The young women who have spent weeks of their summers at Oakcrest girls camp have come and gone in the last half-century, but those who are still tied to the camp -- either through callings or their own daughters -- say the spirit remains.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the regional girls camp that now serves 94 stakes in the Salt Lake Valley. Aside from a number of cabins built, not much has changed at the out-of-the-way property located about 45 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The 82 sloping acres are still filled with the same cottonwood and aspen trees. Trails still meander, girls still hike and camp counselors still serve as temporary mothers, teachers and tour guides for young women in their formative years.

"The thing that I remember most was the spiritual feelings I had on the grounds," said Debbie Otheson, who attended Oakcrest in 1965 as a 14-year-old and now sits on the camp's planning committee. "That is hallowed ground."

In 1957, it was also much-needed and sought-after ground as the Brighton Home, which had served since 1922 as a camp for thousands of girls, had become overcrowded. It was decided at an annual banquet for stake presidents and Mutual Improvement Association presidents that an additional, permanent campsite was needed.

According to a document written by the 1958 Brighton-Woodland Committee (Oakcrest was originally called Woodland for its proximity to Woodland, Utah), it was proposed in August 1957 that the Priesthood Committee seek out an alternative camp. Two months later, the discovery of the property was announced at another meeting and by February 1958 the land had been acquired, and plans for a lodge were drawn.

By June, ground was broken at a ceremony attended by Bishops Carol Buehner and Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Presiding Bishopric. Construction on the lodge, which can hold 400 people and is still used today, began.

That first summer, 817 girls from 15 stakes attended.

"Some used bedrolls, others brought big tents, and others had tents to accommodate five or six. No matter what the organization, the one thing that prevailed was that each girl learned a lot about cooking, planning and outdoor life," the Brighton-Woodland Planning Committee document states. "Each camper was required to purchase accident insurance at the rate of 25 cents per camper."

Today, the camp accommodates some 3,200 girls per summer and serves as a supplement to ward and stake camps. It is open only to seventh- and eighth-grade girls and focuses on the Young Women values of faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, and integrity instead of the camp manual used by ward and stake camps.

"They're just starting out the teenage years," said Jan Clarke, who heads the Oakcrest committee. "We try to bolster their self-esteem. We try to teach them skills and then strengthen their testimonies,"

Testimony strengthening has always been a priority, with regular scripture study, family home evening, devotionals and classes occurring throughout the week, Clarke said. One day during the five-day-long session, girls go on a hike and then camp out overnight. It's a tradition that's been in place at least since Otheson attended in 1964. She said she doesn't remember many of the girls she went with, or the games they played, but she remembers that hike, and the testimony meeting that accompanied it, with fondness.

"I just remember the feeling that was there," she said. "I remember being amazed."

To commemorate the 50 years of Oakcrest girls camp, and the hundreds of counselors and girls who have passed through the gates, Clarke and other committee members have planned a 50th anniversary celebration on July 11, for past counselors and staff members.

"The ties are very strong here," Clarke said.

Some are flying in for the celebration. A photographer will be at the anniversary to take photos of groups of women who were one-time counselors together, and a video of the camp's history will be shown. For more information about attending the celebration, past employees can call Clarke at 942-1034 or e-mail [email protected]

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