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A Future Observing the Past // Briana Reece


The semester began with a quote by Baba Dioum that should embody the project: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” As the team began diving deeper into this excerpt we found it stemmed from the need to preserve the history of the landscape and of Camp Wood. This location has strong ties to its past which has shaped the traditions and operations used today.

The first area of historical interest was the Tallgrass Prairie where Camp Wood resides. This ecosystem once spanned 167 acres of land within eleven states. Today, the bulk of the prairie has been developed or replanted as crops with only four percent remaining. The majority of the existing Tallgrass Prairie can be found within the Flint Hills region of Kansas where the shallow rocky soil is inaccessible to plows and building techniques. This rare ecosystem has hosted Camp Wood for the last century.

To gain a better understanding of how Camp Wood has embraced the ecosystem, we reached out to former Program Director, Anne Clark. She helped to explain the journey that Camp Wood has taken since 1914. At that time, it was a leadership camp called Hi Y which trained boys to become leaders in their communities and YMCA’s. Camp Wood’s current location was attained from Stephen and Caroline Wood who donated the first 40 acres to be used as a YMCA camp for the youth of Kansas. This land came with the requirement that if it ever stopped being used as a camp, that the land go back to the Wood family.
The first session of camp was held in June 1916 with 2000 people in attendance.
It started with the Jones Lodge building and tents shaped in a square. The camp, with a military type regimen, allowed kids to participate in activities similar to today such as swimming, canoeing, archery, horse riding, rifles, hiking, ghost stories, campfires, and nature activities. In 1927, girls were allowed to attend camp, but only during different weeks than the boys. In 1979, the national YMCA was asked to develop the camp as an independent YMCA, and they have been known as Camp Wood YMCA since 1980. Today Camp Wood owns 898 acres with a capacity of 300 people. Camp Wood is primarily a summer residence camp, but also provides opportunities for weddings, retreats, conferences, meetings, family get-a-ways, family camps, and outdoor education.

Archery Then

Archery Now

Image courtesy of Mike Sinclair

Anne goes on to explain that many of the kids who attend camp would never get the opportunity to get out of the city and see the prairie if it wasn't for the field trips and summer camps hosted by Camp Wood. They experience a lot during the time they are there. Visitors experience stars as bright as they've ever seen, learn about the grasses and why they are still here. They learn about how fire helps renew the hills, learn about the rocks and the fossils that are left behind, and they learn a lot about themselves. The kids grow as individuals and as a group.
Preservation and admiration of this place, and all aspects of its past, became the framework in which design considerations were made. Some may argue that the ideal condition for revering the prairie is best when it’s left untouched. As we grappled with this question we returned to Baba’s quote: for visitors to admire Camp Wood and the Tallgrass Prairie they must understand it and to understand it they must be taught. After learning about the parameters of the project we set out among the grasses on our own, hoping to gain an understanding of the place. Two weeks later we returned, this time with the accompaniment of counselors and Camp Wood staff. While little time had passed between the two experiences, the impact was effectively different. The supplementary information that the staff provided, paired with our physical observations, created a much more meaningful and comprehensive appreciation of the landscape. The Tallgrass Prairie has been around for hundreds of years, yet very few understand it, so the idea that people will venture into the landscape and learn for themselves is a misconception. There must be some enticing aspect to bring people into the landscape, and Camp Wood has been that enticing aspect for one hundred years. Traces of history are present in the landscape, but due to its subtle and expansive characteristics they tend to be overlooked. Presenting information provided by both the stations and staff, an enriching experience of the Tallgrass Prairie is provided. The Preston Outdoor Education Station provides little infrastructure among the untouched prairie, but in return provides a reason to explore and learn about the ecosystem. The learning that takes place among the grasses is meant to instill a love of the Tallgrass Prairie so the desire to conserve it will be present.

Written by Briana Reece

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