(Highway 72 Flood Damage From The Helicopter We Hired in Early October 2013)
After buying the camp property in late April 2013, we informed everyone of the big change to a new home (nobody minded!) and had a short two-week session in August and a Family Camp over Labor Day. The next week, on Wednesday, September 11, Tom and I hopped on a plane to Fresno, California to go get some boats for the lake. I remember sitting on the plane in Denver thinking “It’s really raining a lot.” Understatement. Big Time.
Tom and I were met in Fresno by the owner of Gold Arrow Camp, an inspiring camp in the Sierras on Huntington Lake. They were retiring some of their sail boats and we decided to go pick them up, along with a dozen kayaks. Tom and I visited the camp, loaded the big truck, and started on our way back to Colorado, where it was still raining. A lot.
After a quick rest in Barstow and early morning drive down the Vegas Strip, we decided to push all the way back to Boulder that day. Problem was, we couldn’t make it. Kathy Sabine told us (too late) on the iPad broadcast that the storm was going to dump a lot of rain and not go anywhere. Even on the Western Slope, there was too much rain to drive through the night.
My biggest regret now was our stop at the Grand Junction Home Depot to buy a sump pump for my basement. A huge wall of sump pumps, generators, and other good stuff in front of me and I grabbed a little one and walked away. Did I tell you I had a big truck? I should’ve bought everything that would fit in the truck. We were about the first ones back into town on Friday morning, where the Home Depot in Boulder (and everywhere else) was cleaned out of sump pumps and supplies. We could’ve acted like a delivery truck by just returning what we had bought and provided more resources for people here in town. Instead we just brought a truck full of used sailboats and kayaks. A little ironic.
The next few months, Tom and I worked out Panera Bread as getting to camp took many hours and lots of horrible back roads. By the time Coal Creek Canyon was fixed, it was early December and the weather was turning. We didn’t really get to experience the first autumn at camp, but now we had camp boats!
As it says in his online bio, Ed is a ‘secret weapon’ for us. He is more than just a bus driver, as he makes sure to connect with campers that need a little more attention and is always giving us feedback on what’s happening out there. Ed is insightful and kind, and he has that magic ability to know everyone’s name and story right away. He has taught me so much about how to manage a quality transportation program, and has even used his negotiation skills from his past work at CU to help us get a better deal on vehicles! We are excited to have him move from the Boulder Day Camp to our Sleep Away Camp this summer!
So the day camps are rolling along, growing, and for all we could tell, we’d survive the downturn in the economy. (There were days & months that that wasn’t obvious.) In the fall of 2010, a camp director friend named Andrew (who is now starting his own camp in Colorado Springs!) and I were talking, and decided to collaborate on a short-term AO Sleep Away Camp program the next summer. Andrew worked so hard to help find our location, but he needed something more steady than “start up work” at the time (don’t we all!).
In August 2011, we held our first Sleep Away Camp session at Silver Cliff Ranch in Buena Vista. We had about 24 campers each week – NOT BAD! 80% had been day campers!
Imagine starting a Sleep Away Camp that is based on a day camp program, that is based on a Sleep Away Camp! It was exciting, challenging, and exhausting – especially after a long summer of day camp. The place was neat – it had a hot-springs pool, a gym, a river nearby, and was ideal for getting started on a new program.
As the Boulder Day Camps grew and were successful, we knew we wanted to start some programs for Denver families, as well. Betsy spearheaded the first sessions of our Denver Day Camp – a van full of campers that went from Stapleton to Cherry Creek State Park most days. It was a lot of driving. And there were big storms. And the only really solid buildings to go in during the tornado warnings were the bathrooms. The State Park was a great spot, but it was just a little far from our campers.
Over the next couple of years, we developed the program we have today – visiting Barr Lake, The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, and Eldorado Canyon State Park.
We also found our Base Camp at Hangar 61, and started the Junior Program and Before- and After-Camp to mirror the Boulder offerings.
Denver developed it’s own culture of music, routine, and fun quite separate from Boulder that matches the Stapleton area families. It wasn’t all just “On Top Of Spaghetti” at the end of the day!
The Boulder Day Camps continually evolved over the years. After the first summer in Eldora, we developed a great partnership with Eldorado Canyon State Park and made it our home (closer, cleaner, beautiful!). A few years later, we started our Junior Day Camp and Base Camp at the Living School on the corner of 19th and Arapahoe. Base Camp migrated north twice: first to the September School at 20th & Canyon, and finally to Whittier Elementary, which was perfect (just ask anyone who was with us at the previous spots!).
For campers aging out, we started our Junior Leaders Program and Intro to Backpacking. The Original Campers from 2005 were always there to try out the newest programs, too. These two programs were appropriate, fun, and different for campers in the pre- to early-teenage years.
We also developed a powerful partnership with the OT/PT group at Boulder Community Hospital’s Mapleton Center so that they could bring their campers and therapists for two weeks each summer.
Tim joined us in 2006 as a counselor responsible for helping develop and implement programming and help out other counselors in their cabin groups. Over the next few years, he helped develop our inclusion program, our evaluation and outcomes research, and Denver Camps. The work he did with us definitely contributed to his career with CU and now as the Data Collection and Analysis Coordinator at Mile High United Way!
(Steve, Tommy, and some of our campers, June 2005)
The first day of camp is like no other, even if it’s just a handful of kids piled into a borrowed VW van driving up to Eldora Ski Resort! It was 2005, and we called ourselves “Mountain Day Camp”. So many first day activities still happen at camp: opening songs, sunscreen parties, cabin naming, get to know you games, and “On Top of Spaghetti” to close things out.
We had a lot of fun creating many classic “MDC” moments like “JJ’s Marshmallows” and Gorp Menus! During those few weeks, Steve and I worked with campers to make and fly kites, hike and cook on camp stoves, and play crazy games. Additional memories include: snow one morning, a planned visit from the Boulder Emergency Squad Rescue Truck, climbing in Boulder Canyon with “Mountain Mike”, and getting locked IN at the Eldora gate on our way to meet parents for our end of session party and skits! (We got out, but some off-roading was necessary!)
Here’s our original camp crew recorded in fall 2005 singing “On Top of Spaghetti”:
Camille was the first staff member we ever hired! She interviewed 10 years ago this week, and I knew right away she would be great. After a few full summers with us, she’s filled in a week here and there and even helped in the off season. Along the way, she became a teacher, got married, and now she is a new mom! Like Steve and Betsy, she left a huge mark on camp and our culture!
I had decided to start a day camp, but needed to learn a lot more. In the summer of 2004, it was time for some hands-on research and a chance to learn as much as I could on all aspects of camp! I went on the road and visited incredible camps all over the country, and also helped lead a trip in the Boundary Waters with The Children’s Hospital Colorado Burn Camps Program and YMCA Camp Widjiwagan (shown above).
Visiting a camp while it is in full operation is something few camp directors get to do (we are pretty busy in the summer). From each camp, I learned something different about program, staff, site, and philosophy. These camps’ genes are present in big and small ways at AO Camps – from camp songs, traditions, and culture, to policies on transportation, logistics, food, and business management. It was a great education that I still lean on often, and I tell young, aspiring camp directors to do it for a summer if they can.