From the day that R.A. Long presented the city of Longview with the YMCA building that still houses the organization, there were those who felt a need for a camp to be a part of the program in building character in the lives of the young men and women of the community. Many sites were considered, and in the summer of 1928 camp sessions were held on the Columbia River, the Kalama River, and the Coweeman River. 1929 found YMCA campers on the Kalama River and at Packwood Lake. In September of 1929, W.E. Knapp and S.M. Morris reported to the YMCA Directors that a permanent site for a camp had been located at Spirit Lake . They said, “This site is said to be the most attractive on the lake - in full view of Mt. St. Helens - and when completed will provide an excellent summer camp for boys and girls of Longview and vicinity.”

The first visit of Longview people, in an official capacity was made in October 1929, when the camp site was formally dedicated, under the direction of C.E. Nutter, General Secretary of the YMCA. In the latter part of April 1930, Fred Hess, W. Knapp, Jim Knapp and A.B. Offer visited the camp site to plan for the location of the cabins, chapel, council fire ring and the main camp lodge.

Through the courtesy of Al Raught and Harry Morgan, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company contributed lumber valued at $450 that was enough to start the original three buildings (Cabins 1,2,&3 with cabin 3 still standing in 1979 and being used as a storage shed) Shakes were cut from trees on the property, and all the logs for foundations and ridgepoles came from the camp site. First actual construction work began on June 14, 1930. The campers who used the camp the summer of 1930 had a makeshift camp. Cabin #1 was used as a kitchen and the boys ate out in the open at a long table. The boys slept in Cabins #2, #3, and #4 with no roof overhead.

Over the years, the camp buildings had been added through the help of civic groups, i.e., Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Elks, Longview Daily News, and the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The early history of the Longview YMCA camp was closely associated with many of the pioneer names of the City of Longview. Correspondence with the USFS to secure the site at Spirit Lake, bears the signatures of C.F. Nutter, first YMCA Secretary, J.M. McClelland, Sr., publisher of the Daily News; A.L. Raught, Jr., of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company; J.B. Wood, Chief Forester of Long Bell; Charles H. Paul, Long Bell legal counsel; C.M. Granger, District Forester; and F.V. Horton, Supervisor of Columbia Forest (name prior to being renamed Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1949). Clarence Zimmerman, former principal of R.A. Long High School, was the first camp committee chairman and was very instrumental in getting the actual construction underway. Fred Hess was one of the most active camp committee members. F.N. Siegmund and Harry Morgan of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company were also instrumental in the building of the camp, and did much to promote its activities.

Some of the early YMCA Board members associated with camp activities were C.E.Hadley, W.F. Arnett, F.N. Siegmund, Harold Bradford, E.H. Gebert and Mrs. J.A. Wilcox, Norman Kelly, S.M. Morris, J.D. Tennant and J.W. Wilcox.

During the first years of the camp’s organization, through the 1930's and early 40's, the camp continued to grow as far as the number of campers participating in the camp program. During the 1940 war years, the number of campers dropped off somewhat, but after the war, in 1945, a renewed effort to clean up and improve the camp site was undertaken. In 1946, the Longview Daily News camp at Spirit Lake was turned over to the YMCA and had been a part of the YMCA ?facilities since. During the late forties, fifties and sixties, such men as Roy Parsons, Joe Hunt, Gail Norton and Don Packard became very active in the renovation of the Camp and the camp program and camping started to grow again.

In the late forties and early fifties, winter camps were held at Spirit Lake, with the Longview YMCA using the Portland Y Camp site which was located on the main campgrounds of the lake and later became the camp of the Holy Spirit. This camp was closed after the summer of 1971. In 1954, two winter camps were held with a top attendance of 37 campers. The previous high was 26 in 1949. In the 1979 season, approximately 500 campers took part in six summer sessions and another 500 individuals took part in special sessions from Future Farmers of Washington officers training; family campers the 4th. Of July and Labor Day sessions; Episcopal Church Fall retreat and the several week long sessions of opening classes of Evergreen College held on site during the month of October. The cost to attend one session of camp in 1930 was $7.00; in 1979 it was $66. Budget for the first camp was $500; 1979 it was $60,000 with attendance in 1933 at 65 and by 1978, 1000 total participants in all sessions. During the 1956 season, co-ed camping was started (boys on west side of Margaret Creek and girls on the east side), but during the 60's separate camps for boys and girls were again the pattern. Water skiing also started in 1956 using a boat from someone in town. Later, a new boat was loaned to the camp each summer by Specialty Motors in Longview (Lou Hunziker). Many campers learned to water ski during the activity periods of camp.

In the fall and winter of 1958, there was a heavy snow fall and the next spring the lodge was leaning toward the lake with all the windows laying on the snow out front. A cable was hooked up at both ends and in the middle to pull the lodge back up. It was decided that a drive for funds should be held to build a new lodge . In 1961-62 a drive was held to raise funds to build the new lodge. Joe Hunt salvaged wood from a Kelso gas station that was demolished due to the new freeway being built in that area.. There was a lot of good lumber and great beams in the structure that were used. The plans for the new lodge had it being built over Margaret Creek to make good use of land space and with the idea that the camp boat could bring supplies up the creek and unload it to an elevator that would take the supplies up to the kitchen. In the spring of 1962, the construction of the lodge was started and completed during that summer under the leadership of Glen Potter, Camp Committee Chairman. Since there were no roads around the lake, all materials and machinery had to be barged across the lake. This made for handling of items several times before they reached the camp site. The boats never came up Margaret Creek nor was an elevator built. Later, environmental restrictions would have never allowed such a location of the building as the sewer lines came out the lodge over the creek and into the septic tanks located on the banks of the creek. Later testing proved that there was no leakage of sewage into the creek or lake.

During the early years, garbage was taken care of on site by digging large pits and burying the garbage. Again, this practice was stopped as usage around the late increased and environmental concerns surfaced. All garbage was then barged across the lake, cans loaded in the camp truck and taken to the dump in Longview.

During the late fifties and sixties, the attendance at camp was down, but after the completion of the new lodge, attendance started to grow slowly. In 1969, a capital fund drive was held by the Longview Association under the direction of Bob Rosi, new Camp Director and the Camp Committee. It provided for new equipment and buildings at Spirit Lake and some $20,000 was spent on buildings and maintenance at camp. In 1970, two new double cabins were built costing $7,000 each and then in 1971, a new rest room and shower facilities was completed. During these ?years, attendance at camp showed a marked increase with the new facilities and equipment and new emphasis on program.

In 1969, with the merging of the Kelso and Longview YMCA’s and the change of the name from “Longview YMCA” to “YMCA of Southwest Washington”, it was felt by the Camp Committee that the Camp should have a name and during the spring of 1969, a committee headed by Tom Jabusch, ran a contest in the local grade and junior high schools to name the camp. In June of that year, the camp was named YMCA Camp Loowit. (Loowit being the Indian name of the mountain) The winning name was suggested by Kristen Dahl, age 10, a student at Washington Elementary School in Kelso. 1969 was also the beginning of a program to have international counselors at camp. The first International counselor was Patrick Cathou from France; in 1970, two counselors were Bernard Daneels from Belgium and Agneta Langstrom from Sweden; in 1971, Rosemary Wipf came from Switzerland. Others were: 1972, Ramesh Shaw from Kenya, Africa; 1973, Peter DeKlerk from Holland; 1974, Hailemarian Ghebrenegus of Africa and Aziz Sadat; 1975, Edward Sastre of Africa; 1977, Linda Clemett of England; 1978, Lis Rasmussen of Denmark and Nicholas Gouede of the Ivory Coast, Africa and 1979, Juan Cornudella of Spain. The camp program over the years had always stressed Christian values and the stimulation of the campers in body, mind and spirit; the main emphasis of the program stressed outdoor living, hiking and waterfront activities.

The Raggers program was started in 1959 by suggestions of some campers who were raggers under then camp director Chet Bartlett. Since that time, it grew into one of the most meaningful programs for youth coming to camp and hundreds earned a “rag” as a reward for positive qualities in a person and had no value of its’ own. The Rags came in different colors; Green for friendship; brown for love: a Red one for humility ; gold star on Red for God ; and wearing a Blue rag meant you pledged to support the spirit of the camp in everyday life. A gold star on the blue rag could be earned by the older camper who was able to state what he believed to be his purpose in life. One of the influential persons involved in this program was Tom Jabusch. He not only worked with campers on the meaning of the Rags, but was also instrumental in the formal program held at the end of each session. A special chapel was made in the woods above camp with a cross of burning candles on the ground. Only the campers earning their Rag visited this site on the night of the ceremony. At Camp Loowit, a special rag; “White” was an honorary rag for people who contributed time and energy to the camp as selected by other “White Raggers”. Some who received this Rag were Hal Horne, Bill Lehning, Tom Jabusch, Jane Dedrick, Christine Burkhart, Ken White, John Okerlund, John Weber, Joretta Briney, Chet Bartlett, Bob Rosi, Jane Rosi and Rick Anderson.

In the early seventies, the Camp Committee and staff started to look for ways in which the camp could have more use. Attempts to get outside rental groups to use the camp in the fall resulted in the faculty of Lower Columbia College holding their fall faculty retreat on site. Then, in October of 1971, groups from Evergreen State College of Olympia needed classrooms as the new campus did not have classrooms ready. Since that beginning, students had used the camp for a period of three weeks in October. These additional groups helped the camp budget and provided a real service.

Power to camp in the 50's and maybe 40's was from a gasoline powered generator located at the boat dock. It was started up for breakfast and shut down about campfire time. Special wood crates in the creek kept milk and some other things cold. A three sided screened porch off the kitchen was a cooler. Propane gas heated water in the shower rooms and lodge. The Pelton Wheel to generate electrical power was put in the later 50's with much of the planning being done by Wes Gibson an Engineer for Longview Fiber and camp committee members Joe Hunt, Gail Norton and Roy Parsons. The first dam built to service the water flow to the Pelton wheel proved to be too low and had to be moved higher up the creek after the building of the new lodge. It was again moved in the seventies to produce even greater water pressure with the plans to install a newer, smaller Pelton wheel. That was being investigated during the 78-79 season. During the late sixties and early seventies, the electrical plant was re-wired under the leadership of John Weber who had given many hours of volunteer service to the YMCA in working and maintaining the Pelton Wheel and electrical plan. John came up with the idea of pre-heating the cold water by a couple of electric water heaters (donated by a local plumbing store) placed on the back porch of the lodge before flowing in to water tanks heated by propane. This proved successful and resulted in a substantial savings on the cost of propane.

In 1970-71, the Reynolds Aluminum Cable Plant donated 2,000 feet of underground electrical cable to the camp and was used to bury all electrical wiring eliminating the undesirable overhead wiring. This resulted in reducing a lot of work in reopening camp in the late spring each year.

A ten year plan for further development of the camp was written-up in 1974. Members of the YMCA Camp Committee responsible for putting the report together were Mr. Bob Rosi, Dr. Gib Comstock, Mr. Bill McDonald, and Mr. Charles Melville. Lower Columbia College students in Mr. Bill Putas’s spring 1973 Engineering class did the field survey and map work for this report. The first items that were done that year was the installation of the underground wiring, a water filter system (as required now by the State) for the camps water system drawn from Margaret Creek; dismantling of cabins #1 and #2. (original camper cabins being used as tool sheds); and the oldest eight man camper cabin #4 and the construction of Elk Lodge (1970) in place of the old cabin . The following year; Deer 1 & 2 double cabin ( east side of Margaret Creek in the place that the Daily News cabin had been located) separated in the center with a small meeting room with a Franklin fireplace under one roof and staff space upstairs was built following the plan of Elk I & II.. This plan was designed to utilize the small amount of flat ground space available for the camp buildings.) Other new construction that took place in the following years were Bear Lodge I & II: new boat house, a new chapel, relocated dam for power source on Margaret Creek; and the last structure completed in the fall of 1979, the crafts and store cabin with upstairs facilities for housing staff. Yet to be undertaken were such projects as rebuilding all floats and docks, new infirmary, maintenance shop, camp director’s cabin, staff cabin, replace log cabin and one more (three had been completed) campers double cabin.

Camp Director from 1938 - 40 was A.B. Offer followed by Norman Gore, Dick McMorran (47-53), Em Piper (54), Chet Bartlett (55-59), Brian Brady (1960), Don Packard (61), Ken White(62-65), Bill Lehning(66-68) and last, Bob Rosi(69-80).

A fifty year camp reunion was held in September, 1979. About one hundred past campers, staff and friends of camp came to this special occasion. There were tours of camp, a rededication ceremony and a few minutes of past history and memories given. This was the last YMCA program held on the site before the eruption of the mountain on May 18, 1980 that destroyed Camp Loowit. Plans for the camping sessions to be held the summer of 1980 were underway at the time of the eruption. It was decided to hold three sessions at Aberdeens Camp Bishop on Lost Lake by Shelton, Washington. These sessions were co-ed camps. A search for a new camp site followed the next year by the camp committee and camp director Bob Rosi. Insurance money collected on Camp Loowit was one million dollars. After several possible site visitations, it was decided that the establishment of a new camp was not in the best interest of the YMCA at this time. There were petitions etc. gathered by past campers and volunteers attesting to the importance of carrying on the traditions established at Camp Loowit and the benefits gained by the experiences that campers gained in such a program. This was to no avail, so Camp Loowit came to and end. The objectives and goals of the camp were: “The Young Men’s Christian Association we regard as being, in its essential genius, a world-wide fellowship, united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ, for the purpose of developing Christian Personality and building a Christian Society”. To provide campers with a sustained, creative, educational experience in democratic group living in the out-of-doors. Through the use of natural surroundings and under Christian auspices and trained leadership, YMCA camping seeks to help the camper achieve his fullest potential in terms of mental development, physical well-being, social growth and spiritual awareness.

The following eight objectives are recommended. It is our conviction that:

  1. Each camper should have an opportunity to develop self-confidence and appreciation of his own worth as an individual.
  2. Each camper should have an opportunity to grow as a responsible member of his family and citizen of his community.
  3. Each camper should have an opportunity to develop a faith for daily living based upon the teachings of Jesus, that he may achieve his highest potential as a child of God.
  4. Each camper should have an opportunity to appreciate that health of mind and body is a sacred gift and that physical fitness and mental well-being are conditions to be achieved and maintained.
  5. Each camper should have an opportunity to recognize the worth of all persons and work for interracial and intergroup understanding.
  6. Each camper should have an opportunity to develop a sense of world mindedness and work for world-wide understanding.
  7. Each camper should have an opportunity to develop his capacities for leadership and use them responsibly in his own groups and in community life.
  8. Each camper should have an opportunity to develop his capacities for leadership and use them responsibly in his own groups and in community life.