Guest Commentary: Mineral YMCA Camp an Investment in Nature — and Ourselves


Swimming. Hiking. Singing around the campfire.

Those who have experienced a YMCA summer camp tell us these and other activities help create great memories and lifelong friendships.    

But the camps do more than that. They also get kids out from behind their computer screens and into the outdoors, where they develop a better understanding of nature and the importance of protecting Washington’s land and waters.

For more than 100 years, the YMCA of Greater Seattle has provided overnight camping and outdoor education experiences to western Washington children and families. Our two facilities, Camp Orkila on Orcas Island and Camp Colman on the Key Peninsula, have become so popular that we annually are forced to turn away hundreds of potential campers.

In response to the clear need for more youth to enjoy outdoor experiences, the Y spent five years looking for another camp site before finding property at Mineral Lake. Undeveloped properties of this size and natural beauty are rare in western Washington. It provides a unique opportunity to create an outstanding camp, while simultaneously protecting the lake and surrounding forestland. It would also generate construction and operations jobs for local residents and contractors.

We are in the process of acquiring 2,100 total acres. The camp will use only a small percentage of the property, with the remainder retained in its natural state for sustainable forestry.

We purchased the first 500 acres of the site with generous financial support from the Nisqually Indian Tribe. We look forward to working with them on cultural, historical and outdoor education opportunities for both tribal members and non-tribal youth and families. As with other major donors who make our facilities and programs possible, the YMCA will be the property owner and decision-maker in how the camp operates.

Even before the Y acquired this initial parcel, we reached out to share our plans and gather feedback. We’ve heard support from some residents, and questions and concerns from others. One thing we’ve heard loud and clear is a strong love for the area and a commitment to protect it for future generations.

Even though we’re new to Lewis County, we understand why people feel that way. We agree and embrace the challenge of creating new camping and outdoor education opportunities for youth and families, while also protecting the land from more intensive development. A new camp will also help the state meet its goal of providing meaningful outdoor education opportunities for all students.

The Lewis County Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the county commissioners approve a zoning amendment allowing the Y to continue planning for the camp. It’s an important step, because it will allow us to gather the information needed to answer site-specific questions asked by the public regarding issues like transportation, water, wastewater and emergency services.

As we work to answer those important questions, we hope to demonstrate that we will be a good neighbor at Mineral Lake, as we are at our other rural campsites.

That starts by maintaining open communication with the local community. To date, we have shared information with Mineral residents through in-person meetings, email, U.S. mail and our project website. I have met many local residents and hope to meet more, because talking constructively with one another will make our project better for campers and the community alike.

Being a good neighbor also means understanding and supporting the important role the lake plays in local community life. Our plan will limit our waterfront activities to approximately 15-20 kayaks or canoes at any time; no motorized watercraft are used by campers. A confined, designated swimming area will leave the vast majority of the lake available for public use as it is now. Recognizing the lake’s reputation as a prime fishing spot, this past spring we contributed to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s restocking of the lake for the 2022 fishing season.

These days, too many youngsters don’t get outside to enjoy nature. When they do, they develop a better understanding of the importance of healthy forests and clean waters and how ecosystems work. Outdoor education also helps students get away from digital distractions, and in turn, connect with themselves and others. And our financial aid options ensure access for children who might not otherwise have these opportunities.

Children, like nature, must be protected and nurtured. The best use of the Mineral Lake property is to provide more children and families the opportunity to experience nature and make positive, lasting memories.


Gwen Ichinose Bagley is senior vice president and youth development officer at the YMCA of Greater Seattle.