The Little Bear Fire of 2012 took just about everything the Bonita Park Nazarene Camp had, including more than 100 cabins, a chapel, gymnasium and other structures – and very nearly its spirit.
“After the fire, we really had to determine, was Bonita Park even a viable ministry anymore?” activities director Connor Bryan said. “The camp board and the powers that be said ‘Yes, it is.’ ”
Today, Bonita Park dedicates a $3.55 million activities center that represents just how far the camp has come in its recovery from the devastation. The Little Bear Fire devoured 250 structures in the Lincoln National Forest, including 138 at Bonita Park, located about 18 miles east southeast of Carrizozo.
“We have bookings back up to where they were before the fire,” Bryan said. “To have this back open, it’s made this camp into a top-notch facility again.”
Lightning sparked the Little Bear Fire on June 4, 2012, igniting a forested area. The blaze spun out of control four days later, despite the Forest Service’s efforts to control it, as winds spurred the flames. About 150 of the camp’s 200 acres burned.
Bonita Park, owned by the Church of the Nazarene, got its start in 1939 and many of the cabins that burned dated to the 1940s. Seven camp staffers lost their homes – all of which have been rebuilt over the past two years.
But the dedication of the new activities center is a defining moment, Bryan said.
The 35,000-square-foot space features a 2,200-foot rock climbing wall, a “leap of faith” tower for campers to climb, two full-size basketball and volleyball courts, a snack bar, meeting rooms and a gymnasium that is about triple the size of the one the camp had before, Bryan said.
The camp serves some 10,000 campers per year – including kids, families, couples, military and other groups.
The camp paid for the facility with $2 million in proceeds from fire insurance, with the remainder covered by donations and a loan, which will be paid off with donations, Bryan said.
With the monsoon season rains that have helped nearly half the state out of drought, Bryan said the forest around Bonita Park “is greener than it has ever been.”