• Team Backcountry

Growing Up at Camp Backcountry

After years of kids spending their summers at Camp Backcountry, our little ones of the past are now leading the packs.



Let's quickly start with a timeline. In 2014, the HRCA Backcountry Wilderness Area opened up its first nature summer camp, Outdoor Discovery Camp. In the last six years, you can say we've grown. Outdoor Discovery Camp started with just 30 campers each week. After a move to our current location at Backcountry Base Camp in 2016, Outdoor Discovery Camp became Camp Backcountry in 2018. We worked through the difficulties of COVID-19 and still opened the gates at Camp Backcountry for our campers in the summer of 2020 to give kids a much-needed outdoor outlet. This summer, nearly 1,300 camper spots filled up in Nature, Horse, and Art camps.


One thing we've always known is that Base Camp is the starting point for our environmental education mission. It takes our campers, their families, our staff, and our wild place to make up the experience of Camp Backcountry. We've had the absolute privilege of watching little, curious kids grow into passionate, responsible conservationists who are sharing their love for nature with upcoming groups of young campers.


For the last six summers, we've brought on Leaders-in-Training (students ages 14-17 years old) who volunteer their time to learn how to work with their peers and campers to assist in bringing the Camp Backcountry experience together. In our first year of the LIT program (2016), we had a total of six LITs. In 2021, we worked with 50 LITs! The goal of the Leader-in-Training (LIT) program is to give our community's teens a place to build their communication, people managing, and personal skills in an environment where constructive teaching and growth are merged with mentorship from our staff. We want to prepare LITs to succeed in whatever their future holds.


AnnaKate Hein, Camp Backcountry director and programs supervisor, filled us in on these three of our veteran campers turned LITs. Afterward, we asked each of them to share their experiences of growing up at Camp Backcountry.

Zoey


Zoey’s first summer at Camp Backcountry was in 2015, when she was 10 years old. Now, at age 16, she has just wrapped up her third summer as a LIT. We require our LITs to commit to two weeks at Camp Backcountry in the summer, and Zoey opted for nine out of 10!


In her first summer, Zoey continuously had to adjust her backpack—she was so little and her large backpack would slip off her shoulders during hikes. Her excitement was always large, but her stride was small. She was always near the back of the pack when exploring the woods. It is so rewarding to now watch Zoey help our youngest campers (ages 7-8) navigate life at Camp Backcountry.


Zoey’s story is particularly special to me because she started at Camp Backcountry in 2015, which was also my first year working for the Backcountry Wilderness Area and overseeing Camp Backcountry. Zoey is one of the only campers that has been with Camp Backcountry since I started, and has experienced all of the growth that Camp Backcountry has undergone.


Q&A with Zoey


What's your best memory at Camp Backcountry? My best memory is honesty making friends ... and hanging with the goats.


In your time as a camper, what did you learn at Camp Backcountry? I learned a lot about perseverance and not giving up. I learned that it's so important to be kind to each other.


How has your time at Camp Backcountry influenced you? Camp Backcountry has made me more optimistic and more positive. The kids are always positive and it has impacted my way of life outside of Camp Backcountry.


What's the biggest difference between life as a Camp Backcountry camper versus a Leader-in-Training? It's a lot more responsibility, but I look forward to it each day. I'm always excited to be here and feel accomplished after each day. From being here a camper to now, I can tell that I'm growing up.


What would you tell a new family considering Camp Backcountry for the first time? Do it. Your kid will learn every week that they are here. You are learning how to be a better friend and better person while also learning how to take care of our environment and our local wildlife.

Tolin


Tolin’s first summer at Camp Backcountry was in 2016, when he was 11. Now, at 16, he is driving both himself and his younger brother to Base Cmp! Tolin just wrapped up his third summer as a LIT.


That first summer, Tolin came to camp for two weeks. On his very last day, he was terribly sad that he couldn’t stay at Camp Backcountry for the rest of the summer. He left upset and actively begged his mom to come back. The following summer—and each one since—Tolin has spent the majority of his summer at Camp Backcountry.


Tolin has grown immensely since his start with us five years ago. I remember having positive discussions with Tolin, when he was still a camper at age 13, about what it would take in order for him to prove he was ready for the LIT program the following year. Now, three years into the LIT program, Tolin is an outstanding LIT who is always eager to help out in any way necessary.


Q&A with Tolin


What's your best memory at Camp Backcountry?

As a camper, I loved building forts with friends.


In your time as a camper, what did you learn at Camp Backcountry?

I've learned a lot of survival skills as a camper. Recently, as a LIT, I finally started a fire with flint and steel for the first time.


How has your time at Camp Backcountry influenced you?

When I first started at Camp Backcountry, I was really shy. I had a really hard time finding and making friends. Camp has helped my confidence a lot.


What's the biggest difference between life as a Camp Backcountry camper versus a Leader-in-Training?

I'm learning how to work with kids. I'm learned how to control myself, like not showing the campers I'm tired even if I am, and be better with my emotions.


What would you tell a new family considering Camp Backcountry for the first time?

Reach out and meet new camp friends. Camp Backcountry has so many different things to try. You will love the all-camp games. Don't miss this amazing chance to explore in the wild.

Zeke


Zeke’s first full summer at Camp Backcountry was in 2016, when he was age 10. Now, at 15 years old, he is still spending virtually his entire summer at Camp Backcountry each year. He just wrapped up his second summer as a LIT. (Next year, his younger sister, who has been attending as a camper since she was 8 years old, will be old enough to participate in the LIT program as well!)


Zeke, who spends the school year in Wyoming, is one of our most animated campers. We tried a new all-camp game a few years ago, the Zombie Campocalyps. Zeke was chosen to be the first zombie that year, and he made for one of the most memorable zombie impersonations we’ve ever seen.


Zeke has grown a ton at camp each summer. He started as a young Voyager himself, and now he is doing a wonderful job enthusiastically leading a group of Voyagers each week. It is such a privilege for the campers to get to work with a LIT who has been in their shoes.


Q&A with Zeke


What's your best memory at Camp Backcountry?

I have a lot of really good memories! My favorite is from playing Pred/Prey (a giant group tag game in the woods with ALL of the campers) and all of the massive all-camp games.


In your time as a camper, what did you learn at Camp Backcountry?

I have learned so much at Horse Camp. Everything I know about horses came from my time at Camp Backcountry. I've also learned a ton about environmental education. When we had our campouts here a few years ago, I also learned about how bad light pollution can be as well as a lot about wildlife and invasive species.


How has your time at Camp Backcountry influenced you? I've gone from a kid who ran off and cried way too much, and could not take anything, to someone who can handle a lot. I've really grown up here.


What's the biggest difference between life as a Camp Backcountry camper versus a Leader-in-Training? I've worked with the Voyagers (ages 9-10) this summer. It's interesting because I started coming to Camp Backcountry when I was 10 years old. It's seeing Camp Backcountry through a completely new set of eyes.


What would you tell a new family considering Camp Backcountry for the first time?

Just come! This camp is amazing. It's really my home away from home.

For more information on Camp Backcountry and our Leader-in-Training (LIT) program, visit www.campbackcountry.org.



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