The Flint Hills and the Camp Wood Experience

Camp Wood YMCA was founded in 1915 by leaders from the YMCA and the Stephen M. and Caroline Wood Family. Read more about our history and then explore the impact that our unique location in the Kansas Flint Hills continues to have on the Camp Wood experience.

Long before Camp Wood YMCA ever welcomed its first campers to the Flint Hills, this place was already possessed of a magic all its own. Once covered by shallow seas, the towering grasses that grew here and took the water’s place continued to ripple and wave in the winds as if remembering their ancient past. For generations of young people who have visited Camp Wood, the Flint Hills are more than just a scenic backdrop to summers spent swimming and hiking, horseback riding and canoeing. They call campers back year after year to stand on their limestone ledges, look out over the endless expanse of green grass and sky and marvel at the natural world and a person's place within it.  

The Flint Hills of Kansas take their name from the abundant chert, or flint, seen in the limestone layers that dot the windswept ridges of the region. The Native Americans used this flint for their arrowheads and later, settlers quarried the limestone to build homes, barns, bridges and fence posts. In fact, several of Camp Wood's original buildings were built with limestone gathered from the surrounding hills.  

This land was too wet for a desert but too dry and fire-prone for forests to take hold, and so a wildflower and tallgrass prairie developed--eventually covering more than 170 million acres of North America. Because the land was better suited to ranching and grazing than to crop farming, it was able to avoid the plows that turned under so much of the Midwest. Unfortunately, less than four percent of the tallgrass prairie remains today, making it the rarest and most fragmented of North American ecosystems.

Although all regions in Kansas are home to prairie ecosystems, only the eastern part of the state, with its higher rainfall amounts, supports the very rare and majestic tallgrass prairie. Camp Wood YMCA is nestled in the very heart of this ecosystem.­­­­­­ Here, campers and visitors learn about the prairie as they walk through grasses that grow far over their heads. Camp Wood invites every visitor to learn these grasses by name: Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Switch Grass and encourages them to appreciate and protect these noble guardians of the prairie for future generations.

In addition to the grasses, Camp Wood YMCA’s natural community includes hundreds of species of wildflowers, more than 150 species of birds, 30 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 31 different types of mammals, and numerous insects. As campers sleep out under the impossibly starry Flint Hills sky, a symphony of prairie dwellers serenades them to sleep. There are no other ACA accredited residential Y camps in the tallgrass prairie—making encounters like these wholly unique to the Camp Wood experience.

Nearly every spring, before summer campers arrive, the Flint Hills are burned to stimulate new growth. Then, with the spring rains, the hills are transformed virtually overnight from a carpet of blackened ash into a stunning sea of bright green grasses. By the time the campers arrive, the hills and valleys that make up camp’s 868 acres of pristine prairie are putting on the first wildflowers of summer in welcome.

The year 2016 will mark Camp Wood YMCA’s 100th summer in the tallgrass prairie. Here, nestled atop these hills that overlook the scenic Cottonwood River Valley, dedicated staff and volunteers have provided a caring environment and an engaging, memorable summer camp experience for hundreds of thousands of young people. As Camp Wood YMCA continues its commitment to youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility into its next century of service, its location in the Flint Hills of Kansas will continue to enhance the experience it offers its campers.

For without the Flint Hills, Camp Wood YMCA would surely suffer, but without Camp Wood, the Flint Hills might mourn the loss of future advocates—men and women who first grew to love this area as campers playing amidst the tallgrass.