A long-standing commitment to inclusion.

Walter L. Hutcherson was a leader at Camp Wood YMCA in the 1920s. He brought African-American boys from Wichita to camp for the first time in 1921. In addition to his work with the YMCA, Hutcherson was also active in the NAACP.

Walter L. Hutcherson was a leader at Camp Wood YMCA in the 1920s. He brought African-American boys from Wichita to camp for the first time in 1921. In addition to his work with the YMCA, Hutcherson was also active in the NAACP.

The YMCA has long been committed to providing programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Since our founding in 1915, Camp Wood YMCA has shared this commitment to inclusion and worked hard to offer our summer camp and outdoor education programs to children of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

As part of our commitment to inclusion, we’d like to share the inspiring story of one of our earliest camp leaders, Walter L. Hutcherson—for whom camp’s chapel is named.

In a time when most African-American youth felt unwelcome in this country, Hutcherson and fellow YMCA leaders created a place known for respect and inclusion. As early as 1921, they began offering a desegregated YMCA summer camp experience at Camp Wood in rural Kansas. Their commitment to inclusion was guided by the YMCA mission to provide programs for all and by the personal friendships these diverse leaders formed with one another.    

Walter L. Hutcherson was born in 1895 in Amherst, Virginia. He went on to graduate from the renowned Tuskegee Institute and later served as Field Secretary to Booker T. Washington. During World War I, he served as a Captain in the 92nd Division, the only all-black division of the United States Army. After the war, he married and moved to Buxton, Iowa where he ran the local YMCA.

YMCA work leads to Kansas

In 1921, Hutcherson and his wife, Avannia, moved to Wichita where he became Executive Director of the dilapidated Water Street YMCA—the city’s “colored” YMCA. There, he became good friends with philanthropist and YMCA leader, A.A. Hyde, a white businessman who was also an early Camp Wood leader. Together, the two men oversaw the completion of a new YMCA facility for Wichita’s black population.

Hutcherson (bottom row, middle) sits for a photo with the hi-y group he began in Wichita.

Hutcherson (bottom row, middle) sits for a photo with the hi-y group he began in Wichita.

Living the YMCA commitment to offer programs for all.

In Kansas, Hi-Y programs were created by the YMCA to teach leadership skills, develop character and encourage academic achievement among high school boys. These Hi-Y clubs began holding camps at various locations throughout the state and it was their popularity and effectiveness that led state YMCA leaders to seek a permanent location for a summer camp. Their search resulted in the creation of Camp Wood YMCA in 1915.

Upon his arrival at the colored YMCA of Wichita, then known as the Water Street YMCA, Hutcherson would organize the first Hi-Y club for African-American boys in 1921. That summer, he brought them to Camp Wood YMCA to experience summer camp and leadership formation alongside their white peers.

Later in 1925, when girls first began attending Camp Wood YMCA through the Girl Reserves (the female equivalent of Hi-Y), girls of every race would be welcomed as well.

Leaving his legacy

Hutcherson became known as one of Camp Wood YMCA’s early leaders and it was said that he instructed more boys in Riflery than almost any other man in Kansas. He had a rare talent for leadership and Camp Wood YMCA would not have been quite complete without "Old Hutch", as the campers called him.

I do know that there is an invisible something spiritual that came into the life of our fellows that were at camp last year. The fellowships and friendships formed at camp seem to be different and more endurable than those formed in [Hi-Y] conference or convention.
— Walter L. Hutcherson

After his time in Wichita, Hutcherson was called to the Tulsa YMCA where the city was experiencing intense racial tension. There, he continued to work with African-American young people and encourage peaceful relationships between all races. He died following a surgery in 1933. In 1934, construction on Camp Wood's chapel was completed and was dedicated as "Hutch Hall" in Hutcherson's honor.

In addition to Hutch Hall, branches of both the Wichita and Tulsa YMCA were named after Hutcherson. The Tulsa branch still bears his name.

Today, Camp Wood YMCA remains committed to inclusion and welcomes children from diverse backgrounds to camp every summer. We believe this diversity is one of the greatest strengths of YMCA camps like ours, which welcome children regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background. Friendships forged between campers from diverse backgrounds form the foundation for caring, respectful relationships as adults. We believe these strong relationships are the building blocks for strong communities.

Don't just take our word for it...

It may only be February, but here at camp we're already busy working to make 2017 the best summer ever for our campers and their families. We're hiring amazing staff members, planning new program areas like the American Ninja Warrior course and attending conferences with fellow camp professionals to see how other camps provide amazing experiences to their campers.

Part of planning for the upcoming summer involves looking back at last summer. We've poured over emails and surveys and we've loved reading through comments from last year. It feels good to revisit the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our camp families. We're proud of the great things that are happening here at Camp Wood YMCA...but don't just take our word for it. Here are a few of our favorite quotes from 2016 parents and campers.

Do you have something to tell us about your experience last year? What are you most looking forward to in 2017? Email us your feedback at ymca@campwood.org and we may share it on social media this spring. We always love hearing from our campers and their parents!

The "why" of summer camp

Summer camp brochures and websites tell a lot about what Camp Wood YMCA does but Senior Operations Director, BJ Murray, believes the focus should be on why we do things. This shift in thinking has yielded positive results for Camp Wood YMCA’s staff, parents and campers. Read more of BJ's thoughts about Camp Wood YMCA's culture and why it matters. 

I arrived here nearly one year ago as the Senior Operations Director. During that time, I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Camp Wood YMCA. I love the families. I love those I work with every day (we have an awesome team here!). I love the summer and seasonal staff (they keep a smile on my face every day and are an incredible group of role models) and I love the campers we serve. Whether they are a 6 year old mini-camper or a 90 year-old WoodFest attendee, I love giving the experience of camp to such a variety of individuals. This really is an incredible place for so many people. But, above all these things, I love the culture we have here at Camp Wood more than anything.

A few years ago, I became fascinated with the idea of building a strong camp culture and I came across a remarkable video. It is a TED Talk by Simon Sinek called “Start with Why”. After that video, I started digging deeper and deeper into the “why” of summer camp. Why do we do what we do here at Camp Wood YMCA? Over the past year, the staff and I have spent a lot of time figuring that out. As a result, the culture that I have seen flourish has been incredible.

So, what is the “why” of the Camp Wood YMCA experience? Why do we offer the programs we do and what do we hope is their outcome? I’d describe it in the following ways.

Camp Wood YMCA is for people who want a safe, fun, character-driven experience based on building deep and lasting relationships.

We do what we do because we love people—all people. Regardless of belief, color, creed, financial status, grades, fame, fortune, athletic prowess or any other label, you are loved here. We celebrate who you are as a unique person. We celebrate your character. We encourage you to discover the best version of yourself. We do this because we believe in the potential of every person, and we want them to see and reach that potential in themselves.

We celebrate connections – with role models, peers, nature, faith, and character values. We remind campers and guests that they have something to offer our world, their communities and themselves. The supportive relationships we build at camp create a sense of belonging—a home—a place free from judgement, worry, and fear. And we know that when campers shed worry and fear, they discover a steady path to achievement and personal growth. They learn new skills. They strengthen their character. They make authentic, supportive, life-long friendships. It’s a remarkable process to witness.  

Now, you may notice that there is nothing in the previous description about our facilities (although I would put them up against any camp in the country), our food (it is really good), our programs (again, I would put them up against any camp in the country), our budget size, our salaries, or our capital campaigns. It is all about who we serve. It is about growth. It is about love. It is about a vision bigger than ourselves and about creating a better world--a world filled with people committed to make the lives of those around them better. Camp is a world where we do not see people by the color of their skin, whether they vote red or blue, or whether they share the same beliefs as we do. Instead, camp is about creating a place where we see people by the character of their heart. It is a place where we reach out to one another.  It is a place where we are called to be friends to all—to our foes and to the friendless. It is a place where we can all become the person we’ve always wanted to be—each day better than we were the day before. It is a place with a life-changing culture that we are called to share with one another, with our communities and with the world.

 

There's no place like Coyote Triangle...

Anne Winter is a former camper and current board member. Read along as she shares memories from campout nights spent at her favorite campsite, Coyote Triangle. Do you have a favorite campsite at Camp Wood YMCA?

The west-facing view from Coyote Triangle offers an awesome view of the Cottonwood River valley at sunset.

The west-facing view from Coyote Triangle offers an awesome view of the Cottonwood River valley at sunset.

I was 12 years old the first time I camped at Coyote Triangle. I remember thinking it was a special, secret campsite because it required hiking down camp’s main road until you had almost left the property. Then there on the left, invisible unless you knew to look for it, was a narrow trail that led into the dark woods.

Luckily, the trail soon gives way to a rocky hillside that climbs above the tree line and offers stunning, far-reaching views of the Cottonwood River Valley. I remember pausing on the trail with my cabin mates, sleeping bags and pillows slung over our shoulders, and marveling at the view. It was like nothing we’d ever seen before.

Looking back on the trail leading out of the woods and up to Coyote Triangle's campsite. Beyond the trees, you can see the buildings of Camp Wood on the opposite hill.

Looking back on the trail leading out of the woods and up to Coyote Triangle's campsite. Beyond the trees, you can see the buildings of Camp Wood on the opposite hill.

As our counselors unpacked ingredients for our dinner, we collected twigs for the campfire in the nearby woods, discovering an old shed whose interior walls were covered with antique Kansas license plates. (We were later told it was an old outhouse!) We picked what we were pretty sure were blackberries--though we were too afraid to taste them. And we got ridiculously muddy in a creek trying to catch the dozens of tiny frogs jumping from bank to bank.  

After the sun set we gathered around the fire ring and ate our “hobo dinners” straight from the foil packs they were cooked in. They tasted like smoke and every potato was somehow burnt while the carrots remained hard. We declared them the best meal we’d ever eaten.

A cabin of girls enjoys an evening camping out on the prairie. Campout night is still a favorite tradition at camp wood.

A cabin of girls enjoys an evening camping out on the prairie. Campout night is still a favorite tradition at camp wood.

That night, we sprawled on our sleeping bags staring up at the stars and talked deep into the night. We talked about home, we talked about the dance the next night, we talked about God and music and school and how tired we would be the next day. When coyotes began to howl from a distant hillside, we howled back. Then, with nervous laughter, pulled our sleeping bags a little closer to one another. It was a glorious way for a bunch of 12 year-olds to spend a summer night.

 

Thirty-four years later, I returned to Coyote Triangle with my husband to camp for the night. Coyote Triangle had been set ablaze just a month earlier during the spring burn season—a practice that helps to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Though the ground remained charred, grass was already growing back thinly and early summer flowers sprinkled the hillsides. The campsite was more beautiful than I’d remembered it.

As we explored the hilltop that evening, we were surprised to discover several old campfire circles that had been laid bare by the fires. The stone rings were set out along the edge of a steep bluff—the perfect perch for watching the sunset over the Cottonwood River valley. From the bluff, my husband spotted dozens of turkey strutting in a field below. In a few weeks, these fire rings would be invisible under a thick layer of grass. As a summer camper, I would never have seen them.

An old fire ring set along the bluff was exposed by spring burns. The current Coyote Triangle fire ring is set nearer to some trees along the hillside's northern point.

An old fire ring set along the bluff was exposed by spring burns. The current Coyote Triangle fire ring is set nearer to some trees along the hillside's northern point.

Late that night, I crawled out of our tent and sat staring at the stars as a train rumbled by in the valley. I wondered about the campers who had gathered around Coyote Triangle’s forgotten fire rings. Who were they? What adventures did they find on this hillside? Did a campout night like I experienced here have as much of an impact on them as it had on me?

Campout night is long-standing and cherished tradition at Camp Wood YMCA. Do you want a similar experience for your child? Explore our camps at www.campwood.org/camps and register today.

Introducing the new Preston Outdoor Education Station

We visited with Ken Wold, Executive Director at Camp Wood YMCA, about the newly completed Preston Outdoor Education Station. Learn more about this exciting addition to camp, see photos of the station and then arrange a visit to explore the trail for yourself and see what makes camp’s setting in the Tallgrass Prairie truly one of a kind.

A commitment to the Tallgrass Prairie.

The idea for an outdoor education station began over 15 years ago during discussions with staff about a long-range vision for Camp Wood YMCA’s future. Wold especially, felt that it was important to teach campers about the Tallgrass Prairie—a rare ecosystem of which only 4% of its original footprint remains today.

However, as urgent building and program improvements took precedence, the dream of a designated outdoor education facility would have to wait. Fortunately, conservation and education efforts were not delayed. Under Wold’s leadership and with staff’s hard work, the following years included efforts to not only improve camp’s facilities, but to also improve its stewardship of the Tallgrass Ecosystem within its boundaries. These efforts included initiating controlled burns on camp property, restricting camp’s herd of horses to designated areas and removing invasive and aggressive species that threatened to take over the grasslands. Efforts were also made to teach campers about the plants and animals that make the Tallgrass Prairie their home.

The camp landscape of 15 years ago is visibly improved today. The tallgrasses are no longer overgrazed by horses, native flowers have returned to the hillsides, and campers enjoy the sounds and sights of native wildlife enjoying the prairie alongside them.

Butterfly Milkweed (orange flower) and purple coneflower cover a hillside at camp wood ymca after the spring burns.

Butterfly Milkweed (orange flower) and purple coneflower cover a hillside at camp wood ymca after the spring burns.

The time is right.

In 2014, Camp Wood YMCA made preparations to celebrate its 100th summer and launched a fourth capital campaign—a campaign that, at last, secured funds for an Outdoor Education station through the William and Aloha Preston Foundation.

Later that year, Tom Nelson, an architect who’d helped to design many of the newer facilities on camp told Wold about an interesting program at K-State called Design+Make and contacted the program instructor, David Dowell, about the possibility of working on the outdoor education station. Dowell was interested and he and Wold began the process to make this long-delayed dream a reality.

Design+Make is a final course that gives 5th year Architecture students the opportunity to not only design a project, but to build it as well. The program gives students a unique perspective on the real-life construction challenges of implementing architectural design concepts. Camp Wood YMCA’s unusual setting in the Tallgrass Prairie would offer the students plenty of challenges—in both design and implementation.

The work begins.

During a series of meetings with camp staff and board members, “questions were asked about what to consider as they planned the project…who we served, what we taught,” remembers Wold, “and about environmental concerns like wind, rain, heat, cold, and rock.” Wold and others also broke the news to the students about one final environmental consideration for their design—it had to be fireproof, withstanding the regular controlled burns that keep the prairie healthy. The students and Dowell were intrigued.

part of the dry stack stone wall constructed by design+make students and luke Koch at the newly completed preston outdoor education station.

part of the dry stack stone wall constructed by design+make students and luke Koch at the newly completed preston outdoor education station.

After much hard work, teams of students proposed several design ideas and built small-scale models of potential structures for the site. The variety of designs and the thoughtfulness behind each of them was impressive. Ultimately, staff and board members were most excited about the team’s design that called for 5 separate stations along a trail. To that trail-based design, another team’s hillside gathering space was added. Each station would focus on a different element of the prairie ecosystem (wildlife, wind, rock, grasses, and sky). 

Construction began off-site during the 2015 spring semester. The first order of business was perfecting the Japanese fire-proofing method of shou sugi ban—in which students charred the cedar to be used in the project. In addition to making the boards more resistant to fire, the charring also allows any future fire damage to blend in with the already fire-scarred boards.

As soon as weather permitted, the students were on site working with contractors to do earth work and plan for the construction of the main gathering space, which included a more than 200-foot dry stack stone wall. The wall is a nod to the once common dry-stack stone fences that crisscrossed the Flint Hills. It also blends in well with the surrounding landscape. The architecture students would work with local stone mason, Luke Koch, to lay the wall by hand. By the time the final stone was laid, students had witnessed the spring fires, early summer storms and late summer heat that they’d designed around—each element transforming the prairie landscape around them. The station was already teaching about its Tallgrass Prairie home.   

Open for exploration.

Construction of the Preston Outdoor Education Station was completed in 2016—Camp Wood YMCA’s 100th summer in operation. A ribbon-cutting was held with Design+Make students and Wold reports that visitors and school groups have begun to explore the trail. Teachers are eager to bring their classes to learn about the Tallgrass prairie through this new and unique outdoor education feature. In addition, Summer 2017 campers will get to experience the trail for the first time.

Wold is hopeful about the long-range impact of the Preston Outdoor Education Station. “Ecosystems found in the tallgrass prairie are rare and if we are going to preserve them, we must create a passion for the prairie. As Baba Dioum, a Senegalese poet and conservationist, says, ‘In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.’ I believe Camp Wood YMCA is in a unique position to do just that.”

Just the beginning.

The completion of the Preston Outdoor Education Station marks an exciting moment for Camp Wood YMCA and its efforts to educate visitors about its Tallgrass Prairie home. However, Wold notes that the new outdoor education station is just the beginning. “We are constantly learning and doing what time and funds will allow.”

In addition to the station, Wold and staff are also pursuing other ways to incorporate outdoor education initiatives into all areas of camp. This fall, Camp Wood received a gift from three donors and the Flint Hills Map Project of a large three-paneled map of the Flint Hills along with accompanying lesson plans. Each panel is geared toward educating different age groups (Elementary, Junior High, and Senior High) about aspects of the Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem. In addition to finding a home in Camp Wood’s main dining and gathering hall, the maps are being placed in schools throughout the Flint Hills to help teachers create an awareness of place among their students. “We’re excited that our summer staff and campers will have access to these great resources,” shared Wold.

Ken Wold, executive director, has worked to not only improve buildings and programs during his 20-year tenure, but to also improve camp's stewardship of the Tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

Ken Wold, executive director, has worked to not only improve buildings and programs during his 20-year tenure, but to also improve camp's stewardship of the Tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

Personal reflections on a prairie home.

Wold has worked and lived at Camp Wood YMCA for 20 years now. When asked to reflect on the prairie’s impact in his personal life, he offered the following:

“I recently read an article by naturalist E.O. Wilson about wild places and how people are naturally drawn to certain places much as any animal. Camp Wood YMCA and the vastness of the grassland feel like home to me. Our kids grew up able to wander with free range a large area of land. It has given them the comfort, peace of mind, self-confidence and independent spirit that we hope for in children. My wife, Mollie, and I walk the trails at camp just about every day. Exercise and being outdoors has proven to be a very good stress reliever.”

Wold and camp staff hope that the Preston Outdoor Education Station will help every camp visitor experience that same stress relief and peace of mind. And if the station can do that, hopefully it will also inspire them to preserve the Tallgrass Prairie for generations to come.

To learn more about how you can explore our new Outdoor Education Station, give us a call at (620) 273-8641. School groups, families and individuals are welcome!