In the winter of 1921, a group of young people of the Prineville, Redmond, Bend, and Madras Methodist Churches met in Redmond to consider the possibility of starting an Epworth League Institute. The result was the first annual Suttle Lake Institute, which was held July 31 – August 6, 1922 under the auspices of the Central Oregon Methodist Young People’s Association. The registration fee for those attending camp was a dollar. Participants brought their own camping equipment and groceries. The group camped by the lakeshore at the point where Lake Creek flows from Suttle Lake.
In 1926 a special use permit was obtained from the Forest Service. At that time a small open-air dining hall and faculty cabins were built on the present campsite. The work was done largely by the volunteer labor of young adults from Madras and Bend.
With the building of modern highways, young people from Willamette Valley began to flock to Suttle Lake and attendance increased and reached 300 in 1945.
In 1947 the farsighted leadership of Mr. Fredrick T. Martin a building was constructed with a vastly expanded use in mind. The building was not only a dining hall, but also a lodge with a full basement providing activity room for recreation, education, meetings, and dormitory space. This lodge became known as Pioneer Lodge. Workers on strike from the mills in Bend contributed greatly to the construction of the lodge.
Cabins were built through the 40’s and 50’s establishing two “villages” each with ten cabins. Surrounding community and churchmen’s groups built a cabin each weekend a group was available until all 20 were complete.
In the 1970’s a major transition was underway nationwide among camp leaders – a realization that outdoor ministries needed program directors that could also manage site facilities in order to meet the challenges of the times and the anticipations for the future. In 1978, Bob Cagle was appointed as the first Director / Manager at Suttle Lake and thereby ending the days when it sufficed to just have a year-round caretaker on site.
In 1979 plans for a new retreat center and apartment for housing an assistant manager were under way. Wesley Meadow Lodge was completed in 1981. A Director’s Residence was completed in 1991, expanding the possibilities of staff housing beyond the apartments in Pioneer and Wesley Meadows.
Over the years the camp has built relationships with many community organizations and groups – hosting church groups from a variety of denominations, schools, and other community groups. Now the camp partners with area non-profits to offer nearly 80 different retreats in addition to the 30 year-round Christian programs already offered at Suttle Lake. Working with these non-profits allows the church to engage and empower these enriching our community and world.
Special arrangements with a few organizations deserve mention here. The Crook County School District has continued a strong tradition of weeklong outdoor schools since May of 1957 still providing instruction in forestry, plant studies, wildlife, creative writing, water quality analysis, and survival skills. They call the week of Suttle Lake “Camp Chinquapin”. Each year the participating classes have planted a tree or bush on the campgrounds.
Other well-known groups that count on Suttle Lake for hospitality include Redmond Hospice (Camp Sunrise), St. Charles Medical Center (Soaring Spirits – family cancer survivor camp), Janus Youth program – residential programs for at-risk youth, Oregon Fish and Wildlife – for their program “Becoming an Outdoor Woman”, the Oregon Lung Association – statewide camp for children with asthma, and the House of Umoja – a camp experience for young men in an Afro-centric transition program in Northeast Portland.
Suttle Lake, initially a United Methodist camp, has joined forces several times with other denominations to better serve Protestants in Oregon, including Presbyterians and Episcopalians. The Presbytery of the Cascades used to operate a camp on USFS land at Santiam Lodge. When that was no longer possible, a long-term agreement was entered into with the United Methodist Church at Suttle Lake and our sister camp Magruder. These camps continue to be home to all Presbyterians in central Oregon and the Willamette Valley areas today.
In 2008, after the sale of Triangle Lake, the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon entered into a full partnership with the United Methodist Church and now offer cooperative programs together.