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Facility Profile - March 2011

Camps: A Welcome Respite

Camp Colley in Phoenix, Ariz.

By Dawn Klingensmith


"I really want to go to Camp Colley because I never went camping before and people tell me that it is fun. It will be an opportunity to get out of my home and smell the fresh air and look at all the animals like chickmimes, rain deer and owls."

The fact that this young letter writer expected there would be reindeer in Arizona, where Camp Colley is located, is cute and comical, but also underscores the need for programs that introduce city kids to nature.

That, and the child's obvious longing to experience the great outdoors.

At an elevation of 6,700 feet and about 150 miles from Phoenix, which owns the facility, Camp Colley provides a welcome escape from the city's searing heat. The camp is nestled in a Ponderosa pine forest on the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment that traverses the state. At the camp, the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department provides outdoor activities that city kids might otherwise never have the opportunity to experience, such as canoeing, bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, campfire cooking and rock climbing. All programs, meals, equipment, transportation and supervision are provided for free.

Although not necessarily set up for any particular demographic besides nature-deprived kids who are already engaged in parks and rec programs, the camp is billed by its foundation as "one of Arizona's most effective interventions for at-risk, inner-city youth and people with life challenges."

Though admirable, the camp's mission is not what makes it unique. Any number of programs and facilities exist for the primary purpose of introducing city kids to nature and outdoor recreation. Some emphasize the need for kids to escape the smog and simply breathe fresh air. Others try to put kids on the right path who have gotten caught up in the vices and violence of inner cities. All share the belief that outdoor programming builds character and instills an appreciation of nature.

What makes Camp Colley stand apart, among other things, is that the 30-acre site, surrounded by national forest, is totally off the grid yet fully ADA-compliant. It also has a long and storied history that shows its founder, for whom the camp is named, was ahead of his time. "Jim was a visionary," said park manager Jeff Spellman. "He knew there was a need to reconnect kids and nature long before Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods," the 1995 book that introduced the concept of nature-deficit disorder.