Camp Kilworth designated as historic landmark site

This is the first historic landmark site designation in Federal Way’s history.

Camp Kilworth in Federal Way is officially the city’s first historic landmark site, thanks to a unanimous vote by the King County Landmarks Commission on Aug. 25.

The camp, located at 30900 50th Avenue SW, was recently preserved after nonprofit Forterra purchased the property with plans for the YMCA of Greater Seattle to lease the land and provide outdoor programming. With the designation, the Rotary Lodge, Timber Wolf Lodge and Fire Bowl Amphitheater are Federal Way’s first landmarks.

“It is so exciting to know that Camp Kilworth is saved both environmentally and historically. The camp will continue to educate and serve the community and its youth long after I’m gone,” said Mary Ehlis, longtime Camp Kilworth advocate who had a key role in its saving and president of the Kilworth Environmental Education Preserve (KEEP).

The nearly 30-acre camp will be restored and reopened for community use by 2024, serving youth in King and Pierce counties, according to Forterra and the YMCA.

The landmarking feat was also accomplished through supportive efforts of 4Culture, and the inter-local agreement between the City of Federal Way and King County Landmarks Commission.

The Rotary Lodge at Camp Kilworth was recently designated as a Historic Landmark site. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

The Rotary Lodge at Camp Kilworth was recently designated as a Historic Landmark site. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

“It sets a precedence of how advocacy and preservation can be done, can be achieved,” said Suzanne Vargo of the Federal Way Historical Society. “Of course, the reason we save history and why this is so important is to preserve what was and what can be in the future of Federal Way. With so much development and fast-paced living, it is important that we are reminded of where we came from how we came to be … and those that were responsible for its creation.”

The inter-local agreement between the King County Historic Preservation and the city was created from a 2017 ordinance for the preservation of historical structures in Federal Way, Vargo added. This agreement requires ownership approval which enables the city and applicants the ability to utilize county resources.

The strategic focus now shifts to saving the camp’s remaining aspects and bringing environmental education back to the space, wrote Nadiya Sheckler on the Friends of Camp Kilworth & Alumni Association social media page. Sheckler is a member of KEEP, a nonprofit formed to save the camp.

In 2018, Camp Kilworth was listed as one of the state’s most endangered places by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The county’s Landmarks Commission is a nine-member board established in 1980 “to ensure that the historic places, material culture, and traditions which best reflect the region’s 13,000 years of human history are preserved for future generations,” according to its website.

“It’s not about freezing in time, but about slowing down change,” said Sarah Steen, landmarks coordinator for the King County Historic Preservation, at an Aug. 10 community meeting about the importance of a landmark designation.

The landmark structures of the site include the Timberwolf and Rotary lodges, the lawn in front of the Rotary Lodge and the amphitheater. Not only does a landmark title protect the space, it also opens up the possibility of additional funding grants in the future.