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Best of the CRANDIC Spotlight: Camp Wapsie


Rock climbing at Camp Wapsie — courtesy of Shauna Gray

Camp Wapsie was voted Best Summer Camp in Little Village’s 2020 Best of the CRANDIC awards.

If you’ve ever felt that gentle pull of nostalgia while watching Wet Hot American Summer (or its brilliant serial reboot), the Babysitters’ Club “Hello, Camp Moosehead” finale, either version of The Parent Trap or, say, anything in the Friday the 13th franchise, you may have spent some time as a kid at a summer camp.

For Eastern Iowans, the hub of that memory-generation is Camp Wapsie, a YMCA camp that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018: more than 100 summers of filling campers with wisdom and self-reliance. The co-ed camp serves children ages 6-18, with an emphasis on cultivating the YMCA core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. They also have a strong diversity and inclusion statement that promises to welcome campers “regardless of ability, cultural background, faith, gender identity, income, origin, race or sexual orientation.”

Heather Bright attended Camp Wapsie from 1979 through 1987, returning as a counselor in the summers of 1989 and 1990, and serving as director of the camp store in 2003. She even met her husband there, as well as many of her closest friends, she said.

“My most memorable experience at camp isn’t so much one particular memory. It is more a feeling that I have about camp,” Bright wrote in an email. “Camp, for me, is a feeling of acceptance, positivity, a place where people lift each other up and want what’s best for each other. It’s a wonderful utopian experience that has remained focused on a childlike wonder and simplicity.”

Shauna Gray spent one year as a counselor at Camp Wapsie in addition to her “eight or nine” years as a camper.

Campers at Camp Wapsie — courtesy of Shauna Gray

“I absolutely loved the camp-wide game, Mission Impossible,” Gray wrote. “You teamed up with one or two of your friends from your cabin and ran around trying to find obstacle courses, hidden in the woods and at all the activity areas on camp grounds. … The first team to complete all the checkpoints would run back and ring the camp bell, ending the game and declaring victory bragging rights for years to come.”

Both Gray and Bright have wise advice for kiddos looking to sign up for camp for the first time (which hopefully they will be able to soon).

“Try everything,” writes Bright. “Sleep when you get the chance, get as dirty as possible, eat lots of candy from the store and make new friends!!!!”

“Lean into the experience,” says Gray. “Free yourself of any negative self-consciousness and let yourself have fun! Get outside your comfort zone and try all the activities.”

Ultimately, Bright boils down the Camp Wapsie experience to this: “Camp is home.”

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 289.


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