Camp Wood hopes to attract entire families for recreation, education

For 100 summers, the sounds of young people enjoying summer camp have echoed through this portion of the Cottonwood River valley.

B.J. Murray wants those sounds to continue for another 100 years, but wants similar sounds of happiness coming from adults as well.

“This year we’ll be offering the all-American summer camp experience, but in a way entire families can enjoy it together,” said Murray, Camp Wood YMCA’s senior operations director.

“We can offer ways that they can have fun in the outdoors, and learn a lot about the outdoors together.”

Next Saturday, the camp near the tiny village of Elmdale will hold an open camp event to showcase what it can offer to all generations while celebrating 100 years of sharing the Flint Hills with campers. Camp officials also are hoping to educate visitors about what a modern summer camp can offer.

In 1915, Murray said, a local family donated 40 acres of land for the creation of a youth camp. The first campers came the following summer.

A lot has changed since the days of simple hiking, swimming and riding horses on the small plot of land.

Camp Wood is now about 860 acres, which includes a lake of about 30 acres and a main lodge large enough to hold hundreds of people so it can host groups like corporate gatherings or state-level outdoors education competitions.

Murray said the camp, which overlooks the lake and a broad view of the Flint Hills, has become a popular place for things like weddings and family reunions.

Now, the camp has plenty of space should those families want to stay several days.

Murray spent much of a recent morning giving a tour of the grounds, which show a lot of recent growth and a push toward the kind of facility that families can enjoy together.

“We’ve put around $12 million, over about the past 10 years, into our facilities,” said Murray. “We’re really blessed to have such a great group of alumni and donor base.”

As an independent YMCA, Camp Wood is responsible for its own funding and management decisions, Murray said.

Lately, much of the spending has been put into lodging, especially the kind that can house families. Those structures range from one-room, bunk-bed-style set-ups with separate bathroom facilities to large cabins with all amenities, including full kitchens and decks. Prices start at $90 a night for up to four people.

Those who pursue the family camp option will have access to most of the camp’s activities, like the many miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, and fishing.

Camp Wood, Murray said, also offers more than such traditional activities. Walking the grounds, he showed things like the camp’s paintball course, mud slide and 50-foot climbing tower that can be ascended and descended several ways.

An ongoing theme at the camp is to mix recreation with education.

A pit where amateur archeologists find true fossils is popular, as is a stream exploration class that literally allows students to get their feet wet, handling assorted plants and creatures to help them understand the natural dynamics of a Kansas stream.

Murray said Camp Wood also makes good use of one of the finest textbooks on hand – the Flint Hills.

“You know, there’s only about 4 percent of the native prairie left, and we’re right here in the middle of some of the greatest prairie in the world,” he said, “so you know we’re going to use it for a classroom as much as possible.”

In addition to traditional youth camps that offer a variety of activities, Murray said Camp Wood now offers specialized camps so students can focus on particular interests, like camps to learn more about leadership skills, performing arts, trail bike riding or horses.

Next Saturday’s open camp, which includes a free lunch, will allow visitors a chance to sample a variety of camp activities.

Murray said those who come back for an extended stay will get more than just those lessons and fun.

“One of the biggest things we’re about these days, (in youth camps) is building friendships,” Murray said. “It’s amazing how many who came here as kids ended up meeting kids who became longtime friends.

“It’s a great environment to get close to people.”

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors

Camp Wood Centennial Celebration

Where: Camp Wood YMCA, about 70 miles northeast of Wichita, just off U.S. 50

When: Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Events: Tours of Camp Wood and participation in assorted outdoors activities, plus lunch

Cost: Free

For more information, and to register for the event, go to www.campwood.org or call 620-273-8641.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle