Agur Lake Camp nears completion

May 20 trip on Kettle Valley Steam Railway will raise funds for barrier-free wilderness camp for children and adults with special needs

Brian Liberorate is all smiles in the seat of the trail rider cycle powered by volunteers Lindsay Sierhuis (front) and Kurt Becker along one of the trails west of Summerland where the Agur Lake Camp Society is building a barrier-free facility for use by people with special needs. In the background is volunteer Ryan Japling.

Brian Liberorate is all smiles in the seat of the trail rider cycle powered by volunteers Lindsay Sierhuis (front) and Kurt Becker along one of the trails west of Summerland where the Agur Lake Camp Society is building a barrier-free facility for use by people with special needs. In the background is volunteer Ryan Japling.

This summer looks to be a very busy one for the Agur Lake Camp Society, as their dream begins to take substance in the wilderness near Summerland.

“We’ve got trails that are going in, we are building our third cabin right now. It is a beautiful place this time of the year, the leaves are coming in and everything is greening up nicely” said Carla Ohmenzetter, who took over as chair of the society last month.

It’s a dream that began in 2004, a dream of creating a barrier-free wilderness camp for children and adults with special needs, where they could share an outdoor experience with their families.

With the camp taking shape, Ohmenzetter said they hope to do a “soft opening” this year. That means inviting just a few families to make use of the facilities to test them out.

“We know there are going to be a few glitches, and because it is a bit of a remote site and we are catering to people with special needs, we wanted to do a dry run,” said Ohmenzetter. “See how things are working and what we need to improve on before we do an actual grand opening.”

On May 20, there is a chance to help out by taking a ride on the Kettle Valley Steam Railway, which is partnering with the camp society for the third consecutive year.

The train departs at 1:30 p.m. from Prairie Valley Station, but this time there will be no ticket fee for the ride. Instead, passengers will be invited to make a cash donation to Agur Lake Camp before boarding for a 90-minute round trip. Reservations are required, however, by calling 1-877-494-8424 or 250-494-8422.

“People are very generous; they are generous to the KVR, and by us being involved with them, they are quite generous to the camp society as well,” said Ohmenzetter, adding that there are other connections to the railway.

“They’re worked really hard at making the train barrier free, so people that are in wheelchairs or need to have walkers and things like that have access to the train, and of course, that is what we are all about, we are building a camp for people with special needs and their families,” she said.

That means, she said, that many of the group’s supporters, who may be using wheelchairs or other devices, will be able to ride the train as well.

“The KVSR has been very supportive of Agur Lake right from the very beginning. I think it’s one of their ways of giving back to the community but also supporting what they see as a really worthy cause,” said Ohmenzetter. “Partially it is a fundraiser for us, but partially it is raising awareness of what we are doing.”

“It’s actually coming together and the community support has been overwhelmingly amazing. So many people have got behind us and are supporting us, it’s just wonderful,” said Amanda Lewis, a longtime director of the camp society and herself a person with special needs. “It’s something you can’t put a value on.”

According to Ohmenzetter, Agur Lake Camp is very close to being fully functional, but developing it will be an ongoing process.

“I think everyone recognizes it is a phased project, a little bit at a time as the money comes in. But as far as being able to use it as a camp and hosting people, having people come there and use the facilities, we are getting very, very close,” she said. “Because we are catering to people with special needs, there are certain things that need to be done right. Safety is an issue, and comfort.”

Ultimately there will be about 10 cabins on the site, as well as RV space for about 20 units. But the crowning jewel will be the eventual construction of a lodge.

“The cabins are really nice, but we really want the idea of a gathering area. So with the lodge will come more dining facilities, and really give opportunity for people to interact in a group session,” said Ohmenzetter. Currently, the gathering area is an outside site. “We’ve got a beautiful meadow that is right by the entrance and it overlooks the lake. We are building a gazebo there this year, so there will be a place for people to come together and share the camp experience.”