YMCA cuts affecting Camp Menogyn and Camp Widjiwagan cause controversy

Tony Kennedy, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Outdoors

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hundreds of donors and volunteers who support camping at YMCA of the North are voicing angst and anger over a COVID-19-related financial decision to fire top managers at half of the Y's eight camps.

Glen Gunderson, chief executive president of the nonprofit association, has successfully allayed some fears that the YMCA could be losing interest in camping. But his strong reassurances haven't ended the controversy. At least one prominent camp is publicly revolting and trying to undo the change.

"I'm concerned about the future of YMCA camping and in particular the future of YMCA wilderness camping," said Katy Hargis, a former chairwoman of the Camp Menogyn Community Board.

Taylor Fay, current chairman of Menogyn's all-volunteer community board, said he believes YMCA brass in Minneapolis is committed to camping as a core, long-term mission.

But supporters of Menogyn, in particular, want the Y to reverse the decision that has left the 98-year-old camp sharing an executive director with Camp Widjiwagan on Burntside Lake in Ely. Menogyn and "Widji" serve as the backbone of wilderness camping and adventure trips at YMCA of the North, formerly known as YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. The four camp executive directors who lost their jobs were fired, not furloughed.

"I'm certainly frustrated with this decision and the situation we're in," Fay said Friday. "But I'm hopeful in the direction we are going now."


He said Gunderson has been engaged in good-faith talks with Menogyn's supporters in looking for a solution. But as Fay noted, the talks can't take place in a vacuum because the staff cuts have affected all eight YMCA of the North camps in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

At Hennepin County's Camp Ihduhapi on Lake Independence, for example, YMCA brass yanked the executive director and assigned her duties to the executive director, who remains in charge of Camp Warren on Half Moon Lake near Eveleth, 200 miles away. The restructuring happened in late July.

"I think other camps are concerned," Fay said. "Everyone is worried."

Camp Menogyn, which hosts upward of 600 teen campers in a normal year, is located 45 miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais. There are no roads to the camp itself; you have to cross West Bearskin Lake to get there.


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