I spoke with camp directors and 4th generation progeny of camp founder Jeff Cheley and Brooke Cheley-Klebe.
How long have you been associated with the camp?
(Brooke) We both grew up as campers of course. We returned as staff in the late ‘90s when our parents were still running the camp. Now we both function as Executive Directors of the camp.
Where do you reside during the off-season?
(Brooke) We both stay at the main property south of Estes Park during the camp season. In the off-season, we both live in Denver near the camp’s headquarters office.
What does an average day at camp look like?
(Jeff) Breakfast is served around 7-7:30 am, unless you are getting out for a day-long activity. In that case, it can be much earlier. In fact, with how busy the park is becoming and the intensity of some of the hikes (like the entire Mummy Range at RMNP), campers will be up and out for activities as early as 3 am! But, in general, the day begins at 7am with breakfast. From 9-11:30 am campers participate in 1/2 day activities like riflery, archery, and crafts.
(Brooke) We are very intentional in providing ample time for the campers to settle into an activity, maybe even get a little bored so that they can dig deeper into activities.
(Jeff) Right. Then, we have lunch followed by an hour of downtime. There are afternoon activities from 2-4:15 pm. Then we move into more downtime for games and unstructured activities like playing guitar. Dinner is served at 6 pm followed by some time around the campfire singing songs. Lights out at 9 pm!
How has the camp changed over the years?
(Brooke) We really strive to keep the experience consistent - some people send their kids here hoping that they will have the same experience as they had as kids. That said, business and communication have changed a lot. We have a letter from the ‘40s when a parent was informed that their child had come down with measles, been to the doctor and was back at camp. The parent could expect to be notified of any further developments with a letter. Clearly, that would be handled differently nowadays!
(Jeff) We include many of the same hikes as we had when the camp first started. We added mountain biking and rafting in the ‘90s. Stand-up paddleboarding was added in 2014. We built a high ropes course at the Land of Peaks location, too. Mostly, though, all of our core activities have remained untouched.
(Brooke) Most activities are built around building confidence, character, and resiliency within the campers. They learn more from failures than success, so we try to give them opportunities to learn, dig deep within themselves and develop critical thinking skills.
(Jeff) Collaboration is cooked into virtually every activity. For instance, on backpacking trips, the gear is distributed amongst the group. You aren’t just carrying what you need - gear and food are distributed. Meals are eaten family-style in the dining facility. Kids are encouraged to talk and build relationships.
Have there been any other significant changes over the years that you have noticed?
Food requirements have become an issue that we prioritize. We used to have a baker on staff making fresh baked goods for the campers. We have replaced that position with a cook specializing in vegetarian/vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free cuisine for campers with food allergies.
Speaking of food, do you have any favorite camp foods?
(Jeff) We’re both healthy eaters. I think my favorite is a Mediterranean chicken pita the chef serves with a tzatziki sauce. We also serve fresh fruit, granola, and yogurt for breakfast!
(Brooke) Yes, my least favorite foods are probably anything fried! It’s a challenge to make food that kids will eat and that is good for them! We make a great cookie that kids really like (see page 30 for recipes)!
Girl’s Trails’ End staff awaiting airlift of camper belonging following 1976 flood.
Are there any standout moments for you from camp history?
(Jeff) During the flood of 1976, the camp was in session. We had to airlift their supplies out.
(Brooke) Yes, that experience was deeply imprinted for the campers. They had to hike up the switchbacks.
(Jeff) Swine ‘09.
(Brooke) The Big Elk Fire of ‘02. We were driving kids into smoke through Pinewood Springs coming in from the airport. We had to evacuate 240 campers and 80 staff from our Land of Peaks location when the fire got to be one mile away! The McKinleys loaned us their cabin on Fox Creek to help house campers.
(Jeff) During the Depression, kids would bring their rations and supplement meals with rabbit caught here
(Brooke) We had some property damage during the 2013 flood. We lost some wagons and our riflery building.
Letter home from resilient camper following flood of 1976
Have you had any dealings with wildlife at the camp?
(Jeff) We had some 6x6 elk out on the archery range the other night!
(Brooke) We’ve had bears at all camp properties. It can be challenging with so many people and kids to practice perfect bear safety. We have bear boards up and electric wire, but sometimes kids might have a candy bar in their wagon or the food delivery trucks may leave something out.
Female campers in patented Conestoga wagon/bunkhouse conversion
What is your favorite part about camp?
(Brooke) We get to watch these kids grow up. Some of them return for 7-10 years. Some even come back as staff and become senior leadership. I have a great example of this in my podcast (‘Pack Rat Chat’).
(Jeff) It’s great to see the campers become more confident, resilient and grounded. They become more comfortable in their own skin. Parents can see the difference after only a week in some cases.
(Brooke) No cell phones are allowed at the camp. No social media. Campers are here for 27 days. It’s remarkable the transformations that occur during that time of being unplugged.