By Dick Duerksen
It began with a simple request, “Could I have a drink of water?”
That progressed to, “Is there a chance I can wash my clothes here?” “Any chance for a shower?” “May I get a real camp meal here? I’m glad to pay.” And, “any coffee?”
The, “askers,” spoke many different languages, were dressed like vagabonds, and carried backpacks sized for Sasquatch. The one thing they all had in common was that they were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Some had begun hiking in Mexico, others had started in Canada, and some were doing the 2,659 mile trail in segments.
For all of the hikers, Big Lake Youth Camp was waiting for them on the trail, a wayside stop that had become a safe haven for PCT Hikers. Realizing the needs, Big Lake rangers began offering water, laundry, meals, clean toilets, showers, a mail drop, and coffee.
The news spread, and soon hundreds of PCT hikers were including Big Lake Youth Camp in their hiking itinerary. FedEx, UPS, and even the USPS added Big Lake on their list for drop-offs and pick-ups, regularly bringing mountains of packages the hikers had forwarded to Big Lake. “Please hold for arrival sometime between June 7 and 15.”
Being a PCT STOP became “work” for the Big Lake staff. There was always company for dinner, piles of “trail clothes” to be washed and dried, showers to be cleaned, and coffee to be made.
“We charged something for showers, more for meals, and a little for laundry,” says Big lake camp director, Les Zollbrecht. “But it was a lot of trouble to collect. So, we made everything free, but left out “donation” boxes. Our income skyrocketed!”
Then Bob Johnson turned onto the road to Big Lake, exhausted, hiking with a friend who was beyond thirsty. The expected water sources had dried up and they had run out of drinking water. Big Lake Youth Camp was their next best hope.
Ross Von Pohle, now camp ranger, saw Bob and his companion, invited them into his 4x4, and carried them to camp. Water, food, showers, clean toilets, and the FedEx packages they had forwarded to Big Lake awaited them.
“It was like arriving in Heaven,” Bob remembers.
That visit turned into something special. With Bob’s generous donation, Big Lake began constructing a new building, specially designed for PCT hikers to rest and rejuvenate. The building includes a welcome room, internet service, battery charging, kitchen, laundry, showers, toilets, a place to dry clothes, pick up packages, and send letters home. And all the cool fresh water they’ll need.
Monday, June 18th, at 11:00AM, the new Pacific Crest Trail Welcome Center was dedicated with free kettle corn, speeches from PCT Association, hikers, US Forest Service rangers, Chamber of Commerce leaders, and representatives from several of the 28+ financial sponsors who have made the building a reality, including Diamond sponsor Dutch Bros Coffee.
“Our first two hikers arrived right after the ceremony,” says Vineta, the camp staff member who is also the PCT Welcome Center concierge. “Paul and Million, from Florida and Germany. Numbers one and two. There will be hundreds more before the first snow.”
“This is ministry,” says Oregon Conference President Dan Linrud. “Trail evangelism done well.”
Read more about the grand opening and see more photos from the Pacfic Crest Trail Association...