Food scraps from the Camp Howard dining hall are composted here and then used to enrich soil in the camp’s vegetable garden.
Food scraps from the Camp Howard dining hall are composted here and then used to enrich soil in the camp’s vegetable garden.
Sister Krista von Borstel’s fingerprints are all over Camp Howard.

From a self-standing deck for viewing heavenly bodies to covered basketball courts to a zip line to a giant swing to the new Mary’s Lodge, the executive director has given shape to her ideas so children can have a richer encounter with the natural world.

And now, 23 years into the ministry, Sister Krista wants to put some finishing touches on her vision for the camp.

Welcome center

Next on her list is a building to welcome visitors. She imagines a concerned parent driving to camp at night to pick up a sick child. As it stands now, the parking areas are not well defined and it is hard to know where to walk next.

The welcome center will have a clear parking lot and the warm little building will have a sign and illumination. “We’ll leave the light on for you,” she says.

The building, in addition to offering welcome, also will be the site for nurses who help children who are sick or have a scraped knee or a bee sting. It also will have offices for camp workers and Outdoor School staff, restrooms and a shop where campers can buy souvenirs and snacks, learning how to budget.

“I love putting myself in the future because I try to be there when visioning our projects,” says Sister Krista, a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon. “We have tried not to build for specific needs but for flexible opportunities. The welcome center, for example, will have flexible space which will allow us to have a camp store in the summer and turn that area into meeting space for off season. The more we can keep from building walls the more flexible the space will be for us.”

Contributors have given almost enough to complete the building, which will be named in honor of a major donor, the late Elsie Franz Finley. Sister Krista and supporters are discussing the right time to send out bids for the project, since the current Portland building boom has left prices high. Her construction and architecture advisers have suggested holding off.

The chapel

Mass and other prayer are a major part of camp life. Sister Krista hopes for a chapel with a capacity of 300 on the site of the old dining hall, which has been razed.

Sister Krista imagines children — future leaders of the church among them — reflecting in the building.

“Our concept of the chapel is a box filled with air that fills you with inspiration,” says Sister Krista. “It is light, open and sits at the high point of the camp proper. It will be simple, sturdy, sustainable and will satisfy our needs.”

The chapel will be a sacred place, but this is camp, after all, and so the building will be designed so it can be configured for much-needed meeting space.

“The camp chapel has historically been a multipurpose building,” Sister Krista says. “I see it having a definite spiritual look to it with an inside that will convert from church to gathering space.”

She envisions a building with mobile interior walls that can create four meeting spaces if needed. The altar will be on wheels and the chairs stackable.

“The more creative we can be in visioning the projects to meet the various needs of user groups, the more efficient we will be with our buildings,” she says.

Environmental legacy

Growing up on a farm in north central Oregon, Sister Krista was an environmental steward before the notion became popular. Like most farmers, her father reused and recycled. In the back of his truck were large barrels to hold glass, wire, cans and other material. That resourcefulness stuck with her.

Camp Howard responded to a challenge from Outdoor School to all camps to compost more. Scraps from Mary’s Lodge now go back to the earth. Workers dug a trench for the material and covered it with soil, branches and some horse manure from neighboring farms. The last ingredient throws off the scent for bears who otherwise might dig up the aging yet tasty morsels.

Sister Krista said that Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” reflects the kind of work done at the camp over the decades.

This summer, the camp hosted a Farm to Fork dinner, highlighting the products from neighboring farms. One of the participants was Margie Haener Barnet, who also donates produce to the camp to feed children.

This fall, a team of 10 goats will do some work that power tools might have done in the past.

The hungry ungulates will eat their way through shrubs, creating an open space to keep the camp safer from wildfire.