University of Montana Western logo.
Apply Visit More Info

Birch Creek Center History

The history of the Birch Creek Center begins with the Great Depression in 1929. Most historians agree that the severe and rapid crash in the stock market is what sparked the worldwide economic decline we know today as ‘The Great Depression’. In the United States the unemployment rate rose to nearly twenty-five percent. As a response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented many public work relief projects.

The Birch Creek Center was constructed in 1935 as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, a work relief program specifically targeting young and unmarried men. The CCC provided men with jobs related to conservation and the development of natural resources. They built roads, trails, planted trees and much more. In exchange for their labor, the CCC boys, as they were often called, were given thirty dollars a month, along with food, shelter and clothing. In 1939, Camp Birch Creek consisted of fifteen permanent buildings which housed 200 men. The seven original structures that remain at the present location represent one of the best examples of a permanent CCC camp in the nation. With the start of the Second World War, Camp Birch Creek was abandoned.

In 1955 the Evangelical Covenant Church of America operated the site as the “Birch Creek Bible Camp.” In the late 1970’s the site came under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service (USFS). An environmental assessment from 1979 recommended that the site be developed as an educational site. In 1982 the Birch Creek site was formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1983, The University of Montana Western School of Outreach began operating the Birch Creek Outdoor Education and later, the Bender Conference Center. The Bender, constructed during the mid-1980’s, is a modern building with dining facilities and additional overnight accommodations.

Today, the Birch Creek Center now serves to provide a comfortable and safe environment for diverse educational, recreational and social opportunities. The Center encourages field-based and group enriching experiences for the local and global community. The Birch Creek Center accomplishes this though private events and retreats, outdoor education courses for gradeschoolers and experiential university events and classes.