Sunday, July 14, 2024

Camp El Tesoro: A legacy of adventure and learning

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Established in 1934, Camp El Tesoro celebrates 90 years of outdoor education and adventure for children in North Texas, with the highlight of the celebration camp weekend happening on September 27-29. The camp is operated by Camp Fire First Texas, a non-profit organization established in Fort Worth in 1914. Initially renting property on Lake Worth, the council sought to create a permanent camp home, leading them to purchase 90 acres on Decordova Bend in 1934 for $12 per acre.

“We wanted a camp that we owned,” said Sara Mitchell, Director of Marketing for Camp El Tesoro, meaning ‘The Treasure.’ “Our board scoured North Texas, finally settling on this beautiful spot, which honors the land’s history and traditions.” Today, the camp at the bend of the Brazos River at Fall Creek has expanded to 223 acres.

“We’re hosting an extraordinary 90th anniversary weekend in September 90th,” Mitchell said. She encourages the community to come out and visit for the day. Camp alums will be present to share camping memories from long ago. “We had a lady visit who had been to Camp in the 1940s. She was in her 80s. It was neat to meet and talk to her; she remembered,” said Mitchell.

SUMMER AND YEAR-ROUND PROGRAMS

Camp El Tesoro’s keystone program is its traditional summer camp in June and July. Campers can choose from a four-day, 6-day, or 13-day session. According to El Tesoro’s recent media alert, program activities include nature studies, horseback riding, archery, crafts, woodshop, high and low ropes challenge course, yoga, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking, outdoor cooking, to name a few; all designed to challenge and engage campers in a supportive atmosphere. The camp also features a nature program focusing on different educational themes weekly, such as water ecology and entomology. During the school year, the Texas Outdoor Education Center coordinates various field trips with schools, offering day trips or multi-day outings for fifth graders. These trips include hands-on outdoor laboratory learning, enhancing students’ educational experiences.

SPECIALTY CAMPS AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Camp El Tesoro has grown over the years. Now, the vast retreat includes a variety of year-round opportunities such as family camping, spring break events, group retreats, and outdoor education for students. At the end of the summer season, there is a specialty weeklong camp called “El Tesoro de la Vida,” meaning “The Treasure of Life.” This program supports children who have experienced significant losses, providing a safe space to connect with peers facing similar challenges.

COMMITMENT TO SAFETY AND INCLUSIVITY

Initially known as the Campfire Girls, the organization evolved into ‘Camp Fire First Texas’ in 1975, reflecting its inclusive mission. Today, Campfire invests in North Texas communities with many co-ed youth camping and outdoor experience programs. Outdoor learning activities like horseback riding, archery, and canoeing, for example, expose youth to nature beyond their urban environments.

As an American Camp Association (ACA) member, Camp El Tesoro adheres to over 300 safety and well-being guidelines. The camp undergoes regular inspections to ensure high camper-to-counselor ratios, equipment safety, and kitchen hygiene standards. A medical professional is on-site 24/7 to handle any health needs.

Inclusivity is a core value at Camp El Tesoro. The camp strives to ensure that all children feel welcome and has facilities that meet and exceed diverse needs. Through year-round fundraising efforts, scholarships are available to support families.

DEDICATED STAFF AND UPGRADED FACILITIES

According to Mitchell, Camp El Tesoro boasts a high counselor retention rate. The camp’s staff includes about 80% returning counselors, many of whom grew up attending the camp. The Counselor-in-Training program for high school juniors and seniors fosters leadership and personal growth. “We look for counselors who bring fun and joy while prioritizing safety,” Mitchell said.

The camp also welcomes various organizations for retreats and events throughout the year, including churches and community groups. Additionally, Camp El Tesoro hosts family camp weekends in October and February, open houses in the spring, and a fundraising trail ride event. The upcoming 90th anniversary celebration in September promises to be a special occasion for alums and the community.

According to its site, Camp El Tesoro’s features include 20 modern air-conditioned cabins with full bathrooms, a dining hall with seating for 300 people, a 12,000-square-foot covered equestrian center, two swimming pools, two archery ranges, a sports court, a high ropes climbing tower with a 300-foot zipline, and miles of wooded trails.

Camp El Tesoro has extensively upgraded facilities over the past decade, including adding a lake for controlled water activities. Over the last decade, beginning in 2008, Campfire launched a capital campaign program and raised more than $11 million, leading to comprehensive upgrades across the camp’s facilities. “This included constructing new cabins, a new dining hall, and enhancing every building in one way or another,” Mitchell revealed. “As part of these investments, the final addition was the creation of a two-acre lake in the middle of the camp, which is now stocked with fish.”

SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

“Registration will open in September for next summer. We work to fundraise year-round to help make the camp experience happen for those in need. We usually can assist approximately 50 families with full or partial scholarships,” Mitchell explained, “There’s an application process for families. Our committee assesses the applicants based on household income and needs. They make the decisions.”

MAKING CONNECTIONS

“We’ve got rock climbing and archery and lots of other activities,” Mitchell said, “but it’s about connection, it’s about friendship, it’s about meeting new people and trying new things. I think being away from your television and video games is an opportunity to be yourself,” Mitchell adds, “you don’t know these people, and you might not see them again, so there’s no need to pretend to be the cool kid that you are in junior high.

“As a third-generation Campfire camper, I understand the profound impact of these programs,” said Mitchell. “Sharing a program that shaped me as a child is incredibly rewarding. My mother and grandmother attended Camp El Tesoro; now, my children do too. Seeing campers discover their abilities and gain confidence is a rewarding experience.”

With a summer staff of 65 and a full-time team of around 20, Camp El Tesoro continues to thrive. “Campers receive a list of items to bring like bedding and clothing, but the most important thing they need to bring is their spirit of adventure and openness to new experiences,” said Mitchell.

When asked about a memorable ‘camp’ moment, Mitchell shared, “I would say any moment where a camper realizes they can do it. Like when children are learning to shoot archery for the first time, and there are some technical skills that they need to master, but there’s also a mindset that you’ve got to master,” she explained, “Watching a camper put those two things together, and find their confidence after learning the skill, and succeeding — and that look of joy on their face that just says ‘I did it.’ Parents frequently report significant positive changes in their children after attending camp, noting increased independence and confidence,” said Mitchell.

For more information or to get involved, visit Camp El Tesoro’s website or attend one of our open houses. Camp El Tesoro - Camp Fire First Texas (campfirefw.org)