Christian camp breaks ground

CARLSBORG — Crisscrossing lawsuits, water rights questions and the commotion around 350 youngsters might have plowed under Camp King’s Way.

But after eight years of legal struggle, the Rev. Mike VanProyen has emerged victorious in his fight to build a multifaceted summer camp beside King’s Way Foursquare Church at 1023 Kitchen-Dick Road, just north of U.S. Highway 101.

The pastor and at least one of his lawyers will celebrate with a ground-breaking ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

They’ll be joined by other Foursquare church members from around northwestern Washington to witness the start of Phase I of the evangelical Christian youth camp.

The complex, now with a green light from Clallam County, will spread over 16.4 acres.

Three-year project

Last Friday, standing on the spot where a stormwater detention system will be built, VanProyen said construction of the camp’s dozens of cabins, indoor swimming pool, cafeteria, basketball court, climbing wall, multiuse room and septic system will stretch over the next three years and cost close to $3 million.

That’s adjusted for inflation, since VanProyen and his five fellow pastors had planned to build Camp King’s Way back in 2001.

They needed a conditional use permit from Clallam County in order to welcome hundreds of campers to the rural location.

The county greatly restricted the size of the camp after neighbors raised concerns about water use, the noise it was likely to generate and the overall impact of a large youth camp on the bucolic setting, which lies among farmland and forest 5 miles from Sequim.

In 2003 Clallam County gave King’s Way permission to build a smaller camp — with room for just 84 children and teens — but VanProyen didn’t accept the decision.

He and the church sued the county, contending that the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, guarantees King’s Way’s right to develop its land as it chooses.

The church won, but Erwin and Diane Jones, who live nearby, filed another lawsuit to stop construction of the camp.

The Joneses and Pam Larsen, another Carlsborg resident, voiced concerns about the camp’s size and its water and sewage systems’ effect on the environment.

Church leaders, the county and the opposing neighbors tangled for years.

Finally, King’s Way won on the grounds of religious freedom and received its permit allowing 350 overnight campers in June 2008.

“We prevailed completely,” said Van Proyen, who’s been at King’s Way since 1997.

Erwin Jones declined to comment on Friday. And Larsen said she’d “left that behind a couple of years ago,” after the intensity of the battle began to take a toll on her.

She remains worried about the camp’s impact on Carlsborg’s water supply, however.

“I learned a lot about the legal system,” said Larsen, who is one of the originators of the Community Organic Garden beside St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sequim.

When the permit was issued giving King’s Way three years to construct the camp, VanProyen promptly took a three-month sabbatical.

Large church camp

Then, last fall, he returned to work, to his congregation of 300 and to plans for Western Washington’s largest Foursquare Church camp.

Elementary, middle and high school students will come to camp to learn about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God, VanProyen said.

Each morning they will have “cabin devotionals,” breakfast, sports and crafts.

On some days, they’ll be bused to a private stable for horseback riding; there will be concerts in the amphitheater followed by chapel time at night.

The fight for Camp King’s Way, the pastor said, “wasn’t about ‘my good idea.’ This is about the next generation.

“We’re losing the next generation. Our country needs organizations like ours to make investments in the next generation. So for us, the fight was worth it, for their sake.”

VanProyen added that he bears “zero ill will” toward the county and the Joneses.

“The mistake the county made” when it restricted the camp’s size, “was they treated us like anybody else,” he said. The RLUIPA “says we have this right as a religious entity.”

“We’ve forgiven the county. We’ve forgiven Mr. Jones,” VanProyen added. “I pray for him. I pray for his wife.”

Legal costs

The pastor said the legal costs — including fees for attorneys Dave Neupert of Port Angeles and Tom Richardson of Seattle — amounted to about half a million dollars over the eight years.

The congregation, as well as the Foursquare denomination, provided the funds, VanProyen said.

He believes his flock stayed generous because they saw King’s Way as a righteous organization under duressw and the camp as a needed investment in young people.

VanProyen said he also has faith that the camp project will be completed debt-free.

“People ask, ‘How can you build this in this economy?’ I say God’s economy is not man’s economy. God’s economy says: Give away what you have, and I will bless you. So people want to give in times of difficulty.”

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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