It was technology week at the YMCA camp on Lake Nebagamon, but not a single cellphone was in sight during a Wednesday visit to the wooded site. Instead, children played capture the flag, sounded off about the importance of trees in an outdoors chapel, dove into the water and created sand structures.
Carson Peck, 6, of Superior, called counselor Jill Anderson over to show her the tiny frog he’d found. He was helping Owen Susens, 6, look for a frog of his own. Like the fish caught on the camp’s new fishing dock, these daily frog hunts are catch and release.
“We’re working on the release part,” Anderson said. “A lot of them will get a bucket, and they’ll put leaves and grass in there. It’s really kind of cute.”
The pair of 6-year-olds got a helping hand from master frog hunter Thomas Johson, 11, of Hermantown. He suggested checking the creek running through the property or walking slowly through a field. Johnson, who has been attending camp for five years, has even caught the same frog two years in a row.
Owned by the Superior Douglas County Family YMCA, the day camp offers everything from swimming and hiking to crafts and board games.
“I like that we can do so many things and be so active all the time,” said Elena Almonte, 11, of Superior, who has been coming to Y camp for four years.
Ask campers what their favorite activity is, and answers vary. Almonte enjoys Capture the Flag. Veronica Acurero, 11, agreed, but added swimming as another favorite.
“I love doing crafts here,” said Isabella Zielinski, 9.
For 10-year-old Landon Sundstrom of Superior, top billing went to fishing and a competitive sport called Gaga Ball. Simon Schmidt, 10, of Hawthorne said Gaga, swimming and kayaking were his favorite camp activities.
It’s a change of pace, kids said.
“It’s fun to get away from home and just get into nature,” Zielinski said.
A century of fun
For 100 years, memories have been made at the Y camp. Everyone is invited to an anniversary celebration Aug. 17 at the camp property at 7751 County Road S. It kicks off with tours, lake and field activities and a bonfire with s’mores from 1-4 p.m., a social hour from 4-5 p.m., followed by a program with slideshow and speakers and dinner.
“Current campers, past campers and staff, family and friends, I would love anybody in the community coming to see what’s out here,” said Anderson, chairwoman of the anniversary committee. “When you come out here and you see what’s out here and the kids being outside and interacting and working on social skills and building relationships … outdoors is just a special place for them to be.”
The centennial event will be a time of reflection, celebration and looking to the future.
“They’re growing things, adding new things and becoming more exciting,” said Acurero, who’s been attending camp for six years. “And it’s really fun.”
The camp began with a gift of land from Kristian Skaug to what is now the Superior Douglas County Family YMCA. It had been cleared by logging, but an early YMCA director, R.F. Koby, planted hundreds of trees at the site.
Both residential and day camp were offered into the 1980s at the site. Currently, it is used for day camp.
A partnership with the Superior School district to provide teachers and bus transportation in 2017 opened the camp to a wider number of children. As many as 120 students in kindergarten through sixth grade attend camp daily during its 12-week season.
The site has continued to grow through community support and donations. Many who give back were campers or counselors themselves.
“We have been blessed to have many people step forward and help because of what the camp experience did for them,“ YMCA CEO Chris Stenberg said. “There’s just such a passion for camp, I think those experiences stay with people for a lifetime.”
Camp Director Rachel Eisenmann was a camper 20 years ago. The world in general has changed, she said, but the Y camp gives kids the same opportunity it did 100 years ago.
“It’s just so peaceful and it gives kids a different opportunity to connect with themselves and learn more about everything going on around them,” Eisenmann said.
Like their technology week activities.
“Yeah. Marshmallows and toothpicks, building forts with logs and really just trying to strip it own and go back to the basics and be able to enjoy being kids and play unstructured and just experience things without having to be guided through by a tutorial,” Eisenmann said.