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Hidden River Acres finds new purpose as event venue

The business is located where a Christian camp was formerly located.

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Looking like a plantation with large trees lining the viewpoint, Hidden River Acres will have a few usable buildings in the near future. The main building as seen in the center has been holding events since mid summer.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
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JAMESTOWN — A former Christian camp-turned-wedding venue is thriving in northern Jamestown after opening this summer.

Hidden River Acres is nestled near the James River along Fourth Avenue Northwest, secluded among the trees from nearby houses and the Washington Elementary School.

The 8 1/2-acre property housed a range of spiritual camps and gatherings over its history, dating back to the early 1900s, before it closed in the 2000s. The property sat unused for several years until it was transformed into the current wedding venue.

“The place would be covered with wagons and tents and families coming from all over the area to that location,” said Troy Gunderson, executive director of James Valley Youth for Christ and former caretaker of the camp property. “The word of God would be preached, and there’s a significant spiritual meaning to this area, which I hope can remain. There’s a special blessing upon that property.”

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Joe Brown, left, stands with his wife, Tyra, co-owner of Hidden River Acres. Sheldon Oviatt, Tyra's father, is also a co-owner of the event center.
Contributed / Domino Photography

Several Jamestown area families have connections to the camp, from grandparents who went to the camp in the mid-1900s or other family members who went to the Child Evangelism Fellowship program in the late ‘90s, Gunderson said.

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Before the camp officially closed, it was named the Fuller Family Camp. The property was passed onto an area church and then sold to Dean Hafner of H&H Holdings more than five years ago. Hafner had planned to develop the area into housing, with a handful of single-family homes and twin homes.

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A view from the stage inside the main building of Hidden River Acres shows a lighting rack above the dance floor, the wide open seating capacity, vaulted ceiling and of course the bar area.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Due to the cost of overhauling the property, Hafner chose to sell the property to daughter-father duo Kyra Brown and Sheldon Oviatt instead, who had been looking to build a wedding venue in the Jamestown area.

Originally, the two had hoped to build the large wedding venue in Bloom Township, but switched plans due to a denied permit from the township. Instead, they built an oasis within Jamestown city limits.

“We’re in town but secluded on the river, so you can’t tell you're in Jamestown,” Brown said.

The roughly 5,000-square-foot building can hold over 400 people, seating 300 for a wedding. There’s also a tabernacle for ceremonies, an event stage, dressing rooms and a kitchen.

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A scenic look of columns of stone, a paved driveway and a large cottonwood tree await patrons at the main entrance of Hidden River Acres in Jamestown.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

The venue is full service, including catering, DJ and limo service.

Brown and Oviatt co-own the Corner Bar in downtown Jamestown together, so they are familiar with such services. And Brown knows how stressful it can be to plan a wedding firsthand, since she was married in August 2020.

Options for wedding space when she was married were limited to mostly hotel convention rooms. Most people who wanted to hold bigger weddings or in different venues had to drive to Fargo or Bismarck, she added.

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“When my husband and I were getting married, there was nothing around here that struck our eye or that was convenient. We got married on my dad’s farm instead,” Brown said. “We did this after the fact to make it easier on all planning couples.”

Brown and Oviatt bought the property from Hafner and began building the venue in summer of 2021. Hidden River Acres started taking reservations last January and held its first wedding in July.

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Cleverly hidden in the big woods, the event center opened for business this past summer.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Already, the venue is nearly booked out for 2023 events and has a few events reserved in 2024.

“I think it’s something that the community really needed,” Hafner said. “That's pretty obvious by the number of bookings they’ve already had.”

Although there are a handful of other buildings original to the property as well as a volleyball and basketball court, Brown said the extra buildings are mainly used for storage for the time being, though she plans to renovate them for future use, perhaps even a honeymoon suite.

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Renovations to this building are being made for patron use in the near future.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Gunderson said he’s glad to see that the property has been turned into a wedding venue, and he hopes the original buildings will stay intact. He’s especially glad that the tabernacle has remained, adding that it looks like a “giant wooden umbrella.”

“Those buildings stand as a testament to the ability for people to come together,” he said.

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