Summer camp is a rite of passage for most kids and Colorado offers up some of the country’s best. Although many are long-gone, like the infamous Vagabond Camp that was lovingly illustrated in the Hi and Lois Cartoons: It was once inhabited by the Utes, then a stagecoach stop near Granby, and later a beloved camp with a cult following among wealthy East Coast families. Some of the original building with ax-hewn logs and trapper cabins are still used today. It’s currently privately owned but the memories of happy campers still live on.
Other camps that have stood the test of time are just as vital today as they were a hundred years ago, serving thousands of campers from around the world. The same pioneer spirit is alive and well at these iconic camps, proving they’re not only fun but vital for kids of all ages. Time away from home and family, in a simple setting of natural beauty, provides unique opportunities to build confident, independent, resilient, and respectful youth. Whether it’s 1921 or 2021, kids need camp. It’s where they make new friends and find a sense of belonging. They gain enhanced confidence and independence through their accomplishments and form a personal connection with the natural world and with themselves. They leave camp refreshed, renewed, and ready to tackle the challenges of the coming year. These are the legacies of summer camp and I hope they still are in the next one hundred years.
Cheley Colorado Camps
Great things happen when youth and mountain meet.
In 1921 Frank Cheley took nine adventurous boys into the Colorado Rockies to a rustic summer camp on the shores of Bear Lake, inside the newly minted Rocky Mountain National Park. The Bear Lake Trail School – An Alpine Summer Camp for Boys was located in what in many is still a wilderness where boys could become ‘self-propelled, independent individuals with real character and personality’ according to Cheley. These leadership training summer camps became so popular that five years later, Cheley welcomed “vigorous girls” to his “vigorous camp” he named Chipeta, after the queen of the Utes, wife of Chief Ouray.
Today, the Cheley family still runs the show with fourth-generation brother and sister duo Brooke Cheley Klebe and Jeff Cheley at the helm. They offer two four-week terms and a five-night term for younger campers. “Summer camp is a chance to step out of your routine and connect with the natural world. You feel more solid, focused and engaged in life when you’re surrounded by mountain peaks, ancient rocks, and huge ponderosa pines. It’s when most of us are connected to our pure potential,” says Klebe who’s been a camper, counselor and now camp director. “We focus on character development based on a ‘code of living’ that the kids define for themselves. They all collaborate to define what’s important to them and take the code of living seriously with the goal of being better people.”
Over the 27-day terms, campers really learn into their experiences and build upon their skills. They choose their activities and take ownership of what they want to get out of their personal experiences such as horseback riding, mountain biking, river activities, archery, hiking, crafts and technical climbing. In fact, they’re the only camp in the U.S. with a via ferrata (a protected climbing route, built with a steel cable rail fixed to the rock, metal steps, ladders, suspension bridges and zip wires) at their Kent Mountain Adventure Center.
“Every summer, we see kids gain a sense of confidence and learn to trust themselves,” Klebe reports. “My heart breaks for the increase of depression in young kids, so if we can provide a safe space where they can get to really know themselves, form meaningful friendships, and disconnect from social media and social pressures, those are lessons they will hopefully carry with them outside of camp.”
Beyond the summer sessions, the Cheleys are dedicated to being good stewards of their land. They’re fully invested in forest-restoration projects and agriculture to help with fire dangers throughout Estes Park, and are broadening their view on how they can serve a larger community – think family camps, weddings, retreats and more.
Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park
Geneva Glen Camp
Cherishing the past, nurturing the present, seeding the future.
Founded in 1922 as a character development and leadership training program, Geneva Glen Camp (GG) is a private non-profit organization with more than nine decades of campers to attest to its merit. Since its inception, only three pairs of directors have been employed – through rich traditions and programs created by the original directors, Harold and Iris Gilmore, Genva Glen welcomes hundreds of second-generation through fifth-generation campers each summer. With 85 percent of their staff were former campers, they definitely ‘grow their own’ and even have their first sixth generation camper heading to camp this summer. These deeps roots and loyal families are proof that GG has been providing a nourishing environment where young people become leaders for nearly a century.
“The ‘Magic of the Glen’ as it’s called is something kids have felt for years and that magic has been passed down through generations resulting in our strong supportive alumni who view camp as an extension of their family,” says Christa Redford. “It’s a place that transcends fashion and the pressures of daily life where kids can learn about themselves on a new, deeper level.” And it certainly seems there’s transformative power in bringing children into a natural, healthy environment that inspires inward growth, development of character, and faith in one’s own individuality. “If we can promote that power and help kids enrich their communities, that is what it’s all about.”
Something that sets Geneva Glen apart of all other camps – each session has highly curated, unique themes – American Heritage, Knighthood, World Friendship, Myths and Magic, and this year marks a new session for 1st and 2nd graders called Seedlings and Stardust. “We’ve had a lot of requests for an ‘intro’ session where kids can experience camp for two nights and three days. Covid actually allowed us the space and time to revise our typical schedule and develop a program specifically for this age group.” With the pressures of social media on top of the normal growing pains of childhood plus the stress of the pandemic, kids need camp, and offering a session for younger kids seems like a direct response to the current pressures. And let’s not forget economic pressures – GG offers over $100,000 in camper scholarships each year to kids who may not otherwise be able to attend.
In this setting is woven an engaging educational and comprehensive leadership training programs with opportunities to live the values of mutual respect, honesty, and acceptance of others as well as individual responsibility, understanding of cultural differences, courage to live at one’s best, and stewardship for the natural environment. The vision of Geneva Glen’s founders is as bright and clear as it was 99 years ago, and that vision continues to guide the directors, staff and campers on their journeys through Geneva Glen summers.
Along with events and activities specific to each session, campers take part in hiking, horseback riding, overnights, swimming, drama, arts and crafts, archery, ropes course, rock climbing, repelling and nature and environmental education.
GG has survived for nearly one hundred years, and the staff, Board of Directors, seasonal staff, alum, and camp Families are determined to keep this magic alive and thriving for decades and generations to come. Geneva Glen has weathered many storms – WWII, The Great Depression, the lodge burning down the first day of camp in 1973 and, of course, COVID-19 in 2020. Through it all their spirit and magic of camp has thrived. It seems no matter the year, no matter the age, summer camp is where we grow.
Geneva Glen Camp, Indian Hills
Sanborn Western Camps
Creating outdoor experiences of exceptional quality and depth.
Sanborn Camps are located on 6,000 acres of privately-owned mountain meadows and forests 35 miles west of Colorado Springs near the small town of Florissant. It was founded in 1948 by Sandy and Laura Sanborn. Sandy, originally from New Hampshire, came to Colorado as a member of the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II and trained at Camp Hale near Leadville. He met Laura, a Colorado native, on a blind date and married soon after. Following the war, they wanted to create a program where children from all over could learn to live together in the out-of-doors. They bought land near Florissant and started Big Spring Ranch for Boys in 1948 and in 1962, they opened High Trails Ranch for Girls.
For 75 years, Sanborn has offered two month-long sessions at Big Spring and High Trails for kids ages 9-17, and four two-week Junior Sanborn for 7–10-year-olds. With 700 campers coming from 42 states and a dozen countries, about 25 percent are from Colorado. And campers return because they’re proud of their accomplished, and thrive in the fun, respectful community; it’s a profound cumulative effect. “Parents are aware of the growth that occurs for their children at camp, and many have told us that camp is the most important experience they provide for their children each year because they come home happier, healthier, and more confident,” says Jane Sanborn, director of development, COEC officer and board member and program chair of the ACA National Conference.
“Research has shown that time spent in the natural world reduces stress and anxiety for children, inspires creativity, and promotes compassion for others. Social and emotional learning is the curriculum of Sanborn where campers learn collaboration skills, resilience, responsibility and many other social and emotional skills, says Jane. “And after a year of anxiety and isolation due to the pandemic, children need camp more than ever now.”
Sanborn’s focus on Western horseback riding and camping/backpacking/mountain climbing are paramount, and they even have U.S. Forest Service permits to climb 19 different mountains in central Colorado and many of our campers choose to climb at least one Fourteener during their time at camp. Additionally, campers head out on three-, four-, and five-day backpacking trips on horseback where they hone their communication skills and respect for mother nature. Older campers take part in major technical rock-climbing excursions, which are among the best in the country.
With proximity to the South Platte River and a nearby reservoir, kids swim, tube, fish and canoe daily, and learn to appreciate the natural world with crystal digging sites on the property and the neighboring Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Combine these with archery, tennis, ropes course, arts and crafts and mountain biking, there’s no shortage of fun. To top it off, they have a large telescope that offers epic stargazing.
“Sanborn Western Camps have grown and evolved for nearly 75 years, and we will continue to focus on youth development and stay abreast of the research related to what young people need. And we’ll continue to explore ways to increase and improve our program offerings.”
Sanborn Western Camps, Florissant