Coquihalla Grade 4 student John Fay takes careful aim at the Camp Squeah archery range

Kids can explore and grow at summer camps

From archery and wall climbing to swimming and hiking, activities help expand experiences

Most kids don’t have a good wall to climb in their homes, nor a safe place to shoot a bow and arrow.

However, Hope has three outstanding camps right in its backyard which are open and waiting for kids to sign up for their summer programs that include archery, wall climbing, swimming, hiking and more.

There’s Camp Hope, on Highway #7, Camp Squeah in Dogwood Valley and Camp Kawkawa, at Kawkawa Lake.

Camp Squeah’s executive director Rob Tiessen emphasizes the safe refuge part of the camp’s mission statement.

“Our focus has always been on safety,” said Tiessen on Monday.

“Squeah is a safe place, where kids can be stretched to come out of their comfort zones. We want them to be able to walk away, more confident in their knowledge of who they are and what abilities they have.”

Squeah is owned and operated by the Mennonite Church of B.C. and was started in 1962.

“It’s our 50th anniversary, so we’re calling it our Golden Summer,” said Tiessen, who started working at the camp in 1995 and has been the executive director since 2006.

Campers range in age from six to 16, with two-night camps offered for the youngest campers and  up to month-long camps for teens who are interested in building their leadership skills.

At the height of the summer season, Squeah can hold 102 campers and 55 to 65 summer staff, said Tiessen.

“I’ve recently become aware of the term ‘helicopter parent,” said Tiessen. “More and more, parents are concerned about letting their kids go. There are so many fears out there — but it’s our aim to make our camp a safe place, for parents to take that step.”

For those who need even more assurance, Tiessen said they can arrange for a visit to the camp, where staff can show them around. There’s also a family camp offered, from July 16 to 20, where the whole family can come for a shared adventure.

All three camps are Christian faith-based, though the executives directors of Squeah and Kawkawa say they realize their clientele has been changing over the years. (Camp Hope’s director was unable to respond by press time.)

“Being a Christian camp, we encourage exploration of one’s faith — and to consider what our role is in regard to nature,” said Tiessen. “But we respect where people are coming from. We’re trending close to 50-50 for people with no church or faith background. We’ve also had Muslims that had to honour Ramadan while they were here, so we made time for that.”

Wayne Stewart, of Camp Kawkawa concurred. “We probably have about 50 per cent of our campers who are not from a church background.

“We still teach solid moral principles — and anything religious that we present is done in the light of day. It’s important for people to know that. We’re not a cult.”

At one point, in 2005, there wasn’t a camp at all. Geotechnical concerns forced the camp to close in 2005, thirty-one years after it first opened.

It remained closed for three years.

Stewart said a generous donation by renowned geotechnician Frank Bowman gave the camp the green light to reopen in 2008.

“Frank came out here on his own and walked the site and did a fly-over and he gave us a full geotechnical study that allowed us to reopen,” said Stewart, who has lived at the camp with his family since 2009.

“It not only helped the camp — but also the District of Hope, as the homeowners on Johnson Road couldn’t get insurance or sell their homes without the study.

“Rita Lihaven was the driving force in getting the camp going again,” said Stewart, “but she succumbed to cancer just two weeks before it reopened.”

Now, the camp can handle up to 80 campers, ranging from seven to 18 years old, with 40 staff to serve them.

“We also have a work program, for age 13 and up, where kids can come and work in the kitchen or do maintenance,” said Stewart.

“It’s helps them build a work ethic. They pay $75 to come and work  for the week. The idea is to feed them into our staff for future years,” said Stewart. “It’s not all work … they get to take part in the fun, too.”

With the lake right there, water and boating activities abound — but Stewart is proud of some new land-based activities they have developed this year.

“Kids these days are good at texting but they’re not so good at face-to-face interaction,” said Stewart.

“They’re also not so good at tactile activities, so we’ve just finished building an outdoor pizza oven, where kids can build their own pizzas, slip them in and sit around the oven and talk while they bake.”

On the nature front, there’s a 500 year old Douglas fir that towers near the boat dock and a 900 year old monster at the back of the property, said Stewart

“We’re building a wheelchair-accessible trail to it. We’ll put deck chairs around the base of the tree, so people can lean back and look up at all the life that goes on in that old tree,” said Stewart.

All three facilities have websites outlining dates, activities and fees, so check them out — and get camping.

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