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Slipping and sliding into fun at Bricelyn’s Prairie River

Camp’s new water slide promises to make a big splash this summer

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Jun 27, 2021

Prairie River campers smile for a picture at the peak of the water slide. The newly installed built-in sprays shower them with water, which will give them a slippery ride down to the bottom.

Despite its remote location on 63 beautiful acres of land near Bricelyn, Prairie River Camp is all about community and connection. As their recent addition of a Slip ‘N Slide-style water slide shows, they are also all about fun! 

Affiliated with Youth for Christ, Prairie River Camp is a faith-oriented facility that seeks to enhance the lives and spiritualities of visitors through community connection and through time spent in the outdoors.

Camp director Peter Coffey frames the camp’s design as “programming with a purpose.”

“Everything we do leads to a purpose,” explains Coffey. “We are experiencing fun, but pointed in a spiritual direction.”

Visitors to Prairie River are indeed offered a variety of ways to experience fun. The grounds offer a ropes course, climbing wall, mud volleyball, paintball, and the newly-added water slide.

The activities are not just for fun, however. Coffey clarifies, “The activities are trying to teach a deeper lesson. They encourage campers to think about what it means to have faith and trust.”  

For example, paintball becomes a lesson in grace when followed by a discussion about how to be a gracious loser.

The ropes course is what Coffey calls a “challenge by choice.”

“You may not get to the top of the course, but you can celebrate what you did choose to achieve,” explains Coffey.

The climbing wall offers similar opportunities for celebrating personal improvement.

After they have tackled the wall, Coffey asks campers, “Did you go further than you did last time you used the wall?” This teaches campers to focus on what they can already do, rather than what they have yet to achieve.

As for the famous new water slide? Coffey considers the slide a metaphor for the gift of grace.

“We will usually start with a game of mud volleyball,” says Coffey. “The campers get nasty, then they come to the water slide to get washed off.”

According to Coffey, the cleansing process teaches campers a meaningful lesson.

“It shows that grace is a free gift,” explains Coffey. “The campers don’t have to do anything to get washed off. The slide does it for them. Grace is the same way.”

Much like many features of the Prairie River Camp, the idea for the water slide originated from the community.

Dell Lutheran Church, a local church in Frost, was looking for a new place to host their traditional mud volleyball matches. Prairie River partnered with Dell to host the matches, but struggled to find the best location for the water slide, an integral final step to the experience.

“We tried a couple locations, but there wasn’t a ‘wow’ factor for the campers,” explains Coffey. “We have an unused sledding hill, though, that we decided to turn into the water slide.”

The slide’s most successful feature, perhaps, is built-in sprays that keep a constant flow of water down the slide. Coffey explains this is better for the environment.

“Because we have built-in sprays, we don’t need to use soap to make the slide slippery,” says Coffey.

The new water slide’s history demonstrates hallmarks of Prairie River’s values, including involvement with the community and environmental consciousness.

A tour of Prairie River reveals consistent evidence of community involvement.

For example, a large portion of the grounds proudly displays a sea of waving cornstalks. It is an unusual sight amongst the traditional cabins of a summer camp.

“We don’t do anything with the corn,” explains Coffey. “It is entirely taken care of by a farmer who donates his time and the proceeds from the crops to the camp.”

Coffey feels positive interactions with the community such as this are integral to Prairie River’s purpose.

“We want community members to have a sense of ownership when they are involved with the camp,” explained Coffey.

The community, of course, includes the campers themselves. Coffey observes several different types of individuals who attend Prairie River’s winter and summer camps. Some are hesitant when they come, some come with uncertainty but leave with a new sense of faith, and some come to reaffirm their spirituality.

However, Coffey has a central goal for all participants.

“I want kids to go back to their families more complete than when they left,” says Coffey.

Many campers seem to leave not only more complete, but ready for more experiences at Prairie River.

According to Coffey, about 50 percent of campers return every year. Many campers also choose to train as staff members when they get older.

The COVID-19 pandemic did bring some challenges for Coffey and his staff, however. Coffey shares, “There was a lot of frustration for returning campers. Prairie River is one of their favorite places, and not being able to have the community they’re used to was difficult.”

Changes that the camp needed to make included smaller group sizes of 25 campers and the elimination of large group activities. The camp staff also performed extensive cleaning duties.

“The staff cleaned every building three times a day,” says Coffey. “No one knew exactly how the virus spread, so we were being cautious.”

Despite the exhaustion of maintaining safety procedures and the uncertainty, Coffey also shares some positive outcomes of the pandemic.

“We had time to finish reconstruction on a building,” says the camp director, “and we were blessed with several grants to do so.”

Coffey also shares through activities in smaller groups, campers were able to build strong relationships.

Relationship building is a central part to the camp, and is also important to Coffey personally.

“The community here is very accepting,” says Coffey, when asked about the impact Prairie River has had upon his life.

“My wife and I have built some amazingly quick and strong relationships. We feel like this is a place where we belong.” Coffey adds, “It’s pretty amazing.”