Historic Camp Gilead begins year with a ‘first’ – a 5K benefit run

  • Written by Lisa Allen

CARNATION–Camp Gilead, a local youth camp dating back to 1948, is preparing for a new season.

Camp Gilead Program Director Kimberly Mallory stands inside the chapel built by church members in the 1950s from salvaged lumber. The overhead beams came from a local bridge. Photo by Lisa Allen
A season, staffers hope, that will include more campers who would not normally be able to attend because their parents couldn’t afford to send them. To that end, the 27-acre facility tucked into a hillside overlooking the Snoqualmie River will be holding its "first" 5K Memorial Day run, a fundraiser for camp scholarships.

"We are shooting for 200 runners," said Program Director Kimberly Mallory. "The race will cost us $4,000 but already we have sponsors, businesses and charities which have donated goods. So with that we have already raised $3,000 to help cover the costs. The idea is to be able to offer more scholarships to kids who need them."

She says that in the past donations to the scholarship fund would go only so far so people would get discouraged when put on a waiting list.

"Those kids end up not coming," she said. "Increased funding will mean more kids will benefit."

Cost to attend a weeklong camp (Monday-Saturday) runs between $240 to $280 depending on the week, Mallory said, adding that last year the camp was able to help out 150 campers with scholarships.

The May 30 benefit run will begin and end at the camp. The registration fee of $25 (pre-registration) or $30 (day of race) includes a T-shirt and pancake breakfast in the camp dining hall. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Those interested can call (425) 333-4311 or visit

Another "first" for the camp this year is currently being installed – a new water system.

"We couldn’t have started the season without it," she says. "Our water has always come from a spring but we needed a new tank. We are very excited about that."

Mallory, who has worked at the camp since 1997, beginning as a counselor, lives there with her husband Josh, who does the maintenance, and their six young children (five boys and a girl).

"They (the kids) love it here," she says. "It’s a boys’ dream. They are with us while we work, or they are out playing. The camp is their life."

Camp capacity is about 200 kids per session. Many of the original buildings when the camp opened are still in use – the main dormitory is a former chicken coop. Mallory said some of the buildings are also scheduled to be replaced.

Young campers line up on the deck outside the Camp Gilead dormitory. The building had been a chicken coop prior to the founding of the camp. Courtesy photo.
The camp was founded in 1948 by Pastor Forrest Johnson of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Seattle. Coincidentally, Mallory’s father, Tom Ruhlman, is now pastor of the church, now located in Shoreline.

"Camp Gilead: Hill of Witness" was chosen as the name for the project. Church members constructed the chapel and lodge (still in use) from salvaged materials such as beams from a local bridge. In 1951, Gilead’s summer program began, offering junior, junior high and high school camps.

According to an early camp brochure, Johnson promised, "If you come to camp, you will enjoy one of the greatest, bang-up, fun weeks of your whole life."

A camp history states, "Besides farm animals such as cows, horses, pigs, and rabbits, at times Gilead boasted such unusual animals as reindeer, peacocks, and a Great Dane the size of a young horse."

One of Gilead’s early brochures boasted "the tallest swings, the wildest mountain trails, the cleanest filtered guarded pool, the early morning horse-back ride out in the woods to a country breakfast, canoe races on the river, [and] a toy train with an engine and three coaches." Today campers can still swim in the 1953 pool and ride the miniature train, but the horses and tall swings have been replaced by other activities.

A typical day starts at 7 a.m. with breakfast at 8, followed by cabin cleanup, chapel, free time, mail call and lunch. After lunch the activities start, which include swimming, boating, skateboarding (complete with halfpipe), archery, slingshot, golf and crafts. New this year, another "first," is a skateboard camp for boys in grades 7-12.

Fond memories of camp seem to linger throughout people’s lives. Sultan resident Sean Allen, now a college teacher, spent a week at Camp Gilead when he was about 10.

"It was my first time staying away from home for more than a night," he recalled. "On the first night I met my bunkmates and my camp counselor, and we took turns telling each other where we were from. When it was my turn, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what town I lived in, so I said ‘Cherry Valley,’ since that was the name of the grade school I attended. It came off sounding like such an exotic place that I impressed everyone in the cabin, including the counselor.

"As campers we participated in fun activities to build our formative skills: we learned knots, we rode horses, we read from the Bible, we went on hikes."

He continued, "The camp had a store which sold shirts, candy and stickers. The friendliest counselors worked there, so I hung around there a lot. On the last day I was there, I bought a Camp Gilead T-shirt for 5 dollars. I wore it for years.

"Overall, staying at Camp Gilead was an important experience – I learned to socialize and work and play with new kids, and I talked deeply about being a kid with encouraging and approachable counselors.

"I wish I still had the shirt."

Mallory said the camp counselors are college students from all over the Northwest. The camp also offers a high school staff program (a leadership training program) in which high schoolers can apply to become counselors.

Mallory says that summer camp offers opportunities for people to connect.

"We are getting so busy that we are often not connecting face-to-face," she says. "We also offer family camps where everyone in the family comes. Parents often say ‘we don’t have time,’ but afterwards say ‘it was so worth it.’ People tend to interact differently here than they do at home.

"Gilead is convenient because it is close to Redmond and Seattle, but people can still feel like they are getting away. Kids learn they can have fun without electronics. Like slingshots, for example. Kids can’t play with slingshots in the city. But they can here. Kids here play outside all day. And they have fun."

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