With 270 acres nestled in the Warrenton forest, there’s a lot more to Camp Kiwanilong than what can be seen from the road. In fact, there’s not even a sign to mark the entrance. This is intentional. Part of Camp Kiwanilong’s mission is to not only provide a culture for learning, but to establish a safe environment for our community’s children. It’s all about kids here in the land of bullfrogs, archery, and canoeing.
“The board really wants to serve kids in our area,” explained Amy Koch, Camp Ranger and facility manager. Amy hails from the Indiana camping world, having been involved in camps her whole life. Upon moving to Oregon’s north coast, Koch never expected to find anything that rivaled the glory of the midwest and east coast summer camps. “Kids are coming, moving into the cabins and learning all kinds of outdoor things. We had a waitlist of over 100 kids. It’s becoming multigenerational.”
According to Amy, people have begun to see the good it’s doing for so many kids. Teachers, parents and former campers are all in full support and often lend their hands in a desire to make sure that it continues for the next generation. From 4H to Scouts and soccer camps, Kiwanilong has made it their focused passion to serve the kids of Clatsop County and beyond. The goal has always been to provide a traditional summer youth camp locally. Camp Kiwanilong has set a precedence of local ownership where kids can call it their own. This is their camp, just for them.
One youngster said, “Words can describe a lot of things, but not my excitement on the first day!” Described by children as their best summer ever, some have even gone as far as to call it a place where they can truly belong. There’s even a scholarship program so that funding is not an obstacle.
Camp Kiwanilong dates back to 1936, but it wasn’t until recent years that the facility was able to grow into the community resource that it is today. Much of the present success is due in part to the excellent board of directors. They are a camaraderie of ten locally committed volunteers headed by Terri Opsahl. The camp’s board members are not known for limiting their roles to the walls of a conference room.
“Several of the board members put in so much time in not just being a board member and going to the meetings, but actually coming out and rolling their sleeves up to do workdays every spring and fall, helping with projects,” Amy said. “That is rare, I think, and we’re really fortunate to have that kind of board on our side.”
A United Way agency, the camp has been a non-profit organization since 1989. The operation has always been a big volunteer service, even in the days of the Great Depression when the Back to Work Program took care of all the maintenance and clearing of the land. This was followed by an era held by the Girl Scouts that lasted until the 1970s. Currently, the county has leased the massive property to Camp Kiwanilong in a whopping 99-year lease. That’s nearly a century of community activity to come, guaranteeing the camp for future generations as long as local volunteers continue to uphold the integrity of the grounds as a camp just for kids.
To secure this future, the camp relies heavily on a combination of different resources, including private donations, grant funding, successful fundraising events, and support from the United Way. At this level, it would be appropriate to call Camp Kiwanilong a grassroots effort of everyday people who stand behind its values.
Part of what makes for a functioning establishment is how the camp interacts with the community. Camp Kiwanilong and its board members don’t just recieve help, they contribute to the area as well.
One of their biggest impacts can be seen through the joint coordination with Tongue Point Job Corps and the National Guard of Camp Rilea. “We partnered to get a new arts and crafts building. We contacted them and said, ‘We can furnish the materials, you need the experience and it will help us get the building done with our little funds.’ It all got done,” Amy said about the cooperative effort.
Since the camp could not afford to pay a contractor for the project, the coalition proved to be a recipe for getting things done where everyone could walk away with a reward. The National Guard and Tongue Point took care of the labor, working out a weekly schedule. Hampton Mill even donated all the lumber.
While Camp Kiwanilong may be well hidden in the coastal woods of Warrenton, it’s clear there is a special connection that registers with people. It’s a connection that locals want to respond to with their own two hands. It’s that kind of community that keeps the camp up and running throughout the year. With only a few notches into that 99-year lease, Camp Kiwanilong is sure to reach way beyond this present generation.
“It will last as long as it is a community effort and we’re able to come up with creative ways to keep it going,” said Amy in closing. “We want people to understand that we’re one of the few things that truly serve them.”