Wow is all I can say. On March 24, my wife, Esther, and I purchased some land up near Cotton, MN. (It was also my mom's birthday! We got you a little something Mom!) We had been looking for land with a river on it up near the North Shore area for a few years. Our intent was to find a place we could pull our teardrop camper to and just enjoy nature while camping. There was no other plan to be honest, no Camp Christopher, just a get-away for the two of us. On my way home from the closing I was thinking that because of commitments at home with caretaking for Esther's mom and our animals we would not be able to use this property very much. It seemed a shame that this beautiful land would not get used so I made a Facebook post offering our land to those impacted by suicide and mental health challenges. I had lost my brother to suicide in November of 2021. I thought maybe a few friends would read it and maybe come camping. I would have never guessed the overwhelming response we have had to the offer. It is quite apparent that many of us are seeking a safe place to share our grief, our hopes, our questions in regards to suicide and mental health. We call these moments God things in our household and I must say, dang, God is doing a big thing here. I have no words (well as you will see here, I have lots of them) but just a heart full of thankfulness for all of you.
Your stories, honesty, support and willingness to help this space make a difference in people's lives has been humbling and has my heart overflowing. The compassion that has been demonstrated in the literally hundreds of emails and posts proves we are surrounded by wonderful people, some with hurt, pain and wonder but hearts that are full of love for others. We are not experts on grief or counselors but hope that the healing we get from being in nature will provide the same nurturing, healing and hope for others.
There are a few things in this post that I will bullet point below that may be a kind of FAQ list that we have seen so far.
I am doing my best to respond to every single email, post and comment from the webpage. If I missed you or if the responses seem short, please forgive me. It has become a task that takes a few hours each day. Well worthwhile but I have this thing called a job and have a wife and ....you get the picture. I'll keep doing my best.
Thanks to Aaron Bartell for his gift of the website. He helped get this shell put together and is my go to when I can't figure something out. (Which happens too often.) It is a work in progress and we want to keep it simple. There is now a place for you to share your stories, pics, gifs, etc. In the short time we have had it live we have had almost 10,000 visitors I believe.
Many of you have offered to donate to the cause. We are not a non-profit (501c3) and don't intend to become one at this point. We just want to share the gift we have been blessed with, with others. We are not accepting cash donations and have no desire to profit from this space. There have been other offers such as firewood, watching over the camp, a sign and so many other offers they are too numerous to list here. Thank you, please, do not fill obligated to donate anything other than your story. Or if you want to make a monetary donation please do so at namimn.org in memory of your loved one or in honor of Camp Christopher.
If you have checked out the calendar you can see there are very few days left to reserve. This makes me sad and happy. I'm glad we are filling a need for folks but sad we are going to have to turn down so many. We have reserved time for our family as well for our own healing and we are limiting it to one family at a time at the site. There are many reasons for that. One, we have only seen this property in person one time and it was buried in 3 ft. of snow. We don't really know what we have at this point other than what the pictures tell us. Two, there will be one porta-potty. Don't think I need to say anything more. Three, I really want to honor the privacy for folks to grieve, pray, cry, sing, hope or whatever their need is in this journey. We may find there is a space and a way to do more folks in the future but have to go with this for now. Also, we will not be paying for someone to plow out the long drive. (We are responsible for the private road leading to the land.) This means when the snow hits, there is no access.
We have a strong desire to keep this property as natural and pristine as it was created to be. Since it looks like there will be someone camping every single day of the summer we want to make sure everyone has the same place to gather as the day we bought it. Trash in, trash out please. If you are a smoker please clean up your cigarette butts. If you have pets, please clean up after them. No parties or drugs as we want our neighbors to not complain and take away this opportunity. There are a set of guidelines posted on the website. I'm sure they will change as we get more experienced at this.
We have not put a limit on party size and honestly don't know how many will "fit" at this point. Just know there is no shelter (tent, camper) there so you will need to provide your own.
Things we will be working on once we can access the property. (If winter ever ends.) We will be needing to put up a shed to store various items for folks to use. We have had a sign donated that we will be installing somewhere. We will see if there are trails that need to cleaned up or created. A generous individual has offered to bring a trailer of firewood but I'm sure we will need to clean up and cut more for everyone. We are not sure what the fire ring situation is but we will get one put in if it is not there now. Also, will have either a grate over the firepit or a park grill put in or both. I'm sure there is a much bigger list. We will be putting a picnic table in as well and someone has offered to donate one they have if one is not present there. We will be lining up some folks who have volunteered to watch over the camp as we live over 2 hours away and won't be able to get there as often as we'd like.
We are going to host a couple of workdays. May 14 (yeah it's Mother's Day, what a great gift for her!) from 10-??? and May 28 (yeah it's Memorial Weekend) same time. I will probably be there some other days on those weekends as well and will let folks know if they wish to donate some time and muscle to the effort.
Last, we are so blessed to have you be a part of our lives even from a distance. We may never meet in person but thank you for the kinds words, support and love that has been shared. We are abundantly blessed by you and our hearts our full.