Waltman Lake


Photo by Michelle Hofman

Any student of Calvin College has probably been invited to one retreat or another. Dorm retreats might be the most common, but there are many student organizations and teams who also hold retreats for their members. These retreats have a common destination: Waltman Lake.

When people think of Calvin, they think of the main school campus. But if you reach 40 miles further, you’ll find the 319 acres that make up Camp Waltman Lake, which is also part of the campus. The forest, lakes, meadows, trails, wetlands, cabins, campsites, barns and lodges on the property are available as a retreat area for the students. A long dirt road leads up to the main lodge, and the sprawling grounds around a serene lake that offer the perfect getaway to stressed college students. According to an article by Myrna Anderson in “Spark” from 2012, “Students, faculty, staff and friends of Calvin are are able to reserve the cabins, campsites and main lodge for a small fee.”

The same article tells us that Waltman Lake has been a part of Calvin since 2010. The camp was formerly known as Brook Cherith Camp, originally a Christian haven for children between the ages of 7 to 18. It came to the attention of the college through alumna Leigha Oberle ’11. Oberle was serving on the camp’s board when the nonprofit association that owned it decided to pass it on. She thought that Calvin would be a good fit to take ownership and would care for the land. One condition of the transfer was that the lake would continue to bear the name “Waltman,” after camp board president and camp supporter Norman Waltman.

The lake has seen 40 years of summer camp activity, though it was in disuse before Calvin came in possession of it. “Carpet was old, paint was peeling, buildings were deteriorating, the tetherball was flat. Beaver dams clogged the stream and choked off the flow of water into the lake. A colony of flying squirrels had taken up residence in the walls of the main lodge,” says Myrna Anderson. The article goes on to say that 11 refrigerators, eight sofa beds and three semi-trailers stuffed with construction debris were found by Calvin’s physical plant staff, as well as four dilapidated camping trailers scattered around the property. It was clear that renovation of the property would be quite the task. That was about six years ago.

The camp has been completely transformed over the years. The beaver dams have been cleared out. The tether ball is pumped up and ready for use. The two-story main lodge has been repainted, recarpeted, re-sided and re-windowed. The once dilapidated deck around the main lodge has been ripped out and replaced with a larger and more expanded version. The flue liner in the chimney, which had been cracked by a lightning strike, has been restored. Mold has been eradicated. All the lodges have been furnished with bunks, chairs and other items like the ones from Calvin’s residence halls. A playground has been set up that many a college student has swung on, climbed on and has taken the opportunity to go down the slide.

The main lodge is interestingly decorated with antiques, such as wooden sleds hanging on the walls, an old saw positioned above the fireplace and bear traps draped along the side of the mantle. There are also books to read on the table next to the fireplace that include a psalter hymnal as well as a book entitled “Left Behind.” The whole place has a very rustic, cabin in the woods aura around it.

Also included in the main lodge is a large industrial kitchen, complete with dishes and cooking equipment. It is large enough to cook full meals for large groups, and has most anything you might need to prepare a meal, as long as you bring the food. It even has an impressive collection of miscellaneous coffee mugs among the shelves of dishes and utensils.

The basement of the main lodge has a rec hall feel to it with ping pong and pool tables. There are two bedrooms down there, one with a single bunk bed and the other with four bunk beds as well as two single beds. There is also a room that is completely taken up by spare mattresses. The fact that the furniture is taken from Calvin dorms reminds you that you are not fully removed from the college experience.

Other notable aspects of the camp can be viewed with a walk of the path that encircles the lake. One might come across the somewhat known “Tree of Soles,” a large tree to which many visitors to the lake have donated their shoes by tying the laces and lobbing them up to rest among the branches. It is a kind of unspoken tradition that shoes should be added to the branches at every visit. There is also a bridge along the path around the lake that has a sign announcing that it was “Built by B.B.C. maintenance men, 1996” that has presented a kind of mystery to visitors. Farther past the bridge is the boat house, where there are many kayaks that can be used during the warmer months of the year.

Any student that has stayed at Waltman Lake has good things to say about the experience. Some juniors shared their thoughts about the experience they had at the camp: “The beds were the comfiest beds I have ever slept on,” remembers junior Maddie Hughey.

“The lake is beautiful, especially when the sun is setting,” commented junior Victor Lynde.

“I just really loved how quiet and peaceful the space was. It was such a great place to relax, be outside and be at peace during the craziness of the semester,” junior, Kerri DeVries recalled.

“I really enjoyed walking around the lake and exploring the walkways and the woods around the water. The industrial kitchen was also a very nice place to cook and hang out with friends during a calm weekend,” said junior Courtney Zonnefeld.

Calvin offers something unique to its students with Waltman Lake. It’s a place that is still part of the school and readily available to student groups, yet gives the impression of being distanced from the business that college life often entails. Camp Waltman Lake offers a retreat for all.