Friends launching campaign to support wild experiences.
Friends launching campaign to support wild experiences.
“They” refers to Friends of Camp Colton, non-profit partner with the Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) that operates the environmental education facility and program that has hosted 47,000 students in 52 years.
Winnie and her late husband, Evan, started Beaver Street Brewery south of the tracks in Flagstaff, and later, Lumberyard Brewing. As a businessperson, she supports other causes, but has remained a staunch backer of Camp Colton for several reasons.
First is family. Her parents, Dick and Jean Wilson, were well-known Flagstaff philanthropists. They owned the Fern Mountain Ranch at Hart Prairie, along with the nearby property where Camp Colton sits.
Dick was a geologist and taught at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He and Jean started bringing up kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs for summer visits in the cool pines of Northern Arizona. In the 1970s, the couple deeded 33 acres to the school district for what soon became Camp Colton, named for Dick’s mother, Suzanne Colton. The goal: bring every sixth grader in the Flagstaff school system to spend several days outdoors with an environmental education focus.
Winnie was in junior high in Tucson, so didn’t attend Camp Colton herself. But all her children did, and “they loved it,” she says. It was education served up with a healthy portion of fun.
She knows the existing Wilson Lodge, built with huge ponderosa logs, can barely meet capacity and demand, and other facilities also need renovation. Friends of Camp Colton is spearheading a capital campaign to match an FUSD bond passed by voters to address those needs.
Winnie Hanseth is pretty sure that “Dick and Jean would approve.”
Here’s a “postcard” from camp, on Day 1. Camp Colton’s many alumni would find the rituals much the same.
The big yellow FUSD No. 1 school bus pulls up to the entrance of Camp Colton, and the load of passengers pours out the door. Program coordinator Callie Harward instructs the students to form a “fire line” and start unloading all their gear. In ballcaps, t-shirts and sunglasses, the kids hand off sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, duffle bags and packs, some nearly as big as they are. One student clutches a stuffed animal, a bit of comfort away from home.
The controlled chaos takes a while, as the pile of gear grows into a mountain. The students sit on log stumps, waiting for the second bus to arrive. But in minutes, a bunch scamper off like chipmunks to another row of stumps. One girl comments, “We’re literally out in the middle of nowhere.”
Indeed. These 65 sixth-graders from Sinagua Middle School have journeyed 10 miles from Flagstaff to Camp Colton, situated near 9,000 feet elevation at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks. It’s not that far in miles, but in these quiet woods away from home, family and digital distractions, they’re in an entirely different world. For many, it’s the first time ever for this experience. On a late August morning, lupines bloom bluer than the sky, mushrooms are popping up, and deer with fawns browse in the woods. It’s anyone’s guess whether the students noticed them on the way in amid their nervous excitement.
Over the half century that Camp Colton has existed, it’s remained a residential environmental education program, off-grid and outdoors, free of classroom walls. The stated mission is to cultivate “exceptional outdoor learning experiences that instill the value of preserving our natural world and inspire growth and discovery.” The person in charge of carrying out that mission every day on the ground is camp director Jackson Carranco, a guy who never stops moving.
After everyone has arrived, Jackson rings the old cast iron bell outside the main lodge, a sound that will summon campers to come together throughout the week.
“What a blessing to see you all here,” he says, then moves right on to basics – boys’ and girls’ restrooms and showers behind the main lodge. Water spigots are there too, “straight from the spring where we get all our water.” And rooftop solar panels that provide electricity to the buildings.
Jackson also notes the dozen canvas-sided platform tents and two newer enclosed cabins where campers will spend their nights. And there are rules: no visiting friends in other tents, and no going back to the tents during recess without permission. And no food or trash inside, lest a porcupine find its way in.
Tents, eight bunks in each, are assigned, blankets and sleeping bags are arranged, but there’s precious little time to relax. Instead, it’s back to the lodge where campers fill out their name tag “cookies”—rounds of wood on yarn string.
Jackson draws all eyes to the San Francisco Peaks rising more than 12,000 feet just behind them. “We are really on the mountain” he observes, and inquires who knows the names of the Peaks. “Humphreys” says one, “Elden,” chimes another. A shy Navajo girl calls them Dook’o’oosłiid in her Diné language.
Animals become the theme as each student is assigned to the group they’ll stay with through the week – Antelope, Bear, Chipmunk, Deer and Elk. These are designed to fulfill another goal at Camp Colton. Team building and getting along with your peers and kids who aren’t part of your inner circle. For 11- and 12-year-olds on the brink of adolescence, this is as important as the basic outdoor education mission.
Finally…lunch time! And as soon as trays are cleared and cleanup is done, it’s on to a jam-packed afternoon. The topic is Adventure/Survival. The designated Animal groups rotate through four stations – more orientation; orienteering where they learn old-fashioned compass and more modern GPS skills; geocaching in search of hidden boxes that contain valuable information; and a tug of war with two lines of ropes attached to pulleys, a science lesson in mechanical advantage.
For the next two days, smaller groups will venture out on “expeditions.” Geology entails a trip into a cool, dark lava tube. Forestry covers trees, wildfire and restoration. The ecosystem session illustrates the web of life. Aquatics teaches about hydrology and creatures at a nearby water tank.
As the afternoon wears on, campers meet Coconino County Search and Rescue volunteers, who share real-life scenarios of aiding hurt or lost hikers, and how to prevent the need for rescue in the first place.
After dinner, it’s astronomy time. Several telescopes are set up in a nearby field, courtesy of Northern Arizona University astronomer and volunteer Ed Anderson. With headlamps and flashlights, the campers bob over like a line of fireflies. They take turns looking through the telescopes, observing lunar craters, the red giant star Arcturus, the double star in the handle of the Big Dipper, and a globular cluster.
At long last, it’s time to call it a day. The campers return to their respective tents. Lights out, eyes closed, no whispering, says Callie. And though experience tells her there may be a few tears of homesickness, with luck there won’t be many. Instead, and it may take time, the students will discover something astounding about themselves and the natural world. FBN
By Rose Houk, FBN
For more information, visit https://friendsofcampcolton.org/creating-campfire-memories.
Photo by Michael Collier: Camp Colton has welcomed about 47,000 sixth graders into the ponderosa pine forest in the last 52 years. Local business owner Winnie Hanseth is helping to keep the adventure alive. Her parents, Dick and Jean Wilson, provided the land where Camp Colton has become an outdoor classroom.