Facility Profile - March 2011
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Camps: A Welcome Respite

Camp Colley in Phoenix, Ariz.

By Dawn Klingensmith


Camp Colley's utilities are provided by the use of solar energy, propane, well water and a constructed wetlands system as opposed to a septic system for wastewater disposal.

As rustic and secluded as the camp is, every facility there is fully accessible, and the camp hosts a four-season outdoor adventure program specifically designed to meet the needs of teens and adults with disabilities. Activities include hiking, backpacking, primitive camping and cross-country skiing.

Camp Colley welcomed its first guests about 10 years ago, but its genesis dates back at least a quarter century, when the late James Colley, Phoenix parks director from 1979 to 2003, envisioned a place where children could experience nature, perhaps for the first time. "Jim knew a lot of kids never had the opportunity to sit around a campfire roasting marshmallows, never smelled a pine tree, never looked up and saw a dark, dark sky where you can literally see every star," Spellman said.

Indeed, recent surveys of kids involved in parks and rec programs indicate that 80 percent of them have never even left the city limits.

But in his quest for funding and a suitable facility, Colley might just as well have been reaching for a star. He and his supporters "worked for so long that no one thought it would ever become a reality," Spellman said.

People began referring to the project as Camp Long Shot.

Several sites were deemed unsuitable for one reason or another—lack of safe drinking water, opposition from neighboring communities.

When Colley beheld the 30 acres where his career-long dream would finally become reality, he reportedly said, "This is the place. Buy it."

There were no funds available to do his bidding, though. So Colley, never one to give up, personally appealed to the city council and was able to secure enough funding.

Camp Colley started out with just four platform tents. Kids who regularly participated in parks and rec programs were hand-selected to attend Camp Colley, and today's invitees are still drawn from a pool of frequent users.

Environmental education is an important aspect of Camp Colley's programming. Forest rangers and firefighters lead educational tours and campfire talks about nature and outdoor safety. Also included in the programming is a community service project, such as removing invasive species and restoring areas damaged by ATVs.