YELLOW SPRINGS — This would be the time of summer Samantha Bowsher would be packing for 4-H Camp Clifton.
Bowsher, 19, graduated from Greeneview High School last year, so she had her fair share of camps.
Now she just hopes other kids will be able to have that, too.
“It’s one of those things I wish every kid could be able to experience because it’s so awesome,” Bowsher said.
In April, Ohio State University Extension officials announced that all Ohio 4-H camps would be suspended through Aug. 31 due to the coronavirus. The date for non-4-H camps to open is July 6, but Camp Clifton board members decided that, by that point in the summer, and with safety of campers in mind, it would be best to just “hang on” and try to survive until next year.
Located in the south side of the Clifton Gorge and John Bryan State Park near Yellow Springs, Camp Clifton serves about 240 children for day camp and 2,800 resident campers every summer. The camp hosts all kinds of camps — 4-H camp, band camp, church camp, and day camp — as well as gatherings like company picnics and family reunions.
The camp relies on registration fees to cover ongoing basic costs like insurance and utilities. Without camp, there’s no income.
According to Camp Clifton Executive Director Glen Satchell, who has been with the camp for 34 years, camp officials have applied for grants and loans, and hope to raise the rest of the funds needed.
So far, the local camp has raised more than $37,000 with 305 donors through an online fund-raising campaign, 4-H Camp Buckeye Funder hosted by OSU Extension. The campaign, which ends Thursday, supports nine 4-H camps in the state. All the money raised for Camp Clifton at buckeyefunder.osu.edu/project/21031 goes directly to the camp.
“That amount of money is not the answer to get us through the whole year,” Satchell said.
The board estimated it will take between $100,000 to $130,000 to survive from this summer until next.
Another local fund-raiser is in the works for the non-profit, and residents can also give by sending tax-deductible donations to 4-H Camp Clifton, 2256 Clifton Road, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387.
Funds generated could also help a couple projects get done before camp hopefully opens up again, including remodeling as many as three buildings and re-roofing four or five cabins.
“But that’s best case scenario,” Satchell said. “A dream situation.”
‘Make new friends and keep the old’
In its 91st year, this is likely the first summer parents aren’t dropping off their kids at Camp Clifton for a week in the woods.
Camp Clifton first opened in 1929, and has hosted youth each year from Madison, Greene, Union, Shelby, Logan, Champaign, Clark, Preble and Fayette counties.
“I think by the fact that we have great numbers tells us that kids enjoy being here. In today’s society, being away from parents, learning to be together, working together, having fun together — I think is as important in our society as it’s ever been,” said Satchell, who calls Camp Clifton “the best kept secret in Greene County.”
“We teach independent living,” he continued. “We like to have fun. I really don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that.”
Neither does Bowsher, now a sophomore at West Virginia University, who recalls many summers she spent as a camper and teen counselor.
“I really liked being a camper, but my favorite part was being a counselor,” she said. “I know my counselors when I was a camper spent the whole time making sure all the campers had fun, so I wanted to make sure they had as much fun as I did.”
When Bowsher thinks about camp, she thinks about rituals like singing the “Order of the Fork,” fork in hand, around the dining hall, or lighting her candle at the final ceremony.
“The last night, every year, the graduating seniors get their chance to go into the circle — which is never allowed — and give a speech about what camp means to us, what we’re getting ready to do in life,” Bowsher said. “The candle stays lit all night.”
But what camp really means to Bowsher is friends.
“My grade, the 18 of us, were close since we were nine and originally started going to camp together. Going to camp, you find a family. We still hang out and talk now, even though we’re all graduated and in college,” Bowsher said. “We were just talking about it the other day — how camp was supposed to be this week and how it’s weird for us not to be there.”
This summer, after all those years that campers bunked at Camp Clifton, things are a little different, if you take a walk in those woods.
“It’s quiet,” Satchell said. “The animals are starting to take back over.”
There’s no sound of singing, or prank-induced squeals. The dining hall bell is silenced mid-air. The lodge is still, no sway of dancing arms or dribbling basketballs. A loose door on Girls’ Cabin #13 swings open in the wind. The swimming pool is empty. The fire is out.
But the green and white mural up a hill by the pool — a smiling Chris Clover in the center, gracefully saved by a new paint job in 2008 — remains. After all these years, the same words have survived: “Make new friends and keep the old.”
And surely they’ll still be there next summer, too.