This Season: Camp Wapsie buzzes in the summer

Children can learn, play and sleep under the stars

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COGGON — Camp Wapsie first opened its doors nearly 100 years ago, and though it offers programming year-round this season is an especially busy time at its heavily wooded acreage near Coggon.

During the summer, the camp, part of the Cedar Rapids Metropolitan Area YMCA, offers several options for children ages 6 to 18, including day and overnight programs and leadership training. Kids can start attending Camp Wapsie once they complete kindergarten.

Paul Danowski, director of Camp Wapsie for the past 14 years, said summer camp started on June 12 this year. But preparations really kicked into gear in late April.

“It definitely gets busy. There’s a lot to prepare the whole camp and make sure staff are well prepared, not to mention all the details in the office for corresponding and getting kids registered,” he said.

This summer, about 1,850 children will pass through Camp Wapsie’s gates. Danowski said 90 percent of them are from the Cedar Rapids metro area and Johnson County, while about 10 percent are from northern Linn County.

And Camp Wapsie doesn’t just draw Iowans. Last year, Danowski said there were campers from 17 states and two or three different countries.

“I think this year we’re going to have kids from five or six different countries. I know we have a kid coming from Australia this year,” Danowski said.

Danowski said he’s enjoyed seeing Camp Wapsie grow, adding that although the floods of 2008 didn’t drastically affect the campground, “it definitely affected our community and the economy.”

“Numbers went down for a few years, but we’ve been building back up ... We’re near our all time capacity right now,” he said.

During the summer, campers usually arrive on buses between 8:45 and 9 in the morning. They leave at 4 p.m., but on Thursdays they stay overnight to get a taste of some of the evening activities camp has to offer. Those taking part in overnight camp often sleep under the stars, or in scattered wooden cabins and tents.

Most mornings, campers can choose to participate in a wide range of activities, including archery, horseback riding, basketball, tennis, arts and crafts and outdoor cooking. A large climbing tower, festooned with a series of thick, knotted ropes and nets, has stood near the entrance of the camp since 2005, Danowski said, is particularly popular.

After lunch, children usually swim in the camp’s pool, before having cabin activities or all-camp activities. So they usually are “doing something creative and different,” Danowski said.

Danowski said there are a lot of children whose family members had attended Camp Wapsie.

“There’s a lot of ‘My kids went to camp and my parents went to camp,’ but there’s even quite a few ‘My grandparents went to camp.’ And I know of at least three or four families that are now four generation families,” Danowski said. “There’s a lot of alumni who move away and send their kids back to the camp they went to, or grandpa and grandma are in the area, so when they’re home for the summer they come to camp and see their friends.”

“Plus,” Danowski said, “the camp just has a lot of cool stuff to do that’s just so different. We have them so busy from sunrise to sunset with all the different activities.”

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