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The Camp Rainbow Gold organization purchased the 172-acre Soldier Mountain Ranch and Resort, above, and is now working to develop the site to suit its needs.

Camp Rainbow Gold may soon be pulling up stakes for Camas County, but it’s depending on its longtime home for help.  

The group unveiled its $14.5 million plan for a 172-acre campus during an open house at the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum on Tuesday, showcasing “Hidden Paradise,” its future home north of Fairfield, for Blaine County residents to see—and support.

If the money comes in, the camp, which caters to kids and families battling pediatric cancer, hopes to relocate from Cathedral Pines north of Ketchum to the new property in 2022. And, the money is already coming in, according to Executive Director Elizabeth Lizberg. An anonymous donor has covered the cost of the land, around $1.1 million, she said, and a yet-unnamed organization has committed some $2 million to build an on-site medical center.

The health facility, slated to replace the hard-worn trailer that accompanies the camp now, is one of three lynchpins Rainbow Gold needs to host families. Next, it needs a dining hall, which doubles as the camp’s social hub, and bunk houses for guests.

Once built, Camp Rainbow Gold will be able to accommodate more families, and stay open for more sessions. That’s the main reason behind it’s protracted push for a permanent site, Lizberg said. During its most recent session, the camp was able to handle 15 of the 32 families that applied. The new site will house up to 28 families at a time. And, owning the place outright allows Camp Rainbow Gold to operate for more weeks during the year. Cathedral Pines is booked tight during the summer, which caps the camp’s capacity against growing demand.

When not in session, Camp Rainbow Gold plans to lease the ranch out to other like-minded groups, including Ketchum’s Higher Ground, “to keep Hidden Paradise financially viable,” Marketing Manager KC Covert told the Idaho Mountain Express. (Rainbow Gold won’t operate or manage camps for other groups.)

For a long time, viability alone was hard enough for Camp Rainbow Gold, according to its founder, Dr. David McClusky.

“It was always a challenge, keeping it going,” he said.

Increasing operations was a pipe dream—and, sadly, not necessary. When it started almost 35 years ago, it would lose about 30 percent of campers year over year, McClusky said. Medicine has improved so much that such losses are rare these days. And between return visits, and the population boom around Boise, McClusky sees a need to open the camp up to more kids, facing different challenges.

“There are so many populations that need support, and can use the foundation of what camp gives to children,” he said. “You look at these children, and what their needs are—so much of what we do has more to do with mental health than physical health.

“And, there’s no better place to heal than in the mountains.”

Initially, Camp Rainbow Gold thought that would mean the mountains of Blaine County. Tuesday’s open house came more than a year-and-a-half after the camp gave up efforts to establish a 260-acre campus along the East Fork of the Big Wood River.

That site was immediately entangled in challenges from neighbors on East Fork Road, resulting in some 15 months of proceedings before the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the Blaine County commissioners to get a conditional-use permit for development. Ultimately, the board determined that the plan ran afoul of county code, and in a 2-1 vote denied the camp’s application to develop the site.

So far, Camas County has been more accommodating, Lizberg said. And, locals are on board. Around 100 turned out for an open house in Fairfield, and some residents have already begun volunteering on site. The former resort has infrastructure in place, but it’s not a turn-key fix. Pretty much everything needs an overhaul before the buildout, in 2021, Lizberg said. The four-year punch-list is extensive. Item No. 5 for 2019? “Bat remediation.”

That’s the kind of thing Lizberg is raising money for now. Despite the move across the county line, she’s sure she can rely on the camp’s historic home for support.

“Blaine County helped us build our foundation,” she said. “We have a lot of great friends in the Wood River Valley, and they’re telling us they’re coming along.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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