Archived Article

 The following article was originally published in the Polk County Itemizer-Observer ( in April 2002.

Camp Kilowan

Summer camp program enters 21st century

Summer camp in Polk County still means canoeing and other outdoor activities, but as Camp Kilowan near Falls City enters the next millennium, the nature of summer camp is changing.Photo By Daniel Hurst

Summer camp in Polk County still means canoeing and other outdoor activities, but as Camp Kilowan near Falls City enters the next millennium, the nature of summer camp is changing.

Justin Carinci

April 30, 2002

FALLS CITY — Justine Jones still remembers the magical place she spent part of her summers almost 60 years ago.

Open air church services in a fern glade, swimming lessons in lake Kiloqua, eating around the lodge’s fireplace on rainy mornings.

And, of course, the camp fires.

Jones was a Camp Fire Girl. Her organization, now Camp Fire USA, has changed with the times.

But the place — Camp Kilowan — retains its magic.

Melissa Thiel directs outdoor programs for Camp Fire USA’s regional council.

“So many people in this area have been touched by Camp Kilowan in some shape or form.

Kilowan has been a part of Camp Fire since the 1930s.

That history means people recognize the organization.

It also helps older perceptions of Camp Fire USA stick around.

Founded in 1910, Camp Fire Girls gave girls opportunities boys had enjoyed in Boy Scouts.

Though Camp Fire Girls added boys in the 1970s, the organization didn’t change much over those years, said Herb Price, the council’s executive director.

While children’s worlds grew — with access to technology, transportation, opportunity and greater independence — Camp Fire had to adapt.

“Kids are much more savvy then they were in 1910,” Price said.

“Our programs today are more relevant and based on their interests.”

That means addressing issues like peer pressure and self-reliance.

In the process, the new Camp Fire has become a more welcoming organization. While Boy Scouts has defended its controversial policies of discrimination, Camp Fire hiked a different path.

“We’re all-inclusive,” Thiel said. “We just ask that you fit with the age range.

“And even then, some younger siblings tag along.”

Blending ages and sexes lightens the strain on busy parents, Thiel said. “Your kindergartner and third-grader can be in the same club.

“It’s a one-stop place to volunteer.”

Besides that practical aspect, boys and girls learn the importance of working together from the start. Whether it’s archery, building fires or knitting lanyards, all children can learn.

“Nothing is ruled out until you yourself rule it out,” Thiel said.

Thiel has focused on projects campers can make and take home, things like leather working and candle dipping along with science and engineering activities.

For all the new projects, summer campers can still take in the same rustic beauty Justine Jones saw at Camp Kilowan.

Teal Creek cuts across the 483-acres property, alive with tall firs and alders. Campers can peek at nearby beaver ponds.

They still hike alongside the mossy creek trails, canoe, sing songs and roast marshmallows around campfires. Still sleep under the same stars.

But today, campers pass up Lake Kiloqua for a swimming pool. Not that Jones will complain.

“There were no pools then, just a big like with swimming instructors. The lake was murky, but we learned to swim and dive.”

Nostalgia tints Jones’ voice even when she remembers the food, which she diplomatically called “healthy.”

With sugar limited by World War II rationing, camp staff stewed fruits to sweeten breakfasts. “I remember those prunes.

“The oatmeal was warm, and you were pretty cold. But we had an awful lot of prunes.”


Source: Polk County Itemizer-Observer,


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