Hannah Davis talks about the importance of a three-point stance in a canoe with camper Zienna Zink, 8, before heading out on Crabapple Lake. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hannah Davis talks about the importance of a three-point stance in a canoe with camper Zienna Zink, 8, before heading out on Crabapple Lake. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A Snohomish County institution bounces back from pandemic

Camp Killoqua reopens for its 80th year of summer fun and helping kids find their spark.

Lilly Kick found her spark at Camp Killoqua astride a horse.

The eighth-grader at Evergreen Middle School in Everett has been a Camp Fire of Snohomish County camper since 2015. Horseback riding is her favorite camp activity.

Camp Fire provides the opportunity for kids to find their spark, lift their voice and discover who they are. Snohomish County’s Camp Killoqua has been “lighting the fire within” for generations. The camp, on the shores of Crabapple Lake west of Lakewood, turns 80 this year.

“We encourage kids to find their a spark — a passion or a drive,” said Cassie Anderson, co-camp director of Camp Killoqua. “Camp is a good place for that because you get to test out so many different things that you wouldn’t get to otherwise.”

This year, Lilly is signed up for Horse Camp — and she couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m just a huge animal lover,” she said. “They’re just fun — especially riding them on the trails. I find it relaxing. I really enjoy riding them in the arena, too, but it also gets chaotic and crowded there.”

The 13-year-old will practice horseback games and drills in the arena and go for trail rides. She’ll also get to help feed, groom and saddle the horses, and help out with other barn chores.

In addition to horseback riding, the 185-acre summer camp offers swimming, boating, hiking, archery, a high ropes course and climbing wall, games, theater, arts and crafts and lots more. Kids stay a week at Camp Killoqua — they sign up for resident, or overnight, and day camp.

A white stag art piece was created during Camp Killoqua’s grief camp, Camp Willie. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A white stag art piece was created during Camp Killoqua’s grief camp, Camp Willie. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

No two weeks at camp are the same. Campers are divided into groups, each with a trained counselor. The adult-to-camper ratio for resident and day camp is 1:10. That means there are about 150 boys and girls and 15 staff at camp each week.

“The whole foundation of Camp Fire is small groups and caring adults,” Anderson said. “It’s about getting that opportunity to have a group of individuals that you grow strong relationships with — so keeping our camp small fits with that ratio.”

New this year, Killoqua is offering camp for preschoolers. Preschool camp will loosely follow the day camp schedule for that week. The adult-to-camper ratio for preschool camp is 1:6.

Camp Killoqua was founded in 1941, but Camp Fire has been serving Snohomish County youth for more than a century.

Camp Fire Snohomish County, which is headquartered in Everett, built a camp called Sahalie near the Big Four Ice Caves in 1917. That summer camp, however, had to be abandoned after a landslide around 1940.

Volunteers built a new camp — named Killoqua, which means “deep, peaceful lake” — at a former pig farm and apple orchard.

In 1941, 78 girls and seven staff were at camp for the season. (Killoqua became a co-ed camp in 1978.) In 2019, there were 887 overnight campers and 53 staffers.

Camp staffers make their way to the meadow at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Camp staffers make their way to the meadow at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Killoqua was closed last year, for the first time in its 80-year history, because of COVID-19. The camp lost about 55% of its annual revenue.

“Camp Killoqua was hit particularly hard,” said Jim Stephanson, CEO of Camp Fire Snohomish County. “It was a heartbreaking time.

“We will have to modify how summer camp operates, but are thrilled nonetheless with bringing Camp Killoqua back after a missed year.”

Camp Killoqua had to lay off or furlough 18 of its employees to mitigate losses. Three staffers are working reduced hours.

When camp was canceled in 2020, 117 camper families donated more than $17,000 of their already paid camp fees and deposits. The camp also was awarded a $154,000 grant last year to help it recover from the pandemic.

The donations are just a fraction of Camp Killoqua’s operating budget of $1.6 million before COVID-19 hit, but it all helps.

While summer resident and day camp were canceled in 2020, Camp Killoqua offered a virtual summer camp, camp in a box, family unit camping and even established a new offering — learning pods. Its Giveaway Auction and Camp Fire Luncheon became virtual events.

Hannah Davis and Zienna Zink paddle toward shore at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hannah Davis and Zienna Zink paddle toward shore at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“We’re providing a place for kids to be outdoors, have a great experience with peers and caring adults,” said Pearl Verbon, co-camp director. “That has been Camp Fire’s mission for as long as it has been an organization. But it’s really timeless in that we’re able to build on that in every era of kids coming to camp.

“It feels really relevant right now, because kids are coming out of social isolation and reengaging with peers in a safe way.”

Camp directors Cassie “Frog” Anderson and Pearl “Daisy” Verbon both grew up with Camp Fire — Anderson right here at Camp Killoqua and Verbon at a camp in Iowa. (“Frog” and “Daisy” are the directors’ camp names.) They’ve been leading the camp together for four years.

Lilly Kick joined Camp Killoqua after her grandma died in 2014. She signed up for Camp Willie, which is a grief camp for children who have lost a loved one.

Lilly’s grandma, Sharon Morris, died from a massive heart attack. She was 73. They were very close.

“We recommend the camp to families we know in the area,” said Debbie Kick, Lilly’s mom. “They’ve had grandparents pass away, too. You would be amazed at the stuff summer camps can do. It’s there for them. It’s really helped a lot.”

Lilly goes to Camp Killoqua because her mother did — in fact, she is the third generation in the family to go. Kick joined Camp Fire as a Bluebird in 1976.

A silver confetti star left by “fairies” is covered by forest duff in the Fairyland area at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A silver confetti star left by “fairies” is covered by forest duff in the Fairyland area at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

As a Bluebird, Debbie sold “lots and lots of candy” to pay her way to summer camp. Not all of them do, but Camp Fire kids can still sell candy as a fundraiser to go to Camp Killoqua.

In 2020, campers sold more than 21,000 boxes of Camp Fire mints, almond caramel clusters, Almond Roca and peanut butter toffee. Snohomish County’s top seller was Tryggve Trivett of Monroe, who sold more than 1,000 boxes of candy last year.

Pro tip: Camp Fire mints make great s’mores. “Swap in the mint for the chocolate,” Debbie Kick said. “They are the yummiest s’mores.”

Kick, 52, remembers playing hide and seek at Camp Killoqua during Everett High School’s Senior Retreat. A camper there from second to eighth grade, Kick had an advantage in the game — she knew exactly where to hide and not be found.

Though Lilly loves horses, Kick found her spark swimming in Crabapple Lake. She’d swim in the lake even when it was cold and rainy. It didn’t matter to her.

Mother and daughter are looking forward to an 80th birthday bash for Camp Killoqua this year. They were there for the 75th birthday and had a blast. It’s fun for them to have Camp Killoqua in common.

“It’s just been a fun tradition,” Debbie Kick said. “It’s great to be able to say, ‘Oh, I did that at camp, too.’”

Lilly “Watermelon” Kick wants to be the camp director of Camp Killoqua one day, just like Anderson and Verbon — or a veterinarian. Either way, she’ll get to work with horses.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

The Pioneer campground at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Pioneer campground at Camp Killoqua. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

If you go

Registration for summer camp — resident or day camp — is open at Camp Killoqua, 15207 E. Lake Goodwin Road, west of Lakewood. Day camp starts June 28; resident camp kicks off July 6. Children registered for resident camp stay overnight for a week; if they register for day camp they don’t sleep over. Cost is $185-$450 for day camp, or $595-$1,140 for resident camp. Scholarships and candy fundraisers are available. Call 360-652-6250 or go to www.campfiresnoco.org for more information. Camp is capped at 60% capacity because of COVID-19.

Also: Camp Fire of Snohomish County’s virtual “Here Comes the Sun” auction is scheduled for June 18 via Twitch and Facebook. A silent auction opens 9 a.m. June 15 and closes 9 p.m. June 18. The live auction will be 7 to 8 p.m. June 18 and will include a fund-a-need paddle fundraiser. Registration is free. Email mdeal@campfiresnoco.org for more information.

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