Telling Our Story;

Since the beginning in 1946, Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds has been a place of renewal where guests meet the Creator in His Creation. For more than seven decades, the vision has been for guests to enjoy a Christian camping experience that brings “renewal in the redwoods”. Today, we strive to provide “Service as Tall as Our Trees” through which our guests experience God’s love.

Today over 32,000 guests each year cross what we’ve coined our “bridge to life”. Sonoma Canopy Tours welcomes an additional 25,000 guests per year. How was such notable success achieved? How did the ministry of Alliance Redwoods begin? Who partnered with God to overcome obstacles? What miracles were essential to reach this point in our 70-year history?

Cesspools were dug by hand, and the first septic tank was built out of redwood lumber. Electricity flowed through old wire donated by Oakland Neighborhood Church and strung from tree to tree. No cabins were built, so campers slept in tents. Just days before the first guests arrived for summer camp, Reverend Yaggy, three other pastors, and the District Superintendent worked to dam a spring on the property to try to fill a water tank placed near the tabernacle. After the first night of camp they discovered there was not enough pressure to flush toilets or fill kitchen sinks. Something had to be done, but it would have to wait. Camp had started, and volunteers worked 16 hour days to serve guests. The following summer, during family camp, the guests donated hundreds of dollars for a pressure system which was installed the very next evening.

 

About those early years, Reverend Yaggy said: “The septic system gave us endless trouble year after year.” One worker recalled those being happy days. He said: “We felt it necessary to work hard and do our part to help bring about the beautiful, relaxing camp facilities we have at Alliance Redwoods today.”

Did you know? A.W. Tozer spoke at the 1947 summer conference and his lodging was a tent not far from the newly installed leaning and creaking water tank. He recalled that he didn’t sleep well constantly wondering when the deluge might begin.

Employees Advance the Vision (1960-1969)

During the first decade there was no paid labor—only volunteers with a vision. In the early years, individuals built their own cottages. In 1949, volunteers built the first camp lodgings. Later that year, Alliance Redwoods borrowed $8,000 to build Madrone Lodge.

 

Paid employees could certainly better advance the vision, but there was no money for them. In 1964, Lee Milligan was asked to live on site and serve as the first Camp Manager.

 

His salary was a place to live on site. His dwelling was an old cabin that was upgraded before his wife would join him.

 

In 1965, Alliance Redwoods faced an ultimatum from Sonoma County: “The grace period is over. Replace the kitchen and dining room or board them up. They are not fit to be used again as is.”With only $117 in the treasury, how would the camp come up with the $50,000 needed to rebuild? Other pressing needs included new restrooms, a new water tank, and recreation space.

 

That same year, Loren Berry cleared trees from the area that is now Forest Village and paid the camp $10,000 for the timber he harvested. That sum combined with a loan helped pay for the new kitchen and dining room which opened for use in the summer of 1966 and was dedicated to Paul Duckworth, a contractor who was instrumental in the reconstruction.

 

In 1967, Ralph Rhoads was hired as the first Executive Director, and he was the first paid employee. He lived on site with his wife and three children in a one bedroom cabin with wood heating. The camp’s first paid maintenance man, Robert Collburn, was provided with similar housing for his family.

 

Rhoads hired a summer staff for the first time in 1968, and he established music camps led by professionals from the Simpson College (now Simpson University) music department. Rhoads also suggested the camp be winterized and used all year round for greater ministry opportunities.

 

The winterizing would cost thousands of dollars that the camp did not have. Constant is the struggle between the desire to advance the ministry and the need to pay for any advancement.

 

In 1968, the Central Pacific District of the C&MA appointed Alliance Redwoods’ first Board of Trustees including key supporters and volunteers: Loren Berry, Paul Curry, Reverend Loren Jack, Wilbur Johnston, Nate Kinser, Ray McIntosh, Reverend Carl Measell, Don Swift, and Reverend Richard Taylor.
Building Invites Guests (1970-1979)
During the first decade there was no paid labor—only volunteers with a vision. In the early years,individuals built their own cottages. In 1949, volunteers built the first camp lodgings. Later that year, Alliance Redwoods borrowed $8,000 to build Madrone Lodge.
Paid employees could certainly better advance the vision, but there was no money for employees. In 1964, Lee Milligan was asked to live on site and serve as the first Camp Manager. His salary was a place to live on site. His dwelling was an old cabin that was upgraded before his wife would join him.
In 1965, Alliance Redwoods faced an ultimatum from Sonoma County: “The grace period is over. Replace the kitchen and dining room or board them up. They are not fit to be used again as is.” With only $117 in the treasury, how would the camp come up with the $50,000 needed to rebuild? Other pressing needs included new restrooms, a new water tank, and recreation space.
That same year, Loren Berry cleared trees from the area that is now Forest Village and paid the camp $10,000 for the timber he harvested. That sum combined with a loan helped pay for the new kitchen and dining room which opened for use in the summer of 1966 and was dedicated to Paul Duckworth, a contractor who was instrumental in the reconstruction.
In 1967, Ralph Rhoads was hired as the first Executive Director, and he was the first paid employee. He lived on site with his wife and three children in a one bedroom cabin with wood heating. The camp’s first paid maintenance man, Robert Collburn, was provided with similar housing for his family.
Rhoads hired a summer staff for the first time in 1968, and he established music camps led by professionals from the Simpson College (now Simpson University) music department. Rhoads also suggested the camp be winterized and used all year round for greater ministry opportunities. The winterizing would cost thousands of dollars that the camp did not have. Constant is the struggle between the desire to advance the ministry and the need to pay for any advancement.
In 1968, the Central Pacific District of the C&MA appointed Alliance Redwoods’ first Board of Trustees including key supporters and volunteers: Loren Berry, Paul Curry, Reverend Loren Jack, Wilbur Johnston, Nate Kinser, Ray McIntosh, Reverend Carl Measell, Don Swift, and Reverend Richard Taylor.
In 1973, you could almost count the number of staff members on your fingers. Five full-time couples served with two full-time men and three part-time staff. The first full-time Food Service Manager and Construction Manager were hired in the early 70s. Today Alliance Redwoods & Sonoma Canopy Tours employ 135 staff.
The Construction Manager, Nate Kinser, and the new Executive Director, Richard Allen, did much of the labor in upgrading the facility and thereafter supervised the crew in the extensive upgrading of the facility, completing the proposed master plan for the 70s. Allen retired the tent frame cabins and threw out the old musty mattresses.
Did you know? Those mattresses were first used on the Queen Mary. The used mattresses were given to Alliance Redwoods when the Queen Mary was renovated in the 1960’s
Building for Guests (1980-1989)
In recent decades, when schools or church groups consider coming to Alliance Redwoods, they consider how the cost compares to the quality of these four things: lodging, programming, amenities, and food. The 80s were a time of building for growth in these four aspects of the camping experience.

 

Many lodges were built in the 80s, which significantly boosted the potential to house more guests. Big Rock Lodge was completed and dedicated to the Berry family in 1980. Alderwood and Berrypatch were built, five more private cabins were purchased, and Creekside and Canyon Cottage were remodeled. Four teepee platforms were added to Indian Village (now Pineknot Village). The Outdoor Education Program began in May of 1982, and the first ropes course was installed before the end of the decade. New amenities like the Ballfield, children’s play area, and the Recreation Barn (which is now the Memorial Building) were all built during the 1980s and added to the curb appeal of Alliance Redwoods. The Marriot Corporation began providing food service for the camp in 1989.

 

The Executive Director, Jim Sellers, launched a development plan called The Design of the Decade to raise $200,000 for these improvements. He appealed to his fellow believers in writing: “Since 1946, Alliance Redwoods has grown from a rustic summer camp to a year-round facility where many missionaries, pastors, and Christian lay persons have made their commitment to Christ. In the past, dedicated Christians have given much to make Alliance Redwoods what it is today. Now we are called to follow their [lead by] serving our generation for Christ.”
Did you know? The official mailing address for the camp was changed to Occidental, California during the 1980s.
Declining: Reinvest or Divest (2000-2009)

The decade began with key hires for the executive team and record-setting numbers. Ken Kinser, Nate Kinser’s son, was hired as the Director of Operations in 2000, and in 2003, Bruce Wohlert was hired as the Business Director. Alliance Redwoods set attendance records each year from 2000 to 2004. In 2001, over 22,000 guests were served—an Alliance Redwoods first! By 2004, the occupancy rate reached 47%, and the annual budget exceeded three million.

In 2002, Abby Abrahams and Mervyn Coetzee launched Camp South Africa (CSA), and the same year Outdoor Education celebrated 20 years.

Multiple facility improvements were made including the repainting of buildings, a new 5,000-gallon water tank, skate park, and volleyball court. Strong attendance allowed the camp to pay off about one million dollars of its long-term debt. Still, the need for long-deferred expensive infrastructure maintenance loomed. How long could the camp delay these essential renovations with record numbers of guests using the camp? In 2001, the camp spent $40,000 on septic system repairs, but much more was needed to restore the deterioration of 60 years in every part of the camp. By 2005, the decline of the infrastructure was matched by the decline in attendance and revenue. In 2007, the camp endured water, electric, and septic system failures. The main bridge to camp was dry-rotted. Sonoma County pressed the camp to make repairs. With no cash reserves and all lines of credit spent, Alliance Redwoods teetered on the brink of insolvency. In 2008, Jim Blake declared, “We need a miracle.” Would Alliance Redwoods be forced to close after 62 years of ministry?

In this crisis, the Board of Trustees and the executive team sought God’s guidance as they discussed the camp’s future. The board called on Ron Mattocks, an expert consultant in non- profit management. In his analysis, he summarized: “The biggest error of camps is to delay or live in denial. The issues are real and the depreciation is severe, potentially catastrophic. God will provide, but part of His provision is the intellectual capacity to make prudent decisions that build long-term sustainability.”

After months of consideration a decision had to be made. The board and executive team decided to take a faith-filled risk to reinvest! Alliance Redwoods would request a huge loan—over seven million dollars—from the Alliance Development Fund (ADF) to rejuvenate the facility and the ministry. A five-year business plan was presented to the ADF over the course of two days. The plan outlined a zone of solvency through lowering prices to increase bookings, optimizing peak dates, expanding the Outdoor Education Program, and creating new revenue streams. An ADF representative stated: “You already have three strikes against you. The largest default ever on an ADF loan was an Alliance Camp. The funds at the ADF are low. Your request for seven million dollars is the largest request we have received to date.” On top of this, during the presentation, a staff member knocked on the door to report that due to a recent septic system failure, the county was giving the camp 90 days to fix the problem.

Still, against all odds, on May 21, 2009, the ADF voted 17-0 to approve a 7.5 million dollar loan to revitalize Alliance Redwoods! God opened the door to reinvest in and rejuvenate the ministry of Alliance Redwoods. With the loan approved, extensive improvements began with no essential part of camp neglected: A new basketball court was installed in the main part of camp. New walkways, roads, and decks were added around the camp. A handful of buildings were remodeled; the Main Building was remodeled from the offices to the Dining Hall. The Operations Director, Larry Birch, was instrumental in the major changes to the Dining Hall as it looks today. A handful of buildings were also remodeled. The old Fire Circle was transformed into an amphitheater. A new septic system was installed. Pineknot Village and The Slab were built. The gym was outfitted to convert to a Performing Arts Center (which is known as the PAC). Turf was added on the Ballfield, and new Challenge Courses were built. The camp-wide improvements invigorated the guests’ experience and kept them returning to Alliance Redwoods.

During the crisis point of 2008, the idea of Sonoma Canopy Tours (SCT) was planted. While seeking the loan, the executive team was researching new programs that could generate new revenues. Bruce Wohlert discovered zip line canopy tours while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and God revealed that a recreational and educational canopy tour through the redwoods was symbiotic with Alliance Redwoods’ goals and tourism in Sonoma County. Opening a canopy tour was a key strategy in the five-year business plan to fund the renovations.

Recent Changes

In 2016, Bruce Wohlert retired as Business Director after 13 years. Before he left he stated, “When I began at Alliance Redwoods in 2003, it reminded me of a mom-and-pop type organization with bubble gum and duck tape holding the works together. Now the camp has made a 180-degree turn. Today, this organization is stable and financially strong with over 100 employees. I consider my work here—bringing in Sonoma Canopy Tours and helping Alliance Redwoods become solvent—as my best life achievements.”

Later in 2016, Dave Phillippy was contracted to serve on a transition team as Director of Operations. Dan Erickson was hired to serve as the new Business Director.

Halfway through 2016, SCT celebrated the completion of the remodeled SCT Central and the installation of (yet another) septic system designed to handle higher volume levels as our guest counts continue to rise. Most of all we are celebrating God’s faithfulness through 70 years of Christian camping and hospitality.

Jim Blake looks back over his 18 years here and writes: “Although the journey has been nerve-wracking, stressful, and fraught with both spiritual and physical attacks, I can attest to God’s faithful hand of provision and blessing. In recent years we have overcome contractor challenges, a deadly accident in the parking lot, a small building fire, obstacles from Sonoma County officials, and the demands of rapid growth. Despite that, I am blown away by the turn-around and momentum this organization is experiencing. Alliance Redwoods should enter the second half of this decade in a very healthy condition.”