Grants, donations save Fair Haven Camps in Brooks

Posted April 18, 2010, at 8:44 p.m.

BROOKS, Maine — Some would say the outlook was bleak for Fair Haven Camps last year when the State Fire Marshal’s Office handed over a long list of deficiencies that had to be fixed if the camp were to continue.

The problems ranged from an outmoded heating system in one of the lodges to windows that were too small in some bunkhouses to outdated electrical circuits in most of the camp’s 54 buildings. Many of those buildings date back to the 1920s.

“There have been a lot of Band-Aids put on over the years,” said Dave Sheldon, the camp’s general manager. “We had a lot of issues, [fire] codewise … but we’re a faith-based organization. We will go on.”

In 2008, the camp applied for every grant it could find — totaling 80 or 90 applications, said Sheldon — to replace or refurbish the main lodge. None of the applications was successful, so the goal morphed to bringing the aging structure into compliance with safety regulations.

Sheldon and the camp’s board of directors appealed to its supporters, who included 200 dues-paying members and untold former campers, for $130,000. To their astonishment, donations of cash and services poured in and today, Fair Haven Camps is preparing for another busy summer season.

Though the camp’s philosophy is based on Christianity, it is nondenominational and “low-key” when it comes to religion, said Sheldon. With a girls camp on one side of the lake and boys on the other, campers participate in a full range of outdoor activities.

Sheldon’s parents, Elwyn and Hilda Sheldon, and aunt and uncle, Leroy and Rebecca Sheldon, were among the founders of the camp in 1950 after a local clergy member found the remains of the defunct and abandoned Camp Melco on the shores of Lake Passagassawakeag.

The Sheldons, who were from Morrill, along with the Rev. David and Anna-Lisa Madeira of Knox and the Rev. Richard and Helen Henley of Belfast, paid $5,000 for the first portion of land. They founded the Central Maine Bible Conference to establish a boys and girls camp that today is called Fair Haven Camps.

Sheldon, who grew up at the camps, saw in the $130,000 given and in some donors’ stories a message that the camp is worth the effort. Last fall, a former camper from Pennsylvania called to make a donation.

“In the 1960s, she went here for one week that we know of,” said Sheldon. “She and her husband came into an inheritance and, based on her one-year experience, she sent a check for $20,000. Camp Fair Haven obviously made an impact for her.”

A more recent camper, who is now about 14 years old, donated $75 from mowing lawns last summer. “There were a lot of similar stories,” said Sheldon.

Construction is under way, but Sheldon said the camp would be in full operation this summer with 750 campers coming through for weeklong stays and day camp. The last phase of the $130,000 upgrades involves the installation of a wood boiler, though the board of directors has decided to extend the project with the installation of a sprinkler system at a cost that could exceed $40,000. The goal clearly is to sustain the camp in the long term.

“We’re calling it our Marshal Fund because it meets a lot of the fire marshal’s needs,” said Sheldon. “We are a faith-based organization, and we believe there’s a reason we’ve been open for 60 years and should be for another 60. We’re in this for the long run.”

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