A flash of lightning, a torrent of flame; the cabin was on fire. In the aftermath of a disaster, Big City Mountaineers is determined to rebuild.
A massive thunderclap shook the rural town of Tower, Minn. It was an exclamation point to a June storm that signaled summer had arrived. To many, it would have been a momentary shock lost to the fading rumble of distant thunder.
But in that moment, an entire season changed. Scores of boys and girls lost a home away from home. And a life’s work, meant to carry on through generations, burned to the ground.
Big City Mountaineers‘ Minnesota basecamp of one year, a two-bedroom cabin and bunkhouse set on 120 acres along the southern tip of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, succumbed to fire following a lightning strike. The cabin was built by hand in 1978.
Now, after a summer spent rescheduling and planning, BCM prepares to rebuild.
Big City Mountaineers Bunkhouse
Big City Mountaineers is a not-for-profit that “transforms the lives of under-served youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions that instill critical life skills,” according to its mission. It serves about 1,000 youth annually.
Prior to last year, BCM paid handsomely each year to rent out a base of operations for its BWCAW expeditions. The property and structures, donated to the group by a family as a retreat for city kids to get outside, meant the non-profit was free and clear of a “tremendous” expense.
In addition to the cabin and bunkhouse, six canoes fell to ash in the blaze. Thankfully, the fire spared additional paddling gear stored in a winterized garage.
But the destruction closed the area for this summer, just one year after it launched. BCM received the land, private island, and cabin, with the promise that it would use the area to bring youth into the outdoors.
Last year, BCM used the cabin to do just that. The Basecamp served multiple expeditions throughout the summer. Each time, five youths (and four adults) stayed the night and geared up for a weeklong trek through the Boundary Waters. Upon their return, Basecamp was home to a dinner celebration of the kids’ experience in one of the world’s wildest places.
“While the destruction of the basecamp was a serious setback, both emotionally and logistically, we managed to have a very successful season in Minnesota,” Doug Sandok, BCM’s Corporate Relations Director, told us.
Indeed, BCM’s director of programs Elizabeth Williams said organizers “rapidly adjusted logistics” so that the BWCAW trips carried through this year. “We strived to make sure the student experience was preserved,” she said.
That meant a year of unplanned expense, renting out an ersatz basecamp to stage expeditions—something BCM doesn’t plan to do again. But it needs your help.
Rebuilding BCM Minnesota Basecamp
“As is so often the case, tragedy often brings new opportunity,” Sandok said. “With help we will rebuild a basecamp that is purpose-built for our programs and be able to serve more kids on mentored expeditions and overnight camps in coming years.”
Williams told us BCM is committed to rebuilding and relaunching its Basecamp next summer. “We want to be up and ready by mid-June,” she said. That would make the re-open one year to the day from when Basecamp burned down.
“In addition to the rebuild of the site, we will need to replace six to eight canoes, a handful of PFDs, and group kitchen and cooking equipment,” Sandok said. “All that in nine months with four of those months not buildable on site.”
Help Big City Mountaineers Rebuild
And that’s where you come in. We wrote about BCM’s Summit for Someone adventures, where you can sign up for a “big mountain” expedition and help fund BCM’s youth programs. But you can also donate directly without leaving your home.
And if you want to help but don’t have extra funds, consider volunteering as a BCM mentor. Whether you have outdoor skills or just an interest in helping kids who need guidance, there’s a spot for you.
Lastly, BCM is partnering with Fisher + Baker to host a fundraiser. Anyone near the Twin Cities should check out the happy hour at Fisher + Baker’s Minneapolis headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 27. Meet members of BCM, learn more about Basecamp, see some cool gear, and help the rebuilding effort! RSVP and event details here.