History of Bethel Horizons
Bethel Horizons Foundation, Inc. came into existence in May of 1969 as it was incorporated in the State of Wisconsin as a 501 c 3 organization. The initial land purchase included a 280 acre farm of Marvin Halverson. In addition, 160 acres was purchased from Lester and Mildred Anderson resulting in a 440 acre campsite. In 1970, the board of directors entered into an agreement with a master planner, Harrison and Associates of Nevada, Iowa. Over a year’s time they produced a master plan for the 440 acres which has been followed to this day. One of the main provisions of this master plan was not to build permanent housing structures on the land east of the first valley. The master plan also suggested that the main site be concentrated at the Anderson farm site. This decision led to the tearing down of the Halverson farm in the valley in the early 1970’s.
Alongside the beginning master plan, in May of 1971, the board also passed the following mission statement with objectives. The mission of Bethel Horizons Foundation, Inc. is to develop and perpetuate a physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual environment which will strengthen and enhance the understanding of man’s proper relation to nature, to oneself, to others, and to God. In keeping with this mission, the objectives of Bethel Horizons are:
1) To provide intimate and uncomplicated experiences with nature where emphasis is
on learning, responsibility, enjoyment and perpetuation of the physical world which
God has given us.
2) To provide opportunities to be alone in a place of natural beauty—to be quiet,
to think, to dream and to have time for introspective contemplation.
3) To provide small group activities designed to encourage dialogue with, concern for,
and understanding of ourselves and others – all within a setting dominated by nature
and largely free of man-made frills.
4) To provide opportunities for formal or spontaneous Christian worship experiences.
Today, the programs of Bethel Horizons encompasses five major areas: Environmental Education, Adventure Education, Art Ventures, summer programs, and year-round retreats.
Environmental Education: Environmental Education and naturalist programs have been a hallmark of the Bethel Horizon’s programs. Since the inception of Bethel Horizons, there have been offerings of Environmental Education for both children and adults throughout the year. In the early 1980’s, the board of directors began to realize the importance of a nature center in order to serve school groups throughout the year. Working with board member, Dr. Ruth Hine, a DNR Editor and Biologist, several years were spent researching nature centers in the upper Midwest. In 1988, we dedicated our Nature Center at our main site. It consists of an exhibit room, media room, classroom, animal care area, offices and restrooms. Over the years a number of trails have been developed by various naturalists of Bethel Horizons. Our first year-round naturalist was Mark Breseman, followed by Diane Dalton, Janine McNulty and Angela Borland. Our current Environmental Education Eirector is Eric Volden, who joined our staff in 2006.
Adventure Education: The Adventure program grew out of a request from school groups in our area. Having come to Bethel Horizons for environmental education, a number of teachers encouraged us to consider building a high ropes course. Having been convinced of its value to school, community and church groups, our board voted to implement an adventure program. Today, the adventure program consists of teambuilding, high ropes, low ropes, climbing tower, rock climbing and rappelling and off-site caving. The adventure program is housed in a small building off the main parking lot. The large field across the parking lot is used for team building. A large adventure pavilion in the pine forest serves as a rainy day space. The high ropes course, climbing tower, and low ropes are nestled next to the woods adjacent to the valley. There is a new shelter and a pit toilet at the Adventure site. This summer another Adventure element will be added in this area and a rainy day shelter will be constructed near the climbing tower. Eric Borgwardt began to develop the adventure program in the early 1990’s. Phil Bramley, our current Adventure Director, succeeded Eric in 2007.
Art Ventures: The genesis of the Art Ventures program began in the early 1980’s with Don Hunt (potter at West High School) offering pottery courses in our Barn Retreat Center. As class size grew, this program was moved to the picnic shelter in the Tent and Trailer grounds. The acquisition of the Appert farm opened up the possibility of making the farm site the headquarters for the Art Ventures program. Upon retirement from West High School, Don Hunt took on the task of creating a summer studio from an old storage shed in 2004. A large gift from the Scott Dickinson family enabled the summer studio to be equipped with new Bailey wheels as well as a gas kiln. A short time later an anagama kiln was constructed by Dr. David Smith from Edgewood College. Plans for the new Adamah ceramic studio was well underway when Don died in August of 2008. The Adamah ceramic studio was dedicated in June of 2009. Kathy Hunt served as Art Ventures Coordinator until January of 2011 when Krista Loomans joined the staff of Bethel Horizons. In April of 2011 the Board of Bethel Horizons initiated a capital fund drive to help raise $930,000.00 to construct phase one of a retreat center located on the Art Venture campus.
Summer Program: The summer program at Bethel Horizons is highly decentralized and uses a large portion of the Bethel Horizons property. The 7-8th wilderness/canoe program utilizes valley campsites. There are no permanent structures in this area. The adventure and environmental education programs use both the Tent and Trailer grounds and the retreat centers as program sites. The 8-12 year old program is housed in tepees at the main site. Offsite programs include usage of the Kickapoo River, the Sparta Elroy Bike trail and the Military Ridge Bike Trail. Campers also use the resources of Twin Valley Lake at Governor Dodge State Park. Resources at the main site includes: an Art Shack, Nature Center, barn loft and Sports court. Resources for staff include five units of staff housing and a staff lounge. The farmhouse becomes the center of our summer operation and houses summer staff as well.
There are several other buildings which comprise the main site at Bethel Horizons. A Trails Shack (used to supply campers with equipment), a new infirmary and intern housing building are located next to the farmhouse. The director also has a trailer adjacent to the intern building which serves as his residence throughout the summer. The resident manager lives in a house on the right side of the entrance road. There is also a large maintenance building near the entrance to the camp.
Retreat Centers: Part of our mission of Bethel Horizons is to host retreats related to our mission. Our earliest gatherings took place in the farmhouse on the Anderson site. In 1978, the Barn Retreat Center was constructed. The center consists of 26 beds, a kitchen, dining room shirt canteen, meeting room with fireplace, game room, showers and restrooms. The top of the barn also has a deck which is used for seasonal programs. In 2001, work on the Prairie Center was completed. The Prairie Center consists of 72 beds, a large meeting room, a large dining room, kitchen, upstairs lounge, apartment, as well as common restrooms. It too has a deck used for programs.
Governance: Bethel Horizons Foundation, Inc. is directed by a nine person board of directors who must be members in good standing with Bethel Lutheran Church. There is also a Friends of Horizons liaison and a church council liaison to the board. A recording secretary keeps monthly minutes of the board meetings.