Nonprofits  April 28, 2024

YMCA expands camp offerings at Ward area campsite

YMCA Camp Tumbleson Lake — formerly Camp Tahosa — will begin operations this summer

WARD — YMCA of Northern Colorado quickly moved on the purchase of a 300-acre mountain property when it went on sale last year — even before beginning fundraising for the acquisition.

In March, YMCA of Northern Colorado purchased the Camp Tahosa property near Ward from the Boy Scouts of America to transfer operations from Camp Santa Maria to what is now YMCA Camp Tumbleson Lake. The YMCA camp, which will begin operations this summer, is named after the 31-acre spring-fed lake on the property.

“We’ve been leasing a camp for years,” said Chris Coker, CEO and president of YMCA of Northern Colorado, which operates eight locations and 40 program sites from north of Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and is headquartered at the Lafayette YMCA. “It’s not ours. We weren’t in control of our own destiny with camping.”


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Camp Santa Maria, which will operate through the summer for overnight stays and has been in operation for 17 years, is near Bailey, a one-hour-plus trip from Boulder, while Camp Tumbleson Lake is about a 40-minute trip. 

Camp Tumbleson Lake will operate only as a day camp this year, beginning June 10 through Aug. 9, adding six-day overnight camps next year for outdoor-adventure and nature education programming. The Boy Scouts, through a memorandum of understanding, will be able to continue to use Camp Tumbleson Lake for campouts and to host two council and district events, such as camporees, each year. 

“We didn’t want there to be name confusion. It was Tahosa for 80 years, so how do you create a new identity, so they know it’s open for everyone not just the Boy Scouts?”  Coker said.

Camp Tumbleson Lake will be able to serve more kids and teens, including 100 day campers and 350 overnight resident campers during the months that school is not in session, plus the camp will be open for a couple weeks in May for staff training and a week in August for family camping. Camp Santa Maria didn’t have the capacity for day camping and was limited to 150 youth for overnight stays.

Camp Tumbleson Lake cabins
Operations begin this summer in the cabins and other buildings on the property. Courtesy YMCA

“It’s kind of a godsend for us,” Coker said. “It’s rare that you can have 300 acres with its own lake that butts up against the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. … At 8,000 feet, it’s pretty thickly forested there. It’s a little bit of a different experience, even for kids from Boulder.”

The property was “affordable” at $5.5 million and already had much of the needed infrastructure in place, Coker said. YMCA of Northern Colorado took out a loan, with plans to raise the money to retire the debt, because there wasn’t enough time to launch a fundraising campaign or apply for grants that typically require a six-month cycle, he said.

Another $2 million will be put into capital improvements on the property as part of a $7.5 million campaign (incidentally the same amount as the property loan, plus the needed capital) for improvements at YMCA’s branches, including replacing the ice chiller tower at the Lafayette YMCA and installing a new swimming pool roof at the Longmont YMCA.

At purchase, the property had 20 cabins, a main lodge, a dining hall, an amphitheater and a maintenance facility on site, but YMCA of Northern Colorado has a different business model for camping than does the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts follow a more wilderness-based approach with tent camping than the YMCA’s traditional model of cabins with counselors — there are 10 youth and two staff members in each cabin.

YMCA of Northern Colorado is investing in 40 glamping tents, which will have wood floors, high ceilings and canvas walls and will be set up with bunk beds. The existing cabins will be used for staff support, offices, a nurse’s cabin and a caretaker’s house, and three of the larger ones will be dedicated programming spaces.

“It has a different feel to it,” Coker said. “It’s primitive, but it’s really nice. … It gives the kids a chance to say, ‘I went camping. I stayed in a tent,’ but mom and dad can say these are great, they are safe and sound and well-built.”

The list of repairs to the property will include adding a new kitchen to the dining hall to serve a larger number of youth, expanding the water wells and septic system, building a new bathhouse with individual bathrooms and shower stalls, and updating the archery range. There also will be waterfront activities, such as fishing, standup paddleboards, canoes, wind surfers and inflatables, and the astronomy program will be moved to the camp for its remote location with a dark night sky. 

Additional programs at the camp will include climbing and bouldering, low and high ropes courses, archery, mountain biking, hiking, arts and crafts, nature/STEM education, rocketry and fishing, already offered at Camp Santa Maria.

“It’s all in one big location that’s going to be able to house two types of camps, which is really special,” said Shelby Sever, executive director of residential camp at the YMCA of Northern Colorado. “We want to create an environment where kids can experience a lot of outdoor activities. … Those really fun activities you think of like canoeing, kayaking and climbing, we’ve got it.”

The programming at Camp Tumbleson Lake will expand on previous offerings, focusing on the activities “kids already love,” Sever said. 

Camp Tumbleson Lake canoe
Tumbleson Lake provides a place for canoeing and other water activities. Courtesy YMCA.

“It’s pluss-ing our plusses,” Sever said. “They are given a platform to be a kid again. We call it disconnecting to reconnect, reconnecting to themselves and nature and other campers. It gives them a chance to make authentic friendships.”

YMCA’s programs are designed to teach a skill or lesson from start to finish, Sever said.

“Because of the size of the camp and the amount of things available to them, they are not just tasting a program, they are going to learn a skill,” Sever said. “That gives them the confidence they can learn new things.”

A third of the campers at YMCA of Northern Colorado are on some kind of assistance, but the campers don’t know who pays and doesn’t pay, which is “truly a blending,” Coker said. They wear camp T-shirts and shorts and don’t have any electronics, equalizing everyone, he said.

“The nice thing about the youth camps is there’s very little barrier to coming to the resident and day camp at the Y,” Coker said. “We want everyone to have a camp and residence experience, which is a terrible business model, because we don’t net a lot. … Having a camp that’s this size and this close to our YMCA will make a fundamental difference in how we deliver those experiences.”

Camp Tumbleson Lake mountains
Stunning mountain vistas are among the attributes of the camp. Courtesy YMCA.

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