Brighton Girls Camp: 100 years of love, unity and faith

Nestled at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon against a slope of lush alpine scenery sits a mountain retreat that has become a second home to thousands of young women in the Salt Lake City area. 

For 100 years, Brighton Girls Camp — believed to be the oldest youth camp of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has represented a spirit of love, unity and faith. 

On a warm July morning, when the camp is typically buzzing with the laughter, singing and excitement of 150-200 girls, it’s quiet enough to hear the rustle of the towering trees above. The cabins and lodge are empty. For the second consecutive year, the camp is closed due to COVID-19 precautions. 

Though the 100th anniversary of Brighton Girls Camp comes at a time when the camp is vacant, the spirit of Brighton is being celebrated within the hearts of many who have played a part in Brighton’s legacy. It’s a spirit that comes when separating from worldly influences and connecting with nature, others and Heavenly Father. 

“It doesn’t have to be Brighton to have the spirit of Brighton,” said Lisa “Pippin” Adams, a former Brighton counselor who is serving as chairman of the centennial committee. “It can be, I think, any place where there are leaders who love the young women they’re leading, and where there are leaders who invite the Spirit to be there and are mature enough to be able to identify the Spirit for those young women.”

Brighton Girls Camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. This summer marks the 100th anniversary of what is believed to be the oldest youth camp owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Brighton Girls Camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. This summer marks the 100th anniversary of what is believed to be the oldest youth camp owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon knows well the value of multiday camp experiences — like Brighton — for young women. 

“Heavenly Father’s beloved daughters exploring His creations and feeling of His Spirit — I can’t think of a better way to strengthen our young women, unify them and help them draw closer to their Savior,” President Cordon said. “The laughter, love and learning that happens in those few short days each year will fortify them for a lifetime.”

Brighton’s history

President Cordon didn’t attend Brighton Girls Camp as a young woman, but her mother, Sister Carol Hillam, attended in the summers of 1949 and 1950. Among Sister Hillam’s favorite memories are hiking, riding horses, doing crafts and falling for the short-sheet prank played on her. She also remembers meeting new friends and feeling strengthened by hearing the testimonies of other girls her age. 

“Singing together, being together, playing together, helping each other. … I think all those things enlarge and help us a lot,” 85-year-old Sister Hillam told the Church News. 

Friends of Florence Anderson ride horses near Brighton Girls Camp during summer 1933.
Friends of Florence Anderson ride horses near Brighton Girls Camp during summer 1933. Credit: Provided by Mareen Fisher

According to Brighton’s website, the idea for Brighton Girls Camp began in 1911 when the Young Women general presidency hoped to find a summer camp for young women to get away from the valley heat and provide a retreat. A spot was selected in 1918, and the camp was completed in 1921. 

Mareen Fisher and her husband, Kimball Fisher, who are compiling a history of Brighton Girls Camp for the centennial celebration next summer, provided additional historical insight. 

“One of the things that we discovered while we were doing the research on the history is that although technically the camp had campers in 1921, it wasn’t really opened officially until 1922,” Kimball Fisher said. “According to Church records that we’ve referenced and Forest Service records that we’ve referenced, the official date of the opening was Aug. 18, 1922.”

Though they aren’t sure if the camp was dedicated, “we do know that there was what they called a Gala Opening on the evening of the 18th in 1922 and President Heber J. Grant spoke,” he explained. “He spoke about how wonderful it was to get this home for girls in the tops of the mountains. And then he sang the first verse of ‘Come, Come Ye Saints.’” 

The original lodge constructed in the 1920s suffered a devastating fire in January 1963. “The next two years, ’63 and ’64, they went up to Alta and had what they called ‘Camp Brightal’ and sent the campers up there while they rebuilt the camp,” Mareen Fisher said. 

Historic photo of the original lodge at Brighton Girls Camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon hangs on the wall of the rebuilt lodge, known as the George building, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. The original lodge burned in January 1963.
Historic photo of the original lodge at Brighton Girls Camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon hangs on the wall of the rebuilt lodge, known as the George building, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. The original lodge burned in January 1963. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A new lodge was built — a dinner hall and kitchen with housing on the lower level for camp directors — and six Swiss-style cabins to house the young women and their counselors. The clock hanging on the wall in the lodge today is an original from Brighton’s first lodge. 

Mareen Fisher, who attended Brighton as a camper in 1966 and 1967, said returning as a counselor in 1972 was “the highlight of my college years.” It was then she took on the name “Thumper.” It’s a tradition for Brighton counselors and staff to have nicknames at camp.

“I think it’s just a great place where young women can go and really feel the Spirit and get away from all of the stuff they have to face every day when they’re home,” Mareen Fisher said. “And they’re able to really connect with nature and with each other and with their counselors and with their Heavenly Father. It’s really pretty wonderful.”

Brighton’s legacy

Mimi “Apple” Stewart was serving as a director at Brighton in the 1980s when a camper was walking back to camp after a hike and fell, losing her eyeglasses. Neither the camper nor the other girls in her group could find them amid the tall grass and wildflowers. The camper’s counselor alerted Stewart and asked for help. 

Stewart and the counselor returned to the hillside to look for the glasses, but their search, too, was unsuccessful. Noticing the camper’s worry and distress during the activity that evening, Stewart invited the girl to join her in prayer before going to bed and look for the glasses again in the morning. 

“She came into my room and we had just a short prayer asking for divine guidance,” Stewart recalled. “She was at my door at 7 o’clock the next morning.”

The camper traced her steps to the spot where she likely fell and, together, she and Stewart gently moved a few of the nearly 3-foot tall bluebell flowers. “And there in the morning light are these glasses this little girl had lost,” Stewart said. 

“That is the most favorite memory that I think I can ever express to anybody, that this little girl had the faith and joined prayer with a stranger and was indeed guided to her glasses in the morning light.”

Lori Judd and her granddaughter Roxi Fund walk around Brighton Girls Camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Judd was a counselor in 1977 and Fund went as a youth in 2019.
Lori Judd and her granddaughter Roxi Fund walk around Brighton Girls Camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Judd was a counselor in 1977 and Fund went as a youth in 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Roxi Fund, a 13-year-old from Yuma, Arizona, is the fourth generation in her family to attend Brighton Girls Camp after her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. She said of her experience in summer 2019: “I think it was cool to know that I had the same experiences as a great-grandma that I’ve only ever seen as a grandma. It’s cool to see the kind of things she would have done as a 13-year-old.”

The first summer Nancy “Re” Bittner attended Brighton as a camper in 1976, her father had died about six months earlier. She felt impressed that reading the Book of Mormon would teach her about God’s plan for her. Each night at camp, she read a chapter and prayed. 

During a camp testimony meeting, Bittner remembers feeling the Spirit strongly. “I remember telling my group that I had always had a testimony. My dad’s passing had made heaven a very real place for me. I knew the Book of Mormon was true because I had read it,” she said. 

“All through my life the spirit of that night has been the point that I look to when I desire a further witness,” she added, then quoting Doctrine and Covenants 6:22: “Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.” 

Natalie Permann smiles for a picture on the rope swing at Brighton Girls Camp during summer 1995.
Natalie Permann smiles for a picture on the rope swing at Brighton Girls Camp during summer 1995. Credit: Provided by Natalie Permann

When Natalie Permann was a camper in 1995, she and the other girls in her group thought it would be fun to go on a sunrise hike in their pajamas. Underestimating the cold mountain air, they paused to huddle together on some straw underneath a chairlift to try to get warm. Most girls fell asleep. 

“Someone woke us up and we tried to hurry and hike the rest of the way to the ridge. We ended up being too late to the spot where we were supposed to watch the actual sunrise, but we still had fun and were so grateful to finally get into the sunlight and start feeling its warmth,” Permann said. “That really stuck with me. We were so cold on that hike, that we had to get close together to keep warm. We had to rely on each other.”

Kaycie “Tulip” Fuhriman, who worked as a counselor during the summers of 2015 and 2016, described Brighton as a place that “gives girls and counselors the opportunity to realize their own strength and potential and see that same strength in the other girls around them.”

“The testimony I received week after week that I conveyed to my sweet campers was that their Heavenly Father knew them and would not have parted with them if He didn’t know for a certainty that they could make it back home to Him,” she said. 

“And that is what Brighton is all about — a special place that allows the opportunity for young girls to recognize that their Heavenly Father speaks to them and believes in them and their goodness. Watching them leave camp and head back to everyday life empowered by that knowledge is what makes Brighton holy ground for so many.”

Kaycie Fuhriman, middle of back row, smiles with her group of campers at Lake Mary near Brighton Girls Camp during summer 2015. Fuhriman was a counselor.
Kaycie Fuhriman, middle of back row, smiles with her group of campers at Lake Mary near Brighton Girls Camp during summer 2015. Fuhriman was a counselor. Credit: Provided by Kaycie Fuhriman

Centennial celebration

Due to COVID-19 precautions this summer, the Brighton Girls Camp Centennial Celebration will be held next summer, Aug. 19-21, 2022. All former campers and staff members are invited to any or all of the events. 

  • Friday, Aug. 19, 2022: Program at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square (7 p.m.).
  • Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022: Open House at camp with tours, crafts, a service project and more (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022: “Music & the Spoken Word” at the Conference Center (9 a.m.) and fireside at the Parleys Stake Center in Salt Lake City (7 p.m.).

Contact [email protected] to register or volunteer to help.