Michelle and Larisa Katz of Belfair, Washington


Michelle and Larisa Katz of Belfair, Washington

The western part of the state of Washington is surrounded by water and covered with trees. Hidden within these tall green fir-tree forests, on the stretch of land between Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, is a place called Zion’s Camp. This 80-acre piece of property, owned by the Church, is used as a recreational area for family reunions, youth conferences, Boy Scout and Young Women camps, and many other activities. Eighty acres is a lot of land, and Zion’s Camp needs lots of work to keep it going and to make it even better. That’s where the Katz family comes in.

Michelle (10) and Larisa (7) Katz live at Zion’s Camp with their parents, Jonathan and Tina, their brother Ammon (15), sister Sarah (13), two dogs—Jake and Kate—and Emma the cat. It’s their parents’ job to take care of and develop the Zion’s Camp property so that it will be a special place for people, especially youth, to enjoy nature while keeping LDS standards. Michelle and Larisa often help out around the property, building ladders, stacking wood, or doing other chores. But for them, probably the best part of living in this beautiful area is having eighty acres of magical forest to explore, right in their own backyard.

Even though they are almost three years apart in age, Michelle and Larisa have always thought of themselves as “twins.” They like to wear matching outfits and have the same haircut.

However, anyone who meets these two friendly girls doesn’t stay a stranger for long. And once you’ve been around them awhile, you can see that each has her own distinct personality. “Michelle likes to act,” Dad explains. For instance, the family has a collection of animated scripture videos, and Michelle often quotes her favorite lines from them in the same dramatic way that the characters do. She also likes to put together her own shows, in which she sings and dances for her friends and family. She’s very outgoing and will quickly make friends with any of the children camping on the property. She loves to say, “Here’s my new best friend!”

Although just as friendly as her sister, Larisa tends to be more quiet and reserved. “She’s a great student,” her mom says. Larisa has always had a special affection for Jesus Christ and knows of His great love for children. She tells her parents, “I hope He comes while I’m still little!” In fact, when she was in kindergarten, she wanted to see Him so much that she often spent her whole recess staring up at the sky, waiting for Him to appear.

Another time, when Larisa was two years old, a mountain-man friend came to visit her parents. When Larisa walked in and saw his long hair and beard, she got a huge grin on her face and ran up to her mom, crying out happily, “Jesus is here, isn’t He, Mom?” She was very sad when she found out that it wasn’t the Savior after all, and that she would have to keep on waiting.

There are so many fun things to do at Zion’s Camp that it’s nearly impossible to be bored. Everywhere you go, you’ll find trees or wooden towers to climb, a three-story clubhouse to play in, ropes to swing on, boats to row, or long, winding trails to explore. The possibilities are endless. Washington has very unpredictable weather, though—one minute you’ll be playing in the sun, and five minutes later, thunder and lightning will flash across the sky and rain will come pouring down. But having lived here so long, the girls are used to the rain and don’t let it interrupt their play. Larisa likes to splash around in the puddles and catch the raindrops in her mouth.

Of course, there are chores to do. The Katzes heat their home the old-fashioned way, with wood. So, one of the children’s main chores is to gather and stack plenty of firewood. Michelle’s favorite chore is to feed the pets, especially Emma the cat. Larisa likes to vacuum and set the table for dinner.

There’s also plenty of work to do around the camp. Often Church members from other wards or stakes will come and help work on the property. One group came and built two large longhouses, all in one day! Other small miracles have helped the Katz family develop this land into a fun, safe place for people to come.

The Katzes have lived on two other recreational properties—the Church-owned Ensign Ranch, also in Washington, and the Rocking R Ranch in southern Utah, owned by a Church member. They have helped make these into places where people can feel the Holy Spirit as they have fun and enjoy the beauty of nature. Several missionary experiences have come as a result.

The girls enjoy going to Primary in the nearby town of Belfair. Their teachers lovingly challenge them to learn and grow in the gospel. Larisa’s teacher, Sister Crowell, helps her make fun things, like a faith plant and paper dolls from different countries. Michelle’s teacher, Sister Reynolds, challenged her class to bear their testimonies. Michelle said that one of the hardest things she’s ever done was follow Sister Reynolds up to the front of the chapel to bear her testimony, but that afterward she felt very good and was glad that she had done it.

Larisa and Michelle have each developed a love for the scriptures. In fact, they both learned to read from the Book of Mormon. They also read the Bible together. Michelle’s favorite story is about Elijah, because his faith was so strong. Larisa loves reading about Jesus Christ and His life on earth.

Zion’s Camp is well-named. For Michelle and Larisa, it is a place of love and safety. Like the trees surrounding them, these two girls are growing tall and strong in their love for nature, for their family, and for the Savior and His Church.

[photos] Photographed by Robin B. Lambert

[photo] Larisa (left) and Michelle work together to row their boat around Coon Lake.

[photo] 1. “I wish. …” Michelle blows a dandelion.

[photo] 2. Wheeeeee! Sarah demonstrates the rope swing.

[photo] 3. “Smile, Kate!” Larisa plays with the Great Dane’s floppy face.

[photo] 4. Dad, Sarah, and Larisa in the boat.

[photo] 5. The Katzes heat their house the old-fashioned way, so one of the children’s daily chores is to gather and stack firewood.

[photo] 6. Ammon watches as Mom tries to keep Kate from going for a swim.