This Sunday, 150 girls ages six to 16 will say goodbye to their parents, grab their trunks and move into their summer cabins at Rocky River Ranch. The 50-year-old camp is a place preserved in time. When alumni drop off their little sisters and daughters, director Shanna Watson asks them if anything looks different.
“I always like to ask that question to alumni that come, because we’ve done a lot of work, but always in the effort to keep it the same,” she says.
But after the Memorial Day floods, the camp's riverbank is unrecognizable. Dozens of giant sycamore trees are turned on their sides, rocks and debris from houses upstream litter the once-pristine view. And the view is not the only thing the camp lost.
“We had moved all of our kayaks up here, because that’s what we do when it’s gonna flood, and they’re usually safe up here on this hill," Watson says. "And we had like a storage shed that had our paddles and our life jackets and all of our rappelling equipment, and the whole shed is gone — not like a little rubber maid, it was a real wooden shed."
Counselor Maddie Hammil and her coworkers are brainstorming how they’ll make up for not being able to use the river this year.
“It’s going to be pretty hard, but we’re just going to have to explain that camp is going to be a little different this year,” Hammil says. “Just like we rotate through some of the programs we do in the evenings — we’re going to have to rotate through some of the classes, including classes up at the pool, so they’ll still be able to get in the water if that’s what they have their hearts set on, and like a ton of other beautiful places on camp."
Meanwhile, volunteers are busy chopping up the dead trees and separating the brush from the debris. Bailey Rainey is clearing the way for a new campfire.
“So campfire is how we end each session here at camp,” Rainey says. “It’s always been the perfect view of the river, and the rocks, it’s almost a sacred place on camp, so I feel blessed to be able to clean the area that’s going to be that place again. Because the old one is not so much there anymore.”
Director Shanna Watson says even though the river is now swollen, dangerous and will be off-limits, so far, they've had no cancelations.
“What our hope is that they will realize camp is amazing no matter what activities you’re doing,” Watson says. “You know the activities are a tool for the bigger part of camp, that’s what we’re going to focus on, the relationships and growing independent girls and we feel comfortable we can do that, even without the river activities.”
The goal is for the girls to love camp anyway. That way they’ll come back next year and experience the river the way their moms and sisters did before them.