Editor’s note: Featured image courtesy of the City of Lynnwood’s Parks and Recreation Department at Kamp Kookamunga in years past.
By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
Lynnwood’s summer day camp for kids, Kamp Kookamunga, has made a return this summer, reopening following Snohomish County’s move into Phase 2 of the safe start plan.
When the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Department made an intentional effort to reopen Kamp Kookamunga, Camp Director Kelly Schudde says she was overwhelmed with excitement but faced uncertainty as to how to do so safely.
“I didn’t know where to start,” Schudde said. “We want back to the basics and took the best parts of Kook[amunga] and combined those with the new health regulations and created a new form of summer camp.”
Schudde, who has overseen the camp experience for the past 19 years, imposed protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including a face mask mandate and a reduced camper-to-counselor ratio with eight campers assigned to one junior counselor and one counselor. Each group also has a designated wagon that travels with them throughout the week carrying hand sanitizer and a handwashing station.
“We were nervous at the beginning about having to tell everyone that they were required to wear masks, but when the day came, all but one child came with their mask and we were able to provide one for the child that forgot,” she said.
This summer marks leadership staff member and Junior Counselor Specialist Clare Cosper’s eighth summer working for the Lynnwood’s Parks and Recreation Department, where she’s spent six summers at Kamp Kookamunga and two at Camp TACO- the teen summer camp. She says staff has done an amazing job transforming life at camp to adhere to health guidelines by implementing safety measures concerning the coronavirus.
“For me, the camp has always been about providing a fun, positive, safe program for our community where kids can create lasting memories,” remarked Cosper. “It has created a different atmosphere for our campers and staff, but we are doing our best to make sure that our participants are still having tons of fun and we can continue to provide this program for families.”
Kamp Kookamunga has been operating for more than 30 years in Lynnwood, with camp sessions running in week-long increments. Each week, campers explore activities designed to develop their art, literature, and science skills intended to cultivate a positive relationship with learning.
“Campers are making art projects and doing science experiments, reading books and running through the woods,” said Schudde. “They are making memories that they will remember for many years to come… they’re just wearing a mask this year and have a bigger personal bubble.”
In previous summers, counselors were able to design their sessions itineraries, having a free-range as to where they wanted to take campers throughout the park to do their activities, explains Schudde. This year they can still design their camp curriculum, but to ensure social distancing between groups, Schudde created a rotation plan in which all of the groups alternate to a new location in the 40-acre park every half hour.
“This has become a huge bonus to our program because our campers are now spending more designated time out in the woods and nature than they ever have before,” explained Schudde.
First-year Kamp Kookamunga Counselor Jaden Yackley, assigned as a leadership staff member and Nature Specialist, had his group of campers spread out in an open part of the camp’s forest and built individual ecosystems using the surrounding environment.
“All the campers I lead in this activity loved building their own ecosystems and were able to maintain their distance while still having fun and learning about nature,” said Yackley.
Before becoming a counselor at Kamp Kookamunga, Yackley was a camper in his youth with the City of Lynnwood. He returned to Kamp Kookamunga this summer following his graduation from the University of Jamestown, saying that it’s more important than ever that he pay forward his own experience at the camp to kids amid the pandemic-related restrictions.
“Returning to camp after the shutdown was something that I was looking forward to, after being stuck inside for months,” said Yackley. “It was a breath of fresh air figuratively and literally and provided some sense of normalcy.”
Life at camp has been a big adjustment for campers, with some facing challenges of adjusting to having to stay socially distant from the peers they’ve been reunited with, having not seen them in months, says Counselor Rachael Hedman.
“The main struggle comes when we’re doing more sit-down type games because they just want to be near their friends to talk,” said Hedman. “It’s completely understandable, but I’ve been trying to remind them how important it is to stay safe so they can keep having fun at camp.”
A young camper’s remark about the precautions at the beginning of one week stuck with Daniel Yonathan, a second-year counselor.
“He was pretty young, and he told me how much it saddened him that we have to be so careful around his friends,” explained Yonathan. “Later in the week I remember how happy he looked during an activity we were doing, and it showed me that regardless of what might be going on, we can still show the kids ways to have fun.”
With the completion of each week, families continue to provide the camp with positive feedback, saying that their kids are enjoying an environment cultivating an adaption of normalcy, says Schudde. For those not ready to return to camp this summer, Kamp Kookamunga looks forward to when they are ready to do so, whenever that may be.
“We understand that caution,” Schudde explained. “We just let them know that we are excited to see them in the future when we can all be together again.”