Archdiocese Local

Camp facility opens wide the gates for family getaways

Brock Welch, a member of St. Mary Parish in Derby, enjoys the fishing at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg. The ranch started its Open Gate series this year, offering specific days people could come and enjoy some of the activities the camp has to offer. PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAIRIE STAR RANCH

by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven

WILLIAMSBURG — Need a break from the peculiar new grind of COVID world? Prairie Star Ranch’s Open Gate Series here may be just the thing for you.

“As a church, we are always called on to be a place of safe harbor and hope, especially now,” said Greg Wellnitz, director of Prairie Star Ranch. “The Open Gate series is one part of the answer to opening and renewing our hearts and communities, of restoring relationships that are Christ-centered and grace-filled.”

Many people have had to cancel vacations and family get-togethers, with both financial and virus concerns impacting these activities, he said.

“The spark for the Open Gate series began with our retreat coordinator, Tori Gambino, as our team looked for avenues to respond to the needs in our archdiocese that we all were seeing and experiencing,” said Wellnitz. “We were looking for ways that families and households could be strengthened in this unique time of our world.”

Opening up the gates of Prairie Star Ranch, the archdiocesan retreat center set on nearly 300 acres of rolling hills an hour south of Kansas City, seemed just the answer.

While the Open Gate series began on Aug. 22, sessions are still being offered on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, 19 and 26.

There is no cost to attend any of the series, said Wellnitz, nor is there a need to register.

“Simply bring your loved ones and enjoy,” he said. “We wanted to give individual families and households a fun and safe option to get out together, pray together and adventure together. Our team is receiving daily calls and texts from households throughout northeast Kansas eager to take part in these Open Gate days.”

With the current COVID-19 situation, Wellnitz, said numerous steps have been taken to make this a fun and safe time to get together.

“The safety of all of our guests has been our first priority in our planning of the Open Gate Series,” he said, “and I am very proud of the systems that we have put into place to that end.

“For example, as guests arrive, they will be welcomed, prayed with and have the opportunity to register for the day’s activity, all without ever leaving their vehicle. From there, families and households will be asked to stake out their Base Camp, which will be a place solely their own for the day, where they are welcome to set up chairs, tables, grills, etc.”

“While face masks and social distancing are not required when around one’s own household,” Wellnitz continued, “we are requiring both face masks and social distancing measures to be followed when within six feet of other households or when indoors utilizing our St. Kateri Chapel.

“We are limiting use of any indoor spaces to only that of our St. Kateri Chapel, which will be available to guests for devotional use; restrooms will also be located there. This space will be disinfected every hour throughout the day and is equipped with hand sanitizing stations in the entrance.”

Guests for the Open Gate series will need to bring face masks and hand sanitizer, sunscreen and bug spray, water bottles, picnic lunch and snacks (or a grill), blankets, lawn chairs, coolers and fishing equipment. Frisbees, kites and other recreational equipment are also welcome.

“All households attending will also need to complete a waiver that is available on the Open Series webpage,” Wellnitz said. “While this can be done upon arrival, most families have found it helpful to have it completed beforehand so as to make arrival even simpler.”

 In addition to a wide range of fun activities offered for a small fee, including canoeing and horseback riding, there will be opportunities for spiritual renewal as well. Some of these activities include the creekside rosary walk, and the Stations of the Cross trail, as well as visits to St. Kateri Chapel.

More information on the Open Series and/or Prairie Star Ranch can be found on the website or by calling (785) 746-5693.

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Carolyn Kaberline

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