Ranching, reading, exploring the outdoors, summer camps in the Yampa Valley offer options for kids of all ages
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s nothing like the Yampa Valley in the summer time, but oh, “to be a kid in Steamboat,” said Leslie Murphy, who helps market one of the area’s incredible nonprofit summer camps, Reading on Ranches.
“It’s one of my favorite programs to work on. I feel very passionate about what Emily (Osterman, founder of Reading on Ranches) is doing,” Murphy said.
She said the camp, which is offered through BookTrails, a Steamboat Springs-based organization dedicated to promoting a love for literacy, is about connecting students to what they’re reading.
“If a story character gets lost in the woods and has to build a shelter, then the camp will teach the kids to build a shelter,” Murphy said.
Middle school student Natalia Craig hasn’t missed a summer since her mom first sent her to the camp in third grade.
“It’s different than reading by yourself and you don’t just read,” she said. “You get to have campfires and make new friends and go to the lake or play in the river.”
The benefits, especially for late readers or those still learning English, is phenomenal, Murphy added.
“Studies show when children do a physical activity that is incorporated with their reading, it helps increase their aptitude,” she said.
Natalia said she’s seen improvement in her fellow campers firsthand.
“And sometimes you learn about a topic that’s not in our books. In our Ultimate Survival camp, we learned how to filter water and recognize poisonous berries,” said Natalia, who attends Steamboat Springs Middle School.
While Reading on Ranches fosters a love for reading and fun on the Fetcher-Lotz ranch near Steamboat Lake State Park, another ranch in South Routt is leading campers on a different journey.
“Our camp is a western heritage day camp for kids and teens of Routt County,” said Best of the West Camp Program Director Jiffy Holland.
The nine-week summer camp is one of the few local summer camps that allow for older teenagers and is affordable for the average family. The ranch owners started the camp especially for students who might yearn to ride horses but don’t have the access.
“We want them to walk away understanding how ranches work and to appreciate our Western heritage, which unfortunately has been lost a little in our community,” said Ailenn Sandstedt, owner of CR Summit Ranch, where the camp is held.
The camp is separated into two different age groups, with the older campers participating in Gymkhana equestrian competitions at a pace suited for each rider.
Younger campers attend three days per week for nine weeks, and older kids attend one day per week for nine weeks.
But this camp is more than learning to ride horses.
“They’ll be catching and grooming horses, doing daily ranch chores, candlemaking, gardening, even bathing horses … they’ll get dirty and wet and play in water,” Holland said.
“It’s going to help them understand what our ancestors did and how that plays into who we are today,” she said.
There are still spots in both the younger and older groups, and the camp will allow some teen walk-ins at a regular rate if necessary.
The camp is made affordable by sponsorships from Wrangler, FM Light & Sons and Cinch jeans. In fact, each camper will be given a full suit of western clothing, and if they don’t have boots at home, the ranch has a storage closet full of extra boots for them to use.
Moe’s BBQ and The Fruit Guys will also help feed campers.
Of course, the Valley’s most popular summer camp provider – the city of Steamboat Springs – has been providing day camps for more than 20 years and always fills up fast.
But there are still spots on some of the most fun trips of the summer, organized by the Parks and Recreation department.
“We still have the Glenwood campout for fourth- through eighth-graders. They’ll go rafting and to the hot springs at Glenwood and the adventure caverns,” said Megan Robertson, recreation specialist with the city.
A Water Fun camp also has openings for youngsters wanting to kayak or paddleboard on the river with local experts. There’s also a special week-long theater class for campers.
“They’ll learn improvisation games and work with Chief Theatre staff on how to create a play,” said Alexis Wolf, Steamboat’s youth and teen program coordinator.
Wolf said since the city lost use of the old Igloo childcare center, they had to cut 15 spots for the popular summer day camps. That’s why there are no open spots in the Adventurer camp for kindergarteners and first-graders, and there’s a waitlist for second- through sixth-graders. All the day camps are especially popular with working families.
“If we have 15 plus kids on the wait list, it’s a service people need,” Wolf said. “We’d love to expand, but we need a facility to expand.”
Hoping to take up the slack a little, Yampatika, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental literacy, is adding two new summer camps that are sure to bewitch their target audience of 9- to 12-year-olds.
“We’ll spend days learning about the creatures of the night, then we’ll be spending the night at Pearl Lake State Park with a biologist investigating nocturnal animals,” said Mike Loots, in his second year as Yampatika’s summer camp director.
Another new camp is Wilding Out and will focus on hiking, biking and paddleboarding through Routt County.
“Here in Colorado a lot of our areas are being ‘loved to death,’” Loots said. “We’ll really talk about the responsibility of recreation with conservation and using our waterways and trails wisely.”
The students will also study plants and animals as they hike and bike.
“We need to ensure that as we’re mountain biking that we’re appreciating what we see on the side of the trail instead of just bombing the trail,” Loots said.
And last but not least, Loots also heads up the Wilderness Rangers Backpack Trip for Yampatika. Loots, a former instructor at Outward Bound and a graduate of another prestigious wilderness group, NOLS — National Outdoor Leadership School, will be taking 12- to 15-year-olds into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area on a leadership camp.
“This is like an all-star wilderness education program but at a fraction of what it would cost go do an Outward Bound or NOLS course,” Loots said.
By the time the students are done with this trip, Loots said they’ll be able to lead their parents or older siblings on a backpacking trip of their own.
For details on the summer camps listed above, and others, see the listing below:
Best of the West: Western heritage day camps for kids and teens of Routt County who want to ride horses and learn about ranching. CR Summit Ranch may consider taking a couple more teens, but spaces are still open for second- to fifth-graders. Financial help may still be available. crsummit.com; 970-879-6201
Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs: Programs designed to help children succeed academically, socially and physically as they become integral members of society. bgcnwc.org
Kids Adventure Club: Located at Steamboat Ski Area, it’s a pricier choice for full-day campers but there are incredible activities for children of all ages, especially if parents find themselves in a bind and need a last-minute option. steamboat.com/things-to-do/activities/kids-adventure-club; 970-871-5390
Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp: A leader in summer camps for those children with a passion for the performing arts. From musical theatre to song writing, this camp has hosted quite a few famous stars through the years. perry-mansfield.org
Reading on Ranches: With 16 different week-long camps, first- through eighth-graders are certain to find a camp that will keep them reading. From Harry Potter to outlaw week, BookTrails summer camps can be found online. Scholarships are usually available. mybooktrails.org
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps: For youth age 11 to 18 interested in outdoor conservation work. It’s also a chance for teen workers to earn money as they work on trails and their environment. rockymountainyouthcorps.org
Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports — STARS: Offers adaptive recreation activities to people with disabilities. Scholarships available. steamboatstars.com; 970-870-1950
Steamboat Springs Park and Recreation: The popular full-day camps fill up fast but check out the city’s website for Asset Camps that focus on building a single skill like tennis, theater or swimming. There are also several overnight camps for older children. Scholarships are usually available. steamboatsprings.net/235/summer-programs; 970-871-7503 or 970-871-7105
Totally Kids (Hayden area): Daily summer camps for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade in Hayden and the surrounding areas throughout the summer. haydentotallykids.com; 970-846-9083
Town of Oak Creek: Daily summer camps for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade in Oak Creek and nearby areas. Scholarships available. townofoakcreek.com/programs
Yampatika: While most of the nature and science oriented camps for kids younger than 8 book early, there are plenty left for 9- to 15-year-olds. Still, get on a wait list and camps may be added. There are 17 camps to choose from. yampatika.org/summer-camp; 970-871-9151
And a few more unique camp offerings:
MediaMakers Filmmaking Camp: This week-long camp, which will be offered June 11 to 15 at Steamboat Mountain School, is for middle and high school students. Session topics will include scriptwriting, camera techniques for great storytelling, video editing, capturing good audio and how to work on a creative team. The camp will end with a 24-hour film race. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camp Invention: A program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Camp Invention challenges children to find their inner inventor by learning the process of innovation. Using hands-on activities, Camp Invention promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — learning; builds resourcefulness and problem-solving skills; and encourages entrepreneurship — in a fun and engaging environment. The camp will be offered June 11 to 15 at Strawberry Park Elementary School and is open to kindergarten through sixth-grade students. campinvention.org.
Theater Camp at the Chief: For students entering third to sixth grade, this camp will teach the basics of live theater while also teaching confidence and poise, plus it’s fun. The camp, taught by Scott Parker, the Chief Theater’s executive director and one of the founding members of We’re Not Clowns juggling and comedy troupe, will be offered July 23 to 27 at the Chief Theater in downtown Steamboat Springs. To register, email email@example.com.
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