Brad Johnson column
Life is full of surprises and COVID-19 has created more unexpected events than most people can imagine.
This is certainly true for Joy Nelson, a local real estate developer and the visionary behind Joy Ranch, a nearly $ 12 million prairie town in the 1880s that provided a variety of camps and programs primarily focused on people with struggles. to physical challenges.
She had no idea that the COVID forced closure of Joy Ranch last summer and again this year Lutheran Outdoors, South Dakota, would end its operation and ownership of Joy Ranch for more than 10 years.
In a press release earlier this week, the Lutheran Outdoors Board of Directors said that “while a beautiful site with many amenities (Joy Ranch) does not fit our operating model of seasonal camping departments in the open. air”.
So, divestiture plans were made and Lutheran Outdoors contacted Nelson, who in turn recruited a group of prominent local philanthropists who helped form South Dakota’s Joy Ranch, a 501-C3 organization based in Watertown.
Nelson, who previously donated his 107-acre ranch northwest of Watertown to Lutheran Outdoors, will now oversee the transfer of land and buildings this fall to the new non-denominational foundation.
“Joy Ranch of South Dakota wants to assure all visitors, participants and donors to Joy Ranch that the mission as originally presented will most certainly continue with the new entity in addition to yet more programs for quality issues. people’s lives, “Nelson said in a prepared press release.
Lutheran Outdoors plans to operate Joy Ranch this summer, but no camps are planned. “Anything that’s already booked – family reunions, weddings – will continue,” Nelson said.
The year round nature of Joy Ranch was a struggle for Lutheran Outdoors.
“Over the years, the religious camp market has continued to evolve, making it more difficult for Lutheran Outdoors to maintain and operate multiple camps,” the LOSD press release said. “Three of our camps have defined summer seasons, which can be staffed accordingly, with shoulder seasons in the spring and fall for church groups and family retreats.”
COVID, which forced all camps to be canceled last year, has also been a major financial drain for Lutheran Outdoors.
“Given our need to be good stewards of limited resources, we believe it is best to seek out another entity to operate Joy Ranch that can more broadly define its program offerings and make them successful and sustainable across the board. ‘to come up.”
It will be the work of Nelson and nine other community leaders on the board of directors who will oversee the new Operation Joy Ranch.
While the contracts for the transfer of ownership between the two nonprofits have been signed, it will take several months for everything to be transferred to the new foundation, Nelson said.
Once ownership changes hands, contact details will be provided to donors and the public and staff, volunteers and donors will be sought.
An endowment is also being set up for the Watertown Area Community Foundation and those interested in supporting the facility immediately are encouraged to donate to this fund.
The group will also need to develop a “good volunteer base,” said Nelson, so people with “the skills and the time should get involved.”
In early 2000, when Nelson had her initial vision of turning her horse pasture overlooking Lyle Lake into a camp, she knew there were approximately 25,000 people with physical issues within driving distance of Watertown.
But Joy Ranch was designed to be more than just a summer camp for kids. Various events are essential to its success. Nelson said the new board has a variety of new programs being discussed.
Both LOSD and Nelson were positive about the future.
Lutheran Outdoors said he “is proud to have partnered with Joy Nelson and her generous vision of this beautiful property which increases the quality of life for all who gather.” He added that he was confident that Nelson and the new nonprofit “would be successful in the future and faithfully honor his many supporters.”
Nelson also praised Lutheran Outdoors for his hard work in bringing the camp to this point. Whatever twists and turns on the road, Nelson said she knows big things are ahead.
Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in national and local affairs.