Fort Wilderness is a beloved camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin—15 miles north of Rhinelander in the small town of McNaughton. Campers who often travel hundreds of miles to Fort consider it a sacred or a “thin space” where they hear and sense the Lord in ways they do not experience back home. Countless families and individuals share how their lives are changed forever while at Fort—through the sharing of God’s Word by gifted teachers, experiencing His creation with fun activities and programs, and connecting meaningfully with fellow campers, staff, and volunteers. We call this the “sticky substance” that brings Fort to life.
Fort began in 1956 with a pastor’s great passion for loving people and vision to share the gospel in fun and creative ways through Christian camping. His dream was for a place where young and old could hear of Jesus’ love and free gift, in a wilderness setting away from normal daily life. Truman Robertson—along with his wife Jan and their children Nancy, Ron, Tom, Paul, and Steve—would see the Lord bring to life Fort’s ministry in improbable ways, including an initial $4,000 gift by Al and Ressa Seibert to purchase eighty acres of land on Spider Lake where our main camp still sits today. In the early years, a spirit of volunteerism was fostered through partnerships with local churches that allowed camp to do far more than possible with limited resources. God has always provided what is needed just at the right time.
Today, camp is much bigger with an additional three hundred acres and programs on multiple sites. There’s often even a waiting list for campers to join their friends who implore them to experience Fort—knowing they will love it and that it just might change their lives (because that is exactly what happened to them!)
Annually, we host about 9,000 campers at week-long camps or retreat weekends. Each summer, about 500 kids (ages 8-18) come to Adventure Outpost and Leadership Lab, both located on Blair Lake, about two miles from Main Camp. TruNorth is our one-year, college-age leadership program which houses up to 12 students living in community, studying, and exploring their calling and gifts while serving at camp.
It takes a lot of energy, creativity, and people to run camp each year. Fort employs two dozen missionary staff, who raise their salary from friends, families, and partner churches, to serve at camp. There are also another dozen young people who serve in various roles for a year at a time, 80 summer staff, and volunteers who serve tens of thousands of hours in various roles, like cooking meals, cleaning camp, and maintaining and building camp facilities.
In 2016, Todd Leyden assumed the reins as Executive Director. While his call to camp from the corporate world was an improbable journey, now his wife Robyn serves as the Camp Nurse in the medical infirmary, which was built in memory of their son Payton. Todd assumed the role from Tom Robertson, son of Truman, who led camp for 22 years and built much of the critical foundation that exists today. A few months after Todd started in his role, the Lord again worked in amazing ways, orchestrating the acquisition of 20 acres of land adjacent to camp.
In 2018, with input from more than 1,200 campers, a master plan (“Fort Future”) was developed for the newly acquired land. This plan includes expanded camper and staff housing, an outdoor amphitheater, a new stables building, a new dining hall, and staff offices and welcome center that will provide us – as the Lord allows – the necessary facilities and infrastructure to serve the next generation of campers.
The future is as exciting as our history. We can’t wait to serve (or serve again) you and your family!
Fort Wilderness Ministries influences lives for eternity through God’s Word, Adventure Programs, the Wilderness, and warm Christian Fellowship.
Annually, Fort hosts about 9,000 campers across three sites. Main camp operates year-round with week-long camps, retreat weekends, and TruNorth our college-age leadership development program. Adventure Outpost (AO) and Leadership Lab are just two miles away on Blair Lake where about 500 kids (ages 8-18) come each summer. AO hosts youth campers who can shout across the lake to the high schoolers at Leadership Lab!