Athol Daily News – A page from the history of North Quabbin: Camp Wiyaka celebrates 100 years

Published: 6/3/2021 4:42:22 PM

Modified: 6/3/2021 4:42:19 PM

Athol YMCA’s Camp Wiyaka in Richmond, NH is celebrating its centenary in 2021. The camp, which opened in 1921, was the brainchild of the former director of the YMCA for 50 years, Johnny Johnstone, who wanted the boys from the area to develop a love of the outdoors, give them a chance to play hard, well to eat and instill moral values, according to Jennifer L Gordon, CEO / Executive Director of the Athol Area YMCA

The 33-acre camp itself, she went on, remained nameless for a few years and was referred to only as “the summer camp”. The late probate judge Francis L. Thompson of Greenfield called it Camp Wiyaka and believed in its benefits to local youth. “He believed the word was of indigenous origin and meant ‘courage or courage,’ said Gordon. In the beginning, she continued, the camp attracted an estimated 15 to 20 campers per session, now it attracts around 72+ per session. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 40 campers will be admitted per session this year, according to camp director Isabelle Elsasser. This is Alsace’s first year at Camp Wiyaka; However, she had previously worked as a consultant and program director at Camp Foss in Stratford, New Hampshire for six years and was a camper there for four years. When Elsasser isn’t running Camp Wiyaka, she works as an academic coordinator at Marlboro High School.

Camp Wiyaka was first opened to girls under the auspices of Camp Fire Girls who used the property in 1925. Among those fondly remembering being campers at Camp Wiyaka is Camp Board member Gail Pease, who attended the camp in the 1950s when it was part of the Camp Fire Girls program, “I was 8 or 9 years old and took part in it in 1955 “. -1956 to 1964, ”she said. She remembers her days there most, adding that she was outdoors, making friends, swimming and hiking. Pease eventually became a consultant with Camp Fire Girls Wiyaka, working on the water and serving as a lifeguard.

Campers come to Wiyaka from all over the world, Gordon said. One of the most famous alumni of the camp is Dave Bergeron, a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Regarding the activities at the camp, Gordon said, “We have worked to preserve many of the original traditions and add additional activities.” These traditional activities include archery, water activities, handicrafts, etc. Paddleboards.

Arts and Crafts Center outside under a tent this year. Sports games, as well as staffed kayaks and canoes, pool noodles and beach toys, Elsasser said, will be part of the camp. She said the rope slide, vertical playpen where campers climb up with the help of a belay, and a Superman swing will also be available activities and popular with campers, she said.

Another tradition in the camp is the nightly campfire. “Ours was just one of the few residential camps that were open last summer,” said Elsasser, adding that there were no large group events such as bonfires in the camp.

This year the night campfire is back; However, the seating area will be expanded slightly to allow two meters of space and masks will be required during campfire time, she said. Another change due to COVID-19, she said, is that every camper will be part of a camp family unit with an employee sleeping with that unit, also part of that unit. As long as the campers stay with their camp family unit, it is not necessary to wear a mask. Camp Wiyaka’s centenary celebrations had to be postponed due to COVID-19; “However, now that COVID regulations are easing, we are planning events for that,” said Gordon. .

Along with the activities, says Gordon, “we work to develop each camper’s self-esteem and provide opportunities for personal growth. We work to help every camper develop appreciation and respect for their natural environment. Campers have the opportunity to experience life in groups. ”Elsasser said to the campers:“ I think it will be an adventure just to be outside again. Distance learning has left the children stuck inside a lot. So they can be outside, explore the forests we offer and hang out with other children without fear of Covid or being too close to each other. ”

This year one-week sessions will take place from June 27th to August 20th. Camp cost is $ 440 / member $ 470 / non-member scholarships are available. Registrations are accepted all year round.

The YMCA also runs a day camp, Camp Selah, for the 5 to 13 age group. Greendale Family Church has run it for nearly 100 years, but the YMCA has leased the property for about 20 years, ”said Gordon. Camp Selah runs from June 21st to August 20th from 7:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. The cost is $ 175 for members and $ 210 for non-members. Scholarships are available. Registrations for the camp are accepted all year round. Both Camp Wiyaka and Camp Selah will follow state directions and work closely with local health authorities.

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