In October 2016, Trinity International University (TIU) was bequeathed the Camp Timber-lee property and operations. The Memorandum of Understanding between TIU and Timber-lee states that the University is required to maintain the “current programming and operations for up to two years after an agreement has been signed. Long-range programming and operational plans will be contingent upon financial viability.”
Unfortunately, such viability has not materialized. There has been a $2.8M cumulative loss since the first full year TIU began operating Timber-lee in 2016. In fact, the Camp has had only two years in the black within the past ten years, and came to the University with an operating deficit of $400k two years in a row. While netting a profit in 2018 and 2019, the landscape of camp ministries radically changed as a result of the challenges faced during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Camp Timber-lee never recovered. Now, public schools are increasingly choosing not to partner with evangelical Christian camps; there are perpetual labor shortages; and inflation spikes are adding just another wave of disadvantageous factors. Fiscal years 2020 and 2021 witnessed the largest deficit of the Camp on record by a wide margin.
Camp Timber-lee isn’t alone in this struggle. According to the study, “Summer Camp and the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Comprehensive Report of Multiple Studies,” 68% of parents participating in the American Camp Association’s 2019 fall survey reported that their children spent time at overnight camps in that year. However, in 2020, only 7.5% of parents reported that their children attended overnight camp. This decrease in camp attendance of 61.5% due to the pandemic has of course led to camps losing a huge amount of revenue. Operations are now in the red for a great many camps across the U.S., and as a result, these camps have had to make the hard decisions to cut staff and programming activities, while others have had to shut down permanently. Despite the pandemic waning with most business operations returning to normal over the past 1.5 years, camps are still trying to overcome the economic loss they experienced in 2020.
Trinity International University has also faced its own challenges such as declining enrollments, reduced market share, and dwindling endowments for more than a decade. In response to these circumstances, Trinity is shifting the focus of Trinity College and Trinity Graduate School. Today, the University has announced to its constituents that all of its programs attached to these two schools will move to an exclusively online modality, thereby ceasing traditional, face-to-face instruction at the College and Graduate School at the end of the 2023 Spring Semester. This will ensure that the University can more fully invest in its global impact, while also bolstering its calling to provide unparalleled theological and legal education at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Trinity Law School, along with several other educational initiatives worldwide.
At Trinity we are sharpening our mission focus, and the Board of Regents had to make the difficult decision that as valuable as the Timber-lee ministry may be, it does not tightly align with Trinity’s distinctive mission of “educating men and women” for the sake of the gospel. Nor is Trinity International University any longer in a position to absorb the kind of risk incurred by the Camp since it was bequeathed in 2016.
Therefore, it is with great sadness that today I announce the permanent closure of Camp Timber-lee after the final week of its winterXtreme program, effective March 5. The University’s Board of Regents has adjudicated matters on behalf of the Camp since it was gifted, and they saw no other path forward in the wake of business and revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which only compounded the challenges it already faced in recent years. Our love for Timber-lee’s mission makes the decision to close the Camp especially hard. But the financial risks and liabilities associated with maintaining the Camp’s operations have now far exceeded the University’s ability to subsidize it.
Part of the process and timing of this closure is also bound up in how we care for those directly affected by this decision. While respecting Trinity’s current policy requiring a minimum of five years of employment to be eligible for severance, we desire to extend support to the Timber-lee staff and will grant each employee severance no matter how long they’ve worked at the Camp. Bonus pay will also be given based on the need for any staff to stay on at the Camp after the March closure through a predetermined time frame.
We don’t enter the shut down of this ministry lightly, and we hope you’ll pray with and for the entire Camp Timber-lee community through this process. We’re so grateful for all who have supported, visited, patronized, and advocated for Camp Timber-lee’s outdoor ministry, facilities, and grounds over the past 75 years. This includes me and my wife Camie as we have witnessed the impact of God’s grace in the lives of campers, including our two young godchildren, whom we have sent to Timber-lee for the past several years.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].
Grace and peace,
Nicholas Perrin, PhD
Trinity International University