Summer camp tradition, Bear Pole Expeditions, returns to Steamboat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jay Poulter, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, will return home this summer and bring back Bear Pole Expeditions, a summer camp with roots that stretch back more than 50 years.
“When I came back to Steamboat, after being gone for a decade, last winter, I honestly wasn’t even sure that I was going to stay in Steamboat,” Poulter said. “But when I got back here, I realized that it was time to come home.”
Poulter first arrived in Steamboat Springs in 1966 at the age of 5. His family had been living in Libya where his father Glenn was working in the oil and gas industry, but Glenn, and his wife, Rusty, had dreamed of opening a summer camp, and when they found an old guest ranch in Strawberry Park that was for sale, the couple changed course and created the Bear Pole Ranch camps.
The camps continued on the property just off of Routt County Road 38 until 1989 when Poulter’s parents decided to retire and sell the ranch. Poulter, who had come back to work with his parents in 1985, continued to run the camp. He changed the name to the Poulter Colorado Camps and moved just a few miles down the road to the Lowell Whitman School — now Steamboat Mountain School — in 1990. The following year, Poulter moved his camp base to the historical cabins of Columbine in the shadow of Hahn’s Peak in North Routt County.
He would continue to run the operation until 2006 when he left the area in search of new adventures. The camp continued under new leadership until 2013.
“I grew up, from the age of 5, being a camp brat and absolutely loving every minute of it,” Poulter said. “I went through all the programs, became a counselor and, after graduating from college with a business degree, spent a year banking in Denver. I was absolutely miserable. All I ever wanted to do was be a camp director.”
But, while the camp’s run came to an end in 2013, Poulter’s passion for the outdoors and helping young people continued.
He lived in several places before landing in Hawaii a couple of years ago. There, he started another venture, Explore the Big Island, which offered teen adventure camps.
“I was bringing groups of high school students over to the big island for experiential learning,” Poulter said. “It was fascinating, and it was an incredible place to live, but it was just too far from everything.”
This summer, Poulter has decided to return to the Yampa Valley and start Bear Pole Expeditions.
“This is too important to not continue. For me, part of it is to honor the legacy that my parents started 52 years ago, but it is also because it is all I have ever known,” Poulter said. “I have known no greater reward than to be able to have a positive impact on a kid’s life.”
Bear Pole Expeditions will be based at the Steamboat Mountain School, but campers will experience adventure across western Colorado and Utah.
Campers can follow the footsteps of ancient people, through the historic sandstone villages and ruins at Mesa Verde or get a taste of the outdoors in Expedition Bound. There is also an opportunity for older campers to gain mountaineering and outdoor leadership skills in the Rocky Mountain High Adventure program.
“One of the things that I love about summer camp is that it allows kids to grow in an environment where they are supported by young adults, and they are away from their parents, which I think is very healthy,” Poulter said. “We use nature as a catalyst for growth, and all of our programs are getting kids out into nature. The transformation can be really profound.”
Poulter said space in this year’s camps will be limited to 75 campers, and the cost will be $2,650. Fundraisers are being held to raise money to offer scholarship assistance.
Bear Pole is also planning expeditions across Washington’s dramatic Olympic Peninsula and a 10-day camp in Hawaii for high school students.
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