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Camp Van Vac

News & Updates Blog

Boundary Waters named 'dark sky sanctuary'

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was recently certified as a "Dark Sky Sanctuary" by an international organization. Read more about it here:

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Spring 2018 News

We just posted some news for the summer on our email newsletter. Click the link below to view it.

View 2018 Spring Newsletter

If you would like to subscribe to our email newsletter, click the link below

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

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Thanks to Camp's spring 2018 Work Weekenders

May 12, 2018

Dear 2018 Work Weekenders,

‘Twas a spring weekend noted for a energetic, hard-working crew and the thick ice remaining on Burntside. Thank you to you all for cheering us on so warmly that the ice finally melted today. You are the best: Casey, Steve and crew, Barb and David, Melissa and Melinda, Bill, Pat, Garrett, Jacque, Dave, Trudi and Carol, Marnie and Liz, Gary and Mike, Olivia and Josh, Dan and Maddie, Elise and Hannah.



You weathered the cool mornings and a sprinkle of rain to accomplish a month’s worth of chores. You split a mountain of wood and a shed full of kindling to keep us toasty all spring, summer and fall. You blew leaves to oblivion off paths, roofs and gutters. Tons of leaves were also raked and hauled. Blankets were inventoried and trekked to cabins. The squirrel-flinging bird feeder, gnome world and grill were expertly assembled. Windows are now so sparkly that from inside we feel like we can reach and touch the trees. And the curtains were hung by the windows with care. Drawers are sporting fresh new paper. Cabin #8’s kitchen is on its way to perfection. Benches were repaired and tee-shirt quilts were hung in cabins. Dishes were washed and the kitchen left in dandy shape.

You fed us elegantly with cake (eat dessert first), cookies and Tobie’s pastry.  We enjoyed breakfast meatloaf and oatmeal bake, summer sausage, brats, potatoes and coleslaw. Don’t forget lentil soup and beef and mushrooms over pasta. Ham sandwiches and chips with dip.

Hearing where everyone had adventured in the last six months-or-so charged our imaginations and wanderlust. Saturday night massage…..mmmmmm. I got to tell a joke (Can you sell me a grape yet?) and we had before and after photos taken. Be sure to check them out (attached). 

Thank you for a terrific start to the 2018 season. Your wood splitting efforts are still helping us heal from the July 2016 storm. All you have accomplished throughout Camp will be appreciated and enjoyed by our guests this summer. Please share this note with folks in your group who may not have left us an email address.

If you want to mark your calendar for fall and pack your sleeping bags, we’d love to see you again. Think October 5-7.  


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Spring 2017 News

We just posted some news for the summer on our email newsletter. You can view it here:

If you would like to subscribe to our email newsletter, click here:

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Thanks to Camp's spring 2015 Work Weekenders



Thanks to Camp’s wild and wily spring work weekenders: Leina, Maddy, Dan and Maureen, Pat, Bill, Tammy, Jacque, Missy, Curt, Garrett, 


Little G, Joe, Bonnie, Michelle, David, Barb, Trudy, Dave, Carol, Marnie, Liz, Nancy P. and Alanna—I’m grateful to you all, and Camp is better for your loving attention.

You brought us encouraging spring weather with barely a sprinkle of rain and plenty of sunshine to help us accomplish the magnificent: You varnished windows at Cabin #11, fixed benches, split, stacked and moved a mountain of wood, re-stocked the adorably refurbished store, raked 10 million leaves, built a window for Cabin # 5, cut trees and brushed cabin views, fixed a stair in Cabin #1, split and hauled beautiful kindling, hung the Camp sign and set the flower box, washed windows and distributed and hung lots and lots of cabin curtains, fixed a drawer and took propane to Cabin #10, made coffee, cleaned the yurt, blew the conch and, most importantly (to some), hung the swings.

Then Little G encountered a wolf (wow) one day and Kurt met a moose (thrilling) at 2 am. Those two guys went swimming (yikes). Lovely Saturday night included massage, a conclave at the beach and a flute concert drifting out over Burntside Lake. We won’t mention this year’s prank (more than once) involving a sneaky application of barbeque sauce to a cabin doorknob. And then there was massage. Mmmmmm.

Your contributions of food gave us energy and made us smile. Thank you for the croissants, ham and cheese, the granola, veggie salad, cake, spaghetti and meatballs, lettuce salad, pasta salad, walnut salad, green salad, caramel rolls, hamentashen, casserole, pot pie, ribs, a few unplanned surprise offerings, and cookies galore.

Thank you, too, for the happy photographs many of you sent. I’ll forward mine and some of your terrific ones to the gang. Thank you for starting Camp’s spring season out with a lot of laughter, sweet times, persistent hard work and attitudes of loving contribution that will help sustain us through the summer.

With much gratitude,

Nancy jo

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Thinking of Buell Tubbs on Father's Day


My Dad would never have put me in a Longboard Baby Stroller, the kind advertised on It looks radical, and the promo says, “get your child hooked on the adrenaline rushes from an early age with some crazy downhill rides,” on the stroller with a skateboard on the back for Dad. The copy actually says, who wouldn’t want their kid “whizzing down the streets at dangerous speeds?”

Not my Dad for sure. I’m browsing a Pinterest site featuring gifts “For the Awesome Dad” on Father’s Day, thinking of my Dad, Leonard Buell Tubbs, who was born on November 18, 1913 and died December 1, 2005. How times have changed. Dad would have been quietly puzzled by the red skull-and-crossbones ice cube tray, slippers shaped like tanks, a Zippo hand warmer and the Sam Adams Octoberfest beer milkshake.

In his day, parents pragmatically carried the baby in the crook of an arm or on a shoulder. Ice cubes came out square, slippers were wool lined if you were lucky, and you drank a Bud or maybe a gin and tonic in the company of couples your own age while sitting on the dock laughing at your troubles.

Buell served in the Marine Corps during World War II, stationed in the frostbitten Aleutian Islands off Alaska, where American troops struggled to stay warm without today’s fleece, mukluks or Thinsulate. Northern Minnesota winters couldn’t have been any warmer, and I know that on many days his hands and feet still felt that Aleutian chill.

My Dad and Mom, Winnie, took over Camp Van Vac from my great aunt and uncle in 1947. He brought a Marine Corps drill instructor’s discipline, a Depression Era frugality and determined work ethic to the simple log-cabin resort. By the time he retired in 1984, he’d taught hundreds of cabin cleaners how to fold hospital corners on bed sheets, sweep the spiders from an outhouse, run an outboard motor and find Crab Lake Portage through a tangle of islands on the west end of Burntside. When, as a teenager, I got tired of being told to “Do it over right,” I finally gave in and paid attention to every last detail of cabin cleaning the way he did.

Camp’s guests didn’t see the DI instructor. They were impressed by the quiet man in the khaki pants and shirt who could split wood all day, took them to find blueberries on the rocky islands and could portage a hundred-pound green canvas wooden canoe over the mile-long uphill-both-ways Crab Portage. He could steer a canoe, straight as a jet. Plant a garden to harvest a respectable crop of green beans. Cook up a pot of stew that lasted a week, with a can of beans or handful of spaghetti added to the kettle as needed.


Though he didn’t talk a lot, he’d impress us with his knowledge of the woods and lake, or often surprise with a twist. “How many bears do you suppose are out there,” someone asked him across the front desk at Camp. “Well, it doesn’t take very many to make a dozen,” he said.


Once we filled the pickup with bags of trash to head to the dump, but found it closed for the day. We backed the truck into a garage stall, but the door wouldn’t quite close around the hood. We fastened it as well as we could. When the bear appeared, my Dad climbed up on the old garage’s tin roof, armed with fire crackers, which he lobbed toward the bear every time it appeared. The old bear would back up, just around the turn in the road and wait awhile before making another try. My Dad held out for a couple of hours before the mosquitoes drove him off the roof. Sure enough the next morning we found trash strewn down the road and a dirty diaper smeared on the truck windshield. I don’t remember him complaining.

I’m always struck by the stories guests tell me when they reminisce about my Dad. They arrived late at night to find the cabin warm because he’d built a fire in their woodstove. They were lost on the lake and he searched in the rain in his wooden Kennedy until he found them and towed their boat back to safety. Kindness. Quiet competence.

He and my brother Don scraped all of the cabin logs from years of kerosene lantern smudge and smoke and left them with a varnished finish that still glows. They formed cement blocks and constructed a sauna, built and rebuilt docks after ice damage in the spring, and hauled ice blocks out of the lake in mid-winter to stock the old ice house.

Looking back I remember the daily comforts he provided me, getting up first on school days in the dead of winter to turn up the heat. He’d make my oatmeal, warm up the old Volkswagen and drive me out to the school bus at the end of our gravel road. A few times the overnight snow was so heavy that we had to walk out on snowshoes. I remember those times, too, when he picked me up from the bus. I’d be tired and crabby from the day, and he’d sing to me all the way back to the house.

If my Dad were here today, I know I’d show more gratitude than I did on those tired afternoons. And we wouldn’t be celebrating Father’s Day with some goofy gift from Pinterest. There’s no need for the Longboard Stroller. The beer milkshake sounds gruesome.

Maybe we’d start the day with a bowl of oatmeal, then boat out to an island and check out the blueberry crop. It’s been a cool spring. He’d be feeling the chill. Looking back at the catalog for likely presents, maybe I’d consider the Zippo Hand Warmer. Maybe their fleeciest men’s slippers. It would need to be something quietly, warmly awesome.


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March 2012 News

March 2012.  Spring of 2012 is headed for the weather history books. The northland’s heat wave has frogs peeping, robins returning, and pussy willows popping. Daytime temperatures in March hit 75 degrees twice, with many days in the 45-65 degree range. We are short on rainfall though, so send us wishes for a few downpours to fill up Burntside and area lakes and rivers.b2ap3_thumbnail_Mar2012news.jpg

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April 2012 News

April 2012.  Here's more about "spring of 2012 is headed for the weather history books." Ice-out on Burntside Lake was on March 28, the earliest date on Nancy's official certified record of ice-outs.

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September 2011


Coming soon at Camp: cool fall weather, misty mornings, terrific fishing, the trees in blazing color, discounted fall rates, and no bugs!

Photo taken by Barb and Marc Farley in early September 2005.

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August 2011


Pat Conzemius caught a lovely walleye at Camp. His sister Kate Conzemius and her friend Derek Van De Velde had another kind of Camp Van Vac adventure. Here's her letter to Nancy:

Hello Nancy!

I did not get a chance to see you this year up at the lake, Derek and I were only there visiting for a couple days. I am sure you hear this all the time, but traveling up to CVV every year is like coming home. I have had so many of my favorite childhood memories at CVV, over the last thirty plus years my family has been visiting.

This year had even more special meaning for me. My whole family, all 11 adults, seven kids, and three dogs had gathered on June 30th at Cabin 25 for dinner. We enjoyed sitting near the lakeside sharing food, jokes and lots of laughter. After dinner, everyone piled onto a couple boats and set off on a sunset cruise. My boyfriend of four years, Derek, had caught a huge walleye fishing with my brother Pat earlier in the day. He said he "had the fever" and wanted to go fishing instead of going on the boat with the others.

Pat let us borrow his boat and we anchored off the Point at CVV, near the buoys. It was probably about 8 or so so the sun was sinking closer to the treeline across the lake. I was busy complaining about needing to change my set up to a jig and leech, so Derek started fixing my line while I cast a while. I told him to put something bright and shiny on, as it was getting late in the day and the water would be pretty dark. It was taking him forever, and he kept digging in his pocket and acting funny.

Finally, he asked me to grab a leech out of the bucket. When I turned around, there tied to my line, was not a jig as I requested, but a beautiful sparkling ring. With leech in hand, and Derek on his knee, we got engaged! My brother John came over in his boat asking if I caught any fish. I said nope, but got a keeper instead! The others came over and we had a little celebration on the pontoon, complete with "Welcome to the Jungle" played for Derek. The sunset was just as beautiful as ever that evening! I am so grateful to have such a special place to visit every year with the family, and even more grateful that we are beginning the next phase of our lives together while at Camp Van Vac. Thank you for all the energy you put into maintaining and creating a place for such amazing memories to be made.

See you next year!
Kate Conzemius

Wow -- Congratulations, Kate and Derek!

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August 2011


Our long-time guest Bryan Stropes caught this beautiful northern, and would have let it go, but couldn't revive it. Click twice to see the larger versions of this mighty fish.  Brian tells about his 2011 adventure:

Shelly and I were doing laundry in town. While the clothes were drying, I said, "Let's check out that bait store across the street." They had Super Shad Raps for a dollar or two less than usual. They had the perch color that I like so I bought one.

When we got back to Camp Van Vac, we decided to go fishing. We headed out to the mouth of the North Arm where I had a big one hooked the day before and it got away. On the way there I saw and remembered this spot where there is shallow water with very deep water close by, so in a split second decision, I cut the boat hard at full speed, did a U turn as I slowed down and cast out for trolling. Shelly cast out too. Within a minute I had the monster on my line! It fought hard for a long time and we didn't see it for a while. Lots of drag was peeling off my reel.

Shelly told me, "You've never looked as sexy as you do right now." I thought that was funny.

It was something when we did see the fish fighting in the water. It was so big! Towards the end, in a final attempt to get away, it did the alligator death roll. My line was wrapped around the fish! Gill plates can cut the line! I worked my rod to unwrap the line. With a few tries I was able to grab it by the gill and drag the fish in the boat. I came back full speed to Camp Van Vac where I tried to revive the fish to turn it loose after the picture taking. It wasn't going to come back to life. It was too far gone.

Nancy and Shelly suggested that I have it mounted. I thought it was a good idea. The taxidermist gave me two giant fillets and we ate them at the pot luck on the dock. Shelly brought the first tray of fish onto the dock on time. I finished frying the rest of the fish. Ten minutes later when I walked on the dock with the rest of the fish, everybody cheered! I felt so good. I didn't want to overcook the fish trying to cook it all the way through. The fillets were so thick. It turned out just right, not overcooked or undercooked. I thought a fish that size might be a little gamey or fishy but it wasn't! It was very good. There were 40 people at the pot luck and I think everybody had at least one piece of fish. There were only 2 pieces left over.

This fish was a gift from God.

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June 2011


Joel Kettler caught this lovely lake trout near Cabin 26 on fishing opener. It's become a tradition for Joel and Victoria to show us how it's done every spring at Camp Van Vac.

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September 2010


This has been the Summer of Brer Fox at Camp. The population of adult foxes seemed high, and two young kits were also seen nearby. Guests enjoyed meeting the animals almost every week. They were quite habituated to being fed by neighbors, and we encouraged campers to not feed them. Still, the foxes strolled by regularly to check out the possibilities.

These photos are thanks to Beth Kirkegaard, whose other photos you can see here.



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July 2010


Loon, sunrise, Burntside Lake. Will Jakobitz caught it all in his photo. To see more of his Burntside photos, click here. (Photo Copyright © 2010 by William K. Jakobitz, all rights reserved.)

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July 2009


The first potluck of the summer on the dock at Camp in early July.

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January 2009


Is it ice-fishing time, or is it time to just look in amazement at our beautiful snow?

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September 2008


Tom Eisenstadt caught 14 young ones following Mama Merganzer on Burntside one July morning this year.

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August 2008


Camp's beach garden is in full bloom in July and August. You'll find it bordered by the old stone oil house, the steps to the sauna and joyous folks swimming and splashing in the lake.

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July 2008


Ely's Klown Band is made up of the secret elite. Band members never reveal their identities, but they are a big hit in the July 4th Parade. Photo by Barb Berglund.

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May 2008


After we gave them a tow to Crab Lake portage, Memorial Day weekend found Joel Hendershot and his crew in the Boundary Waters. They enjoyed a serene view from their campsite at 5:45 A.M. And here they are celebrating the find of a moose antler. Photos by Joe Hendershot.


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