Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 38° Partly Cloudy
Sports >  Outdoors

90 years, and still camping

The Spokesman-Review

The singing at Fan Lake will be temporarily left to the birds after this weekend, and the painted turtles will finally get a chance to soak up the sunshine on a log without fear of capture.

The 2005 season’s last group of Camp Reed campers headed home Saturday, packing along a good share of Pend Oreille County dirt in their skin, hair and clothing, sporting a few scabs and skeeter bites and brimming with outdoor group experiences that will help shape their lives.

That much has been the same for 90 years.

“Camp Reed is the first chance many of these kids get to sleep outside under the stars,” said Tom “Bucky” Vogt who teams with his wife, Lisa “Loco” Vogt, to direct the popular YMCA facility.

The camp was founded as a boys camp in 1915 following a donation of about 14 acres by Deer Park banker Frank Reed.

“The ‘Y” camp was never allowed to become just a recreational camp,” says a historical account compiled by aging Camp Reed veterans for the Camp Reed Web site. “We kept in mind the YMCA purpose of serving the spirit, mind and body of the youngsters with the spiritual emphasis of the program being given full attention by having chapel every morning and special campfire programs.

“We knew the youngsters were very impressionable around the campfire with the flickering light of the campfire backed by all the night noises of the woods and shoreline. The eeriness of the night was greatly magnified in the minds of the youngsters by all these sights and sounds.”

The first summer campers were a tough bunch of boys who hiked back to Hillyard after the session in a 35-mile trek that extended through the night.

Nowadays the kids still find plenty of challenges, such as the morning Jolly Joggers program or the pre-breakfast “polar bear swim” to Shark Island. The counselor-in-training program involves a week of hard labor followed by week of bike touring that begins with a 95-mile day.

Rather than praying at morning chapel, the camp counselors toss out a short inspirational message, such as “Never give up,” to stimulate a few minutes of discussion among their cabin groups.

Then the campers head out for morning activities at various units, including the waterfront, climbing tower, ropes and hiking trails.

Visionaries saw the value of a lakeside youth camp. More land was bestowed and businesses and civic groups donated services and materials to build cabins, docks and facilities on a camp that now spreads over 444 acres.

Lisa Vogt was introduced to Camp Reed as a 7-year-old in 1969, a year after girls were first allowed to join the fun.

“The camp experience sticks with you for life,” she said, noting that many former campers send their children to a Camp Reed summer session even though their families may have moved away from the Spokane area.

“Loco” put her career as an attorney on hold to become the Camp Reed executive director four years ago. “Bucky,” who teaches at Longfellow Elementary, came along with the package as a summer director.

Like all camp directors and counselors, the Vogts are known by the camp name assigned to them by a vote of their peers.

“The list of camp directors is fairly short over 90 years because most of them tend to stay on a long time,” Bucky said. “Working with these kids is tremendously rewarding.”

He’s referring not just to the campers, but also to the teenage counselors who show up weeks before the first session in June to train and get the camp in shape.

“I’ve learned to step back and let them figure things out,” Bucky said in mid-June as the young waterfront supervisors confronted the task of getting the floating boat house to the water from its off-season storage area on the shore without the help of motorized equipment.

After a brief spell of brainstorming, they recruited all the counselors, enough to ring the boathouse, girls and boys, shoulder to shoulder. At the count of three, they effortlessly lifted a ton of boathouse – even with the leader standing aboard and giving commands as though he were a portrait of George Washington crossing the Potomac.

They marched the boathouse into the water without a hint of hesitation about getting soaked or a shred of fear about the heavy log foundation hovering over feet that were protected by little more than sandals or flip-flops.

Job done, the counselors scattered into groups to tackle countless other tasks.

“They usually come up with better ways to get things done than I could have imagined,” Bucky said.

Camp counselors, who are 17-18 years old, go through several years of training, absorbing the work ethic and traditions before they take charge of a cabin of campers ranging in ages from 6-8 for the “mini-camps” and 8-14 for the traditional weeklong camps.

“The counselors are certified in CPR, blood-borne pathogens, food handling, and we have 19 certified life guards plus people trained in the other activities,” Bucky said.

The 33 counselors and 22 junior counselors supervise more than 200 campers that check in for each one-week session.

“Our counselors don’t foster trendiness; we don’t go for suggestive clothing and they don’t have time for worrying about makeup,” he added as the teens went about their work wearing various themes of shorts and T-shirts. “There’s enough of that on the outside. Here at Camp Reed, we want kids to be kids.”

The result is a program that embraces low income youths while being equally prized by the offspring of Spokane’s upper crust.

The long, long list of achievers who sprouted from Camp Reed leadership positions includes former Speaker of the House Tom Foley and Olympic marathoner Don Kardong.

“It’s hard to find a traditional summer camp anymore,” Bucky said. “Most have some emphasis – soccer, basketball or something like that. We have no agenda here other than fostering respect, honesty, responsibility and caring.”

Camp Reed kids get a shot at old favorite activities such as archery and air rifles as well as more recent activities such as kayaking and mountain biking.

The camp’s annual fund-raising auction and other contributions have helped make major improvements, such as the new docks, rowboats and canoes.

“This is our first year to replace the old aluminum canoes we got from the Boy Scouts after their Jamboree at Farragut State Park in 1968,” Bucky said.

“People will be able to bid on some of the old canoes at the next auction so they can have some memorabilia from Camp Reed.”

Another new addition is war canoes that hold 14 paddlers – room for an entire cabin group.

Meanwhile, the basic camp format hasn’t changed much in 40 years.

Skits, chores and other group activities are daily staples followed by a different evening activity each night.

“Ducky” Dave Stenersen, a former Camp Reed director and now the principal at Northwoods Middle School, might show up for the hike to up to Graves Castle (the foundation of a home that burned in 1939) and continue the tradition of passing down oral lore ghost stories that let young minds revel in fantasy.

Each cabin group heads out separately to camp under the stars on Tuesday night and Wednesday night the entire camp comes together for campfire songs and skits.

A carnival and dance is arranged for Thursday night followed by the Friday night stick ceremony that starts with each camper bringing a stick for the campfire and discussion that brings closure to a big week away from home.

“We no longer transport kids to activities in the back of a pickup,” Bucky said as he cited the many modern changes owing to the age of liability. “We no longer do night swimming and the old tree house is gone.

“All the medicines have to be checked in to the nurse,” he added, noting that he has a waiting list of nurses who volunteer their time at the camp.

“But all the values of the Camp Reed experience are still here.”

Parents who have never had a camp experience don’t always know what to expect when they drop their kids off.

“Some have asked if there are air conditioners in the cabins or if we have heaters to warm the lake for swimming,” Bucky said.

“But we teach every camper and counselor to take everything as it comes, good or bad, and greet it with our motto: ‘It’s the best!’

“If there’s one thing we want every camper to go home with, it’s the attitude that there can be a positive side to everything that happens in their lives.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.