Last week, students from Lacamas and McKenna elementary schools participated in camp activities at Cascades Camp and Conference Center in the Bald Hills.
Years ago, Yelm Community Schools worked with the organization to provide camp to students in the fifth grade for the purpose of outdoor education, but that program was later cut. Rob Mohrweis, executive director of Cascades Camp and Conference Center, said the camp has enjoyed the return of students.
“We were really excited to partner with (the district) years back and then the big recession hit, and unfortunately that program got cut,” Mohrweis said.
He said the camp was sad to see the partnership go, and even tried to revive it a few times over the years, so when Shauna Perez, principal of Lacamas Elementary, told Mohrweis the school had received an outdoor education grant, he was excited to resume the partnership.
They agreed to renew the partnership then, and McKenna Elementary School was also looped in since the school received a similar grant.
Both McKenna and Lacamas sent all of their grade levels out to experience camp. Each grade level went on a different day, with a combination of grades on certain days.
“They’ve been doing a rotation of events each day that they’ve been here,” Mohrweis said. “Obviously, with an outdoor-ed focus, they’ve been doing some hikes around the property. They’ve done some learning about the outdoors and (the) outdoor education that occurs.”
Kari Martin, principal of McKenna Elementary School, said the partnership with Cascades Camp has been great.
“We’ve spent the last five days at camp,” Martin said on Sept. 17. “They met with us in the spring and helped us plan our locations and activities that we could do to help develop positive relationships with our kids this early in the school year.”
She said the kids went to the camp’s amphitheater for a fire accompanied by s’mores, played games in the field and did crafts in the lodge.
“Our fourth and fifth graders got to go to the archery (range) and then they got to do archery,” Martin said. “It was wonderful. And Cascades Camp checked on us several times a day. They were just lovely.”
She said her favorite part of the partnership was introducing the kids to the great outdoors and something as special as camp.
“A lot of our kids have never been to camp and just loved it,” Martin said. “Some of our students stood on the top step of the amphitheater and reached their arms in the air and yelled, ‘This is the best day ever.’ It was so cute. They were so happy. They piled up with smiles and left at the end of the day with even bigger smiles. It was awesome.”
Martin said the purpose of the camp is to increase student-teacher relationships in a difficult time.
“Our kids really struggled when they weren’t at school,” she said. “They missed the relationships with their friends. They missed the relationships with their teachers. It was important to me that my teachers got the chance to get to know their kids on a variety of levels. … This gave us all the relationship building that we could ever ask for and more.”
And Mohrweis said the exposure the district has brought to the camp has been a boon for the institution.
“The funny thing about Cascades is we’ve been out here for almost 33 years now, but we often find that we’re one of the best-kept secrets in Yelm,” he said. “I’ve been working here for over 22 years and I still run into people in Yelm that don’t know who we are or what we’re doing. We really try hard not to be kept such a secret.”
Ultimately, Mohrweis said the partnership was a wonderful way to connect with the community.
“It’s important for us to be a good member (of) our community and to help kids learn more about the outdoors, because that’s what we’re passionate about,” he said. “We have this place here to bring people out into the wilderness and have them experience the beauty of nature.”