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YMCA opens second family camp in northern Minnesota

November 30, 2018

There’s a new family camp on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters after the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities recently purchased two lake resorts for $4.1 million.

The YMCA Camp Northern Lights on the shores of Bear Island Lake in Babbitt, Minn., is already hosting families this winter and accepting reservations for the popular summer season. It’s the Y’s second family camp and part of the nonprofit’s effort to expand wilderness opportunities to adults and children.

About $3 million for the purchase came directly from donors.

“It’s in the North Woods. It’s on a gorgeous, scenic 2,300-acre lake with 22 islands. It’s ideal for fishing,” said Niki Geisler, the Y’s district executive of family camping. “We see a variety of wildlife. It’s a beautiful boreal forest with pine, birch, aspen and tamarack.”

The new camp occupies 115 acres with a half-mile of shoreline and 24 cabins. The Y plans to add tent campsites and additional cabins so they can accommodate as many as 180 guests and 40 staff at one time. It also plans to add a craft barn, a dining hall and outdoor gathering spaces for singalongs and campfires.

“The YMCA is committed to providing everyone opportunities to get away from daily distractions, unplug and enjoy nature year-round,” said Glen Gunderson, YMCA president and CEO.

The Y now owns eight overnight camps and 10 day camps. Northern Lights campers will have access to fishing boats and trained guides, pontoons, kayaks and paddleboards during the warm weather months.

It opened its first family camp in 1960 with the purchase of Camp du Nord in Ely. There were some naysayers at the time who believed the Y should stay focused on youth camping. Now the waiting list for Camp du Nord regularly tops 200 in the summer months.

“The Twin Cities YMCA really went into uncharted territory,” Geisler said. “It was decided this is absolutely in line with our business. It connects families with the wilderness.”

Still, the Y commissioned a market study of more than 1,000 Twin Cities families before moving forward on its latest purchase.

The conclusion? “You have this huge untapped market. You need to be tripling down on family camp,” Geisler said, adding that more than 1,000 families have expressed interest in the family camps.

Prices for the new family camp, at 9089 County Hwy. 21 N., in Babbitt range from $550 per week to $3,000 for larger cabins. Financial assistance is available.

Y leaders stressed that “family” includes groups of friends interested in getting outside. For more information on YMCA Camp Northern Lights and how to register for camp programs, visit campnorthernlights.org.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804

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