and advocate for the land itself, which was being put up for sale. They didn’t want to see it become a housing development like Camp Cheewin, the neighboring Camp Fire camp that hosted younger campers between 1954 and 1995.
In the summer of 2007, a small but passionate group met at Alice Magnuson’s cabin to strategize; they continued to meet that fall, when The Ojiketa Preservation Society (OPS) was officially born. The team rallied alumni from all over the country while meeting with local politicians and staying in the loop with Camp Fire leadership.
“After 30 or so years of not really seeing Ojiketa campers, they came out of the woodwork to try to see what we could do to help preserve this very special place,” remembered Alice.
Two of the things Julie Redpath, former camper and current OPS member, said she learned at Ojiketa was to “walk gently and respectfully on the earth” and “leave it better than it was.” The lessons the camp taught came back to save it in the end.
“Ojiketa has always been a place I feel safe,” said Amy Wood, the youngest member of OPS and its bridge to younger alumni. “It was important to me that Ojiketa, the property, remain a place people could enjoy exploring, sharing with friends and a place to find solitude.”
While developers were making offers for the land, OPS kicked into high gear. They were hatching a plan of their own: Bring together private donors, city funds and public land bills to preserve the camp as a regional park.
“I worked for the Minnesota DNR at the time of the sale process and was able to keep an eye on funding bills,” said Julie. “I attend and testified at funding committee hearings and rallied the troops when support was needed at the legislature.”
In 2008, the real estate crash sent other potential buyers scattering. OPS began a fundraising campaign targeting Ojiketa alumni and hosted an awareness-raising open house in August. Their efforts picked up steam and caught press attention. Finally, at the end of 2008, Chisago City was able to purchase Camp Ojiketa for $3.4 million. $186,000 came from alumni donations through OPS’s fundraising campaign. Camp Ojiketa was now Chisago City’s Ojiketa Regional Park.
“I believe that being a part of OPS and helping to acquire the land as a Regional Park is one of the more important things that I’ve done in my lifetime,” said Margy Ingram, the first OPS treasurer. “I am so proud of all of us!”
OPS now operates a Camp Ojiketa Heritage Center at the park featuring Camp Fire memorabilia — and the memories of so many former campers like themselves.
“Saving Ojiketa was like saving part of myself,” said Nancy Nissen, the current treasurer for the Ojiketa Preservation Society. “So many friendships started here; so many memories were created; there is so much beauty to share with everyone.”
Some favorite memories from Camp Ojiketa:
- “Baking a reflector oven birthday cake while on a BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) canoe trip in a snow storm in August while windbound on a small, rocky island.” – Julie Redpath
- “My favorite memory of Ojiketa is everything! I came with my dad on work weekends, both before camp opened and after it closed. I came to Camp in the summer. I came with our Camp Fire group for overnights on weekends during the school year. In high school I convinced my friend who was not even a Camp Fire girl to come with me to camp and be a dishwasher/kitchen girl for a month!” – Nancy Nissen
- “I have no favorite memory but many I cherish. Learning about what birds were making noise at night keeping me awake and what birds were first to wake me up in the morning was one of the first things I was taught about nature at Ojiketa. I still check this out when I am visiting new places.” – Amy Wood
- “In order to spend more time at Camp Ojiketa I became a camp Bugler! I played 13 bugle calls each day and blew them twice, once in each direction of the camp, in order to cover the whole camp. I was late for Reveille only one time. The cooks made it VERY clear I was not to oversleep again. I didn’t.” – Alice Magnuson
- “I loved everything: morning sing, swimming, handcraft, campcraft, being a hopper, cook outs and overnights, campfires, and the songs, and the horses—yes the horses were a favorite!” – Margy (Wood) Ingram
Camp Ojiketa Lessons:
- “Girls/women are capable, wise and command respect. Be proud of who you are. Walk gently and respectfully on the earth. Leave it better than it was. Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. Working together makes a task easier and probably fun.” – Julie Redpath
- “What I learned that has stuck with me is that you need to scrape your plate and wipe the peanut butter off your silverware before you put it in the dishwasher!” – Nancy Nissen
- “It was at Ojiketa I learned how to develop friendships with girls with life experiences very different from my own. I learned to negotiate and stand back and let others take the lead. I learned to take the lead when needed, even when it may not have been something I really wanted to do. The true meaning of ‘give service’ became clear to me during my time at Ojiketa.” – Amy Wood
- “All of these experiences taught me leadership responsibilities, time management skills and built confidence in me as a human being — traits young women were working toward in the late 1960s and early 1970s.” – Alice Magnuson