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Storm Mountain directors report after season one season

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC


Levi and Lara Ziegler share their thoughts after completing their first season at Storm Mountain Center. Photo by Joni Rasmussen, jlynn studios.

“We are raising the next generation of spiritual leaders,” Levi and Lara Ziegler, directors at Storm Mountain Center, say. “Camp influences the leaders of the future. We want to give future leaders that chance to think about what God is calling them to do.”

The Zieglers battled the environment during their first season as directors at Storm Mountain Center. It was rough weather at the beginning of the season. Storm Mountain Center had two feet of snow before the first camp of the season. There was flooding. The road into the camp was washed out.

Circle of Friends, the first camp of the season at Storm Mountain Center, was full of weather issues. Circle of Friends camp serves adults with special needs. It rained the whole time. Campers had to be shuttled in because the road into the camp was compromised due to the flooding. Despite the weather, the bright smiles and faces of the campers were inspiring.

“Despite the weather before our first camp, the campers came and had a fantastic time. It was the Circle of Friends camp. It was a really good camp with great programming,” says Lara Ziegler. 

Levi Ziegler also noted inspirational moments from the first camp. “During the evening of the first camp, it was amazing to see God at work. We could see it on the faces of the campers—excitement and joy. It was a reminder, in the middle of things going wrong, that God is present.”

It was the summer of getting to know so many people. “We felt well-loved and supported here at Storm Mountain Center. There were lots of people helping out, lovingly giving of their resources,” say Lara and Levi. 

Attendance was strong this season. Some of the camps experienced their highest attendance ever. Churches were inviting people to come and experience this beautiful place apart.

The Dakotas-Minnesota Camp and Retreat Ministry motto: “Christ. Creation. Community.” is apparent at Storm Mountain. The location is amazing. You drive down a twisted mountain road, and suddenly you take a turn and see the camp. It takes your breath away. 

Smc 1

Storm Mountain Center is a unique place apart for campers to experience. Photos courtesy of Storm Mountain Center Facebook page.

“The location is unique. We have our own mountain. We are close to tourist destinations. There is a gold mine,” says Levi Ziegler. “The wilderness and beauty are overwhelming. You experience God’s creation.” 

There was a marmot family that took up residence at the camp this summer, an example of how Storm Mountain is a place apart in nature, where campers can explore and discover. 

“Camp is a level playing field. It does not matter what kind of house you live in or the clothes you have. Everyone is the same at camp,” notes Lara Ziegler. “You are stepping away from the distractions, you feel God’s presence, allowing a place for refreshment.”

Lives are being changed at Storm Mountain. The last morning at the Next Normal and the Rock that Doesn’t Roll Camps there was a shared worship time. The campers and leaders came together to connect and be in community with each other. 

“It was powerful to see faith and love being experienced,” says Lara. “Campers and people that come constantly remind us about why we are here. We see the importance of a place apart to interact with God and each other.”

Levi Ziegler describes that one of the more powerful things about camp and Storm Mountain is the separation from everything that you experience. “Our brains get overwhelmed with daily life. Here you turn to come around the curve in the road, and you are suddenly in an oasis, spiritually and mentally. It is so different than daily life,” says Levi 

Camp deans are the front line of programming, relationships, and connection at each of the camps. They inspire campers and create stories. One dean shared thoughts about where God is calling young campers, not just to religious life or pastoral leadership, but God calls everyone to serve in a wide variety of ways. 

“Youth walked away from that camp, realizing that you may be called by God to serve as an accountant or teacher. You are called. That is so eye-opening,” says Lara Ziegler.

Panning For Gold

Campers pan for gold at Storm Mountain Center.

With one season completed, the Zieglers have set some goals for Storm Mountain Center. An internet upgrade is in the works before December. “It is important to have a good internet connection for safety. The cell phone coverage is scattered at Storm Mountain. So we need to have internet service to ensure the safety of everyone that comes here,” says Lara. “It is also important to have good internet service to make sure we can handle the administrative side of things like registrations and communication with campers.  All of this is now done online.”

Camp leaders would like to have access to the internet for programming and worship. Leaders often need to download a guide, a prayer or liturgy for worship or show a video as an example or illustration. There is a lot of frustration when the internet does not work for people who are trying to lead and make the programming better.

“We also hope to expand the groups that could come to Storm Mountain Center for business and planning meetings. For example, pastors coming to do sermon planning, or conference committees and training. Many of these people or groups do not come because of connectivity. Adding a robust internet connection does not change our commitment to being a place apart. We hope it enhances it,” says Levi.

The Zieglers hope to try out some adventure camping and wilderness programming in the next year. “We would like to develop experiences that are a little more out in the wild. Maybe something like panning for gold, a more rustic experience,” they say.  

“We are hoping to get the archery range in place. The weather prevented it this season,” says Lara Ziegler. “It is always a work in progress. Now that we have been through a year, we can work to support the leaders at camp even more. We hope to make the logistics go even more smoothly.”

Love, support, energy, a place apart to explore God are ways that the Zeiglers describe their first season at Storm Mountain Center. “This is a well-loved camp. So many people invest in the camp, keep coming, and sharing their love and resources,” Levi Ziegler says. 


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