SILVERTON — Little now remains of the camp that was tucked into the lush woods beside the Mountain Loop Highway.
Generations of children began to flock to Camp Silverton about seven decades ago. It was closed in the early 2000s, and a couple weeks back six of the nine buildings — cabins, A-frames and a mess hall — were demolished.
The site, near the town of Silverton, was at one time a U.S. Forest Service ranger station and plant nursery. It later was used as a camp for schoolchildren.
No plans have been made for the land, but it likely will become some sort of recreational area, said Colton Whitworth, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
Starting in 1908, the land along the South Fork Stillaguamish was used as the base for the Silverton Ranger District. A plant nursery also was opened at that time, but closed less than a decade later.
The ranger station stayed until 1936. The Mountain Loop Highway was built soon after, directly through the piece of land.
In 1948, an education agency that served the region took over the property and turned it into a nature camp. The U.S. Forest Service continued to own the land and still does.
Larry O’Donnell was about 10 years old at the time, and living in Everett. He and other kids would visit the site with one of the high school teachers, who would drive around town in a school bus to pick them up.
O’Donnell has spent most of his life in Everett. He’s a local historian who worked for the Everett School District for about 30 years. The former student became a teacher and principal.
He remembers fly fishing, roasting hot dogs over the campfire, and drinking straight from the streams that ran near camp.
“We just scooped up water from the river when we wanted it,” he said.
In the early 1970s, the grounds were used by elementary and high school students, plus some university students, including Laurie Baker.
He had been a teacher in Everett for a few years but was continuing his education through Western Washington University.
Eventually, the regional school district decided to stop operating the camp. Baker and others hoped Everett Public Schools would take over.
“No one else really wanted to take that challenge on,” he said. “It really was a challenge for the school district to do that when you think about it. Here you are taking over a little town.”
The change happened in 1973, and the camp became a learning center for fifth graders in the Everett School District.
Baker helped develop the curriculum. Students explored nature while practicing art and writing, and learning the history of the area.
Baker would take his students there each fall to set the tone for the school year.
He remembers one boy who had difficulties in class, but showed his outdoors skills at Camp Silverton.
“Kids who may not shine when they are sitting in their desk in the classroom can shine in another way,” Baker said.
Kathi Garcin grew up in Everett and visited the camp as a student at Jackson Elementary School. Her family didn’t go camping often, so it was a way for her to get that experience.
“It really did build my love of the outdoors,” she said.
She was a shy girl, but joined in to sing songs with the rest of the kids.
Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low went to Garfield Elementary School. He first visited Camp Silverton as a fifth-grader in the 1980s.
“This is 38 years ago, and I still remember so much of those memories like they were yesterday,” he said.
During that visit his teacher ran out from the woods covered in dirt and wearing an arm sling. He told the kids he had been attacked by a dinosaur, and that it left an egg behind.
Nearly 100 kids all went searching. After a while, Low noticed an old tree on the ground with a branch propped up against it.
“I reached my hand in there and pulled out this massive watermelon,” he said.
He and his cabin mates got to share what the teacher called the dinosaur egg.
He went back years later as a senior at Cascade High School. He learned ways to listen to his peers who may have been having dark thoughts or other mental health issues. He still uses some of those skills.
He understands why the camp had to close, but is sad that kids don’t have that experience anymore.
“I almost think we need places like Silverton now more than ever,” he said.
The district first decided to close the camp in 1997 because of maintenance costs.
Ed Bailey was the activities director at Everett High School. His career at the district spanned three decades.
He spent summers running Camp Silverton with the city’s parks department for students going into high school.
The district needed $250,000 to save the camp. Bailey and others formed a group called Save Our Silverton, or S.O.S.
They spent the summer of 1997 organizing a fundraiser. They placed donation jars at AquaSox games, sold T-shirts at schools and talked with the newspaper to spread the word.
The group reached its goal and fixed up the camp, but it didn’t last.
“It was obvious between ’98 to 2002 this was not going to have a good ending at Silverton,” Bailey said. “In 2003, when they decided to close it, it was not a surprise at all. A disappointment, but not a surprise.”
The U.S. Forest Service and other groups tried to find another agency to take it over. None were interested.