At its heart, Gold Hill’s Colorado Mountain Ranch Camp is a community resource. A day camp that serves the surrounding local community, including families who can afford the full tuition, and those who cannot, it was established in 1947 as a place for kids to experience physical, mental, social, and spiritual growth. The camp boasts a rich history, including devastation in the wake of the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire and surviving the COVID pandemic. Now, with support from both the local community and federal grant funding, they continue to provide a supportive environment where kids can learn about themselves and the world around them while having fun and making friends.
Founded in 1947 by Coach Walker, a Texas gymnastics coach, and his wife, Norma, a high school teacher, as a place for kids to escape the Texas heat, Colorado Ranch Mountain camp is now a day camp offering various different programs for youth. Now, 75 years later, its core values remain the same. “Today the mission builds on its original foundation and expands to highlight simplicity, nature, connection, and fun,” says owner and director Lynn Walker.
For Lynn Walker, the camp owner and director — and many who spend time there — the camp connection runs deep. She spent her first summer there in 1970. The rest, as they say, is history. “I fell in love with the place, the people, and the programs, and then looked again at the owner’s son, Mike Walker,” she recalls. “We married three years later, and along with Mike’s sister Gail and our young adult daughters, we’re still here!”
The Walkers aren’t the only ones that have made Colorado Mountain Ranch Camp a family affair. Walker says that many of their campers are the children and grandchildren of former campers. “Old campers and staff members from many decades ago often stop in and tell us how their camp experience was a huge influence in their lives.”
But it’s the camp’s rich history and traditions that set it apart, says Walker. “There is continuity in the community of people, horses, and programs. The magic of the place children can call their own gives them security beyond the usual in today’s world.” Not only that but while the campers spend their days there, the staff lives there all summer, which Walker says helps them build a more cohesive team — and a stellar environment for the kids.
Campers range in age from second grade to 12th grade and can participate in various different tracks, depending on their age and interests. Explorers offer kids a taste of everything camp has to offer. Mountaineers give campers the chance to dive deeper into various activities, including archery, outdoor living, and nature experiences, and includes off-site adventures including wilderness hiking. Western Riders focuses on riding and working with horses. And the Counselors-in-Training program offers older campers the chance to hone their leadership skills.
Regardless of which program they enroll in, kids delight in the opportunity to create lifelong friendships and memories while participating in a wide array of activities. The camp is known for offering horseback riding for all ability levels, however, kids can also try arts and crafts, archery, mountainboarding, gymnastics and trampoline, outdoor living skills, drama, disc golf, nature immersion, friendship bracelets, Western art, roping, and a variety of games, sports, and other team-building activities. New for 2022 is the “Stories” program, where campers will learn the art of storytelling through telling their own stories in small groups.
The Colorado Mountain Ranch has a dramatic story of its own. In September 2010, the Fourmile Canyon Fire tore through the campus. Walker recalls, “Mike Walker [Lynn’s husband, Coach Walker’s son and camp co-owner] beat down flames to save the Lodge with a loader bucket, dirt, and by beating with a rug. For about two weeks after, we roamed the property putting out spot fires with water sprayed from backpacks.”
The fire damage was severe, burning down a lot of forest and many buildings, including the barn, workshop, and all its tools, and the Walker family home with all the family’s belongings,” says Walker. “This allows us to commiserate from a place of firsthand shared experience with our community’s current fire victims.”
In fact, in the aftermath of the Fourmile Canyon Fire, she says the property resembled much of what we’re seeing in the wake of the recent Marshall Fire. “The landscape was totally charred. Vehicles, equipment and buildings with all their contents were burned to the ground.” The Walkers moved into the old log lodge, a summer building she calls the “heart and soul” of camp. “Once electricity and phone service was restored, we were able to focus on the future and rebuilding.
The camp was grateful for the outpouring of community support that allowed them to build a new barn just in time to open for operation in 2011. The only time they’ve had to shut their doors in more than 70 years was in fact, in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Today they are proud to be the recipients of a pandemic relief grant from the Colorado Department of Human Services. The funds, which were allocated to help stabilize licensed child care facilities, will widen access to camp throughout the community and are hugely welcome after the 2020 season when they couldn’t open at all due to COVID, and following 2021 when COVID limited their capacity.
According to Walker, the grant money will allow them to waive fees for families who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire. Knowing firsthand how devastating it is to lose your home in a fire, it wasn’t hard for the camp’s management team to make the decision.
And the more kids who can experience camp, the better. “The campers experience joy in simple things,” says Walker. “They learn and grow a lot, yet to them that’s incidental to all the fun!”
By Pam Moore