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Camp Colton has been a Flagstaff institution since 1971 and is an experience that thousands of kids will forever remember.

In more than 45 years, the Camp Colton staff has taught many valuable lessons to the students of Arizona. One of the most important is to help them discover who they are and what they love.

Like running, we would argue that Camp Colton helps people discover who they are. The annual Kahtoola Uphill race, held two weeks ago, is the most obvious example of how the two are intertwined. The Uphill race has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Camp Colton in its 11 years, but the Uphill is more than just the main funding source of the camp.

“The Kahtoola Uphill and Camp Colton both illustrate the value of novelty in personal and community development,” said Jackson Carranco, who runs the education program at Camp Colton. “The novelty Camp Colton offers creates a space where campers make leaps and bounds in their own self-confidence and sense of belonging, and the Kahtoola Uphill offers up a very similar opportunity. Whether you’re a first-time runner, a long-time vet, or volunteering your support, the Kahtoola Uphill is a one-of-a-kind thing that really helps us build up and maintain the wonderful, close-knit community we foster here in northern Arizona.”

We want to share a little about the camp that you might not know. If you participated in or helped organize any of the Uphill races through the years, consider this our thank-you. You are making a difference in individual lives and our corner of the world when you take part.

Running the camp is the job of Mary Giannola. It’s a full-time job even when there are no students at camp.

Giannola has to run around town getting supplies ready for the hundreds of students from Flagstaff and surrounding community schools, plus interviewing camp counselors, nurses, cooks and educators.

The Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corp (NAVMC) helps to fund a full-time nurse.

Friends of Camp Colton is a dedicated group interested in keeping the camp experience alive for schoolchildren. They take care of fundraising efforts and strategic planning.

Friends of Camp Colton has been inviting sixth-grade kids of Flagstaff Unified School District to live in the woods for four days and three nights since 1976. Here’s quotes from a few of us about what that opportunity means:

“Camp Colton lets you enjoy the outdoors and learn about the Flagstaff ecosystem while having fun with your classmates and friends,” Johanna said.

“I enjoyed learning outside instead of in the classroom,” Ruby said.

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“We went to Camp Colton to learn about Flagstaff’s history in the outdoors.” Meryem said.

Crucially, Camp Colton is similar to running in that it encourages exploration of the outdoors. Sixth-grade students get involved with the environment alongside many adults and educators who also enjoy their time outside.

During their camp stay, students learn about climate change, wildlife, botany, astronomy and survival skills. Students also get the chance to develop their social skills.

There are no electronics; sixth-graders are off their phones. They are not tethered to technology. They are running solely on their own -- running to play boom ball, hit the tetherball, dive for the gaga ball, and of course, running to meals when the dinner bell chimes.

Running home is not an option ... homesickness is a real thing. Usually if a student gets homesick, he or she will work it out with friends and at the games played at camp.

We all have great capacity to work through problems if we give ourselves the chance to do so. If you have attended Camp Colton or are a runner, you probably have discovered that truth.

Mount Elden Middle School’s APEX sixth-grade students collaborated in writing this article. Annie-Mae Steen Louderback is chief editor. Camp Colton is fresh in their minds as they attended in August, months before the snow began to fall on the camp.

Myles Schrag ( is coordinating editor for High Country Running.


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