110 YEARS OF CAMP MAGIC
In 1980, after a long history with the Denver YMCA, Camp Chief Ouray was moved to YMCA of the Rockies when the original property, located about four miles north of Granby, was sold. YMCA of the Rockies didn’t have a resident camp yet, and undertook building a new Camp Chief Ouray on its Snow Mountain Ranch property. Lynn Holloway, the Camp Director for the Denver Y, transferred to YMCA of the Rockies to continue with Camp Chief Ouray.
Originally, three dorm buildings were built, but two more were later added, along with a dining hall and a health center. In 1984-85, camp grew even more with 16 cabins, two bath houses and two village pavilions. The funds for all but one of the new buildings came from a grant through the Gaylord Foundation and Tejas Cabin was donated by the Legett family. Construction began during mud season, and the story goes that when a road for the workers got too muddy, they would cut a new road into the village area. I don’t know the truth of this story, but I do know that there was a major intersection of six or seven dirt roads between the bathhouses.
Camp Director Lynn Holloway left YMCA of the Rockies in 1985 to become the New York City YMCA’s Director of Holiday Hills Conference Center. In December, 1985, I was selected to be the new Director of Camp Chief Ouray. I moved my wife, Betty, and three-year-old son, Ethan, across the country from North Carolina, where I had been working at YMCA Camp Hope, to Snow Mountain Ranch. I started work in February, 1986, but the snow was deep that winter, and there were no trails into the village. It was late May before I was able to walk through the camper village for the first time.
We only had one returning camp counselor from the previous year at CCO, so in a way, we were starting from scratch. I went on a recruiting trip to Colorado colleges and marketed to colleges across the country. Every counselor I hired had previous experience as a camp counselor. When I was recruiting at University of Colorado, a young lady came to talk with me, saying she had several years of camp counseling experience at a Y camp in Indiana. It turns out that Susie had been a Counselor-in-Training at YMCA Camp Carson when I had been training the CITs as the Assistant Director. Susie worked for me at CCO, and later for Snow Mountain Ranch. I was also able to persuade some of my counselors from North Carolina to come to the Rockies for the summer.
I was fortunate to recruit two experienced camp staff to serve as my Assistant Directors. Sarah Owen came from Kansas City, and Todd Palmer came from Missouri. In true camp fashion, Sarah was known by her camp nickname, “Frog”, so naturally Todd immediately became “Toad”.
Getting it right
With only one returning camp counselor and a handful of past CITs, we began to build a camp program and schedule from scratch. All of the counselors drew on their previous camp experiences, and camp traditions and songs were taught to each other. Figuring out a schedule proved difficult because the property was spread out, and we didn’t really know how much time to allow for walking between areas. As it turned out, the schedule we tried during the first week of camp didn’t work at all. So, it was back to the drawing board. Frog, Toad and I stayed up most of the Saturday between the first two sessions to put together a completely new schedule. Thankfully, this schedule worked much better than the last.
Colorado’s afternoon thunderstorms were not figured into our camp schedule, but they needed to be. Between the first and second years that I directed CCO, I spent time trying to correct the schedule to avoid these storms. We started with a late afternoon rest period (BOB time- Bodies on Bunks), but the storms typically came in the early afternoon, raining out a number of activities. So the second year we moved BOB time to immediately after lunch – and of course, the storms came in the late afternoon that year. We couldn’t fool Mother Nature.
During the first year, I received some interesting comments from parents- things I didn’t understand and knew I needed to investigate. Oddly, the most common comment was about breakfast. A few parents even told me about an allergy that I had never heard of, an “oatmeal allergy”. Cindy Silk, our Camp Registrar had the information I was looking for. She told me that the previous Director had gotten a lot of government surplus rolled oats, and the kids had had oatmeal every morning through most of the summer.
One day, during check-in, a camper’s grandfather told me that he had been a camper many years ago, and asked if I knew the camp song. I didn’t know it, so he sang it for me. I quickly got a tape recorder, and recorded him singing it again. I later found the song in an old CCO songbook; he had remembered the words exactly. Several other parents and grandparents told me they had been campers at CCO, but that it didn’t look the same – they didn’t realize the camp had been moved to a new location. Still, many of the activities enjoyed at camp were continuing in the new location; their children and grandchildren got the experiences and values that they had received as campers.
Camp isn’t really about the fun skills the children learn – they probably won’t shoot arrows or need survival methods of starting a fire, but camp gives them so much more. Camp gives children confidence in themselves and teaches them personal responsibility as well as support for others in their cabin family.
Kent Meyer joined the YMCA of the Rockies team in 1986 as the Camp Director for Camp Chief Ouray. After his time as Camp Director, Meyer became the Center Director for Snow Mountain Ranch, and in 2001, he was named President and CEO of YMCA of the Rockies. Meyer retired in 2016 after more than 30 years of service to YMCA of the Rockies, but is still involved in the YMCA movement.