Future plans for Flagstaff Unified School District’s Camp Colton, the Hart Prairie camp owned by Flagstaff Unified School District, were unveiled to the public during an open house last week, providing some of the first glimpses into the next 50 years of the outdoor learning center.
The master plan has been in the works for about two years as the Friends of Camp Colton, FUSD administrators, teachers and community members redefined the vision, educational outcomes and facility goals for the 43-year-old camp.
Priorities for physical improvements to the campus are a new lodge, permanent cabins and bathhouses for students, and improved outdoor structures. Though the new lodge is an essential component of the plan, the group behind the project made it clear that the historic lodge will remain and be repurposed for other uses.
“The old historic lodge is really amazing and wonderful and such a legacy of the Wilson family who deeded this land to FUSD in support of outdoor environmental education,” said Ari Wilder, Executive Director of Friends of Camp Colton, explaining the new lodge will be adjacent to the Wilson lodge, allowing the new and old to share a quad.
During the open house last week, community members voted on possible styles for the new structures, marking those they preferred with yellow stickers and those they did not with red: by the end of the event, images of some of the more contemporary-looking structures were covered in red dots, with most attendees favoring buildings that matched Camp Colton’s more traditional log cabin style.
“I think everybody has very similar interests,” said Jill Jones, principal architect with ajc architects, the firm designing the Camp Colton project. “They don’t want to lose the rustic coziness of Camp Colton, but they want to bring it up to contemporary facilities so that it’s safe, we’re meeting ADA requirements, that the structures are going to last longer.”
The most recent version of the site map for the master plan -- details of which are likely to change before the plan is implemented -- divides the property into two sections: lower camp and upper camp.
Lower camp, where all existing structures are located, will eventually hold the new lodge and cabins, as well as a new 40-car parking lot, learning ramadas, staff cabins, astronomy pavilion and other outdoor learning spaces. Upper camp, more of a long-term dream according to Wilder, would hold additional cabins for students and staff, parking, as well as a new archery pavilion and meadow-discovery zone, among other features.
Wilder said this development of upper camp, where only cisterns are now located, would allow two camp groups, even one from middle school and one from high school, to be at camp at once without necessarily interacting. And with better facilities throughout the property, she expects Camp Colton to be to open longer each year and be available to more schools, even those outside of northern Arizona.
“Our real goal is to make camp used more year-round so that we’re serving more students and we have a really vibrant, phenomenal staff and just a premier outdoor environmental education center in Flagstaff,” Wilder said.
Camp staff are especially looking forward to covered outdoor spaces for students, like the ramadas and pavilions included in the site map.
“It’s Flagstaff and we run summer, fall, spring, so pick your season, you can pick the weather that comes with that,” said Jackson Carranco, a Camp Colton educator at the camp. “Right now, if it starts snowing or raining or if there’s lightning, we pull as many kids as we can indoors and there’s a little piece under the lodge that’s covered. To have another large space that could actually host all students in the event [of weather], that would be pretty major.”
Carranco explained that permanent cabins for all students, not just the two they currently have, would also be a benefit for staff, who spend about a week at the end of each season disassembling all the student tent houses and bunk beds and driving the canvas tents to Phoenix for repair. It takes another week at the start of the season to set it all back up, Carranco said.
In addition to property developments, the Camp Colton master plan calls for improvements to curriculum, many of which have already begun, like forest health lessons for sixth graders that began this year and the day trip program for first and second graders that is now in its third year.
Offerings will be expanded further this summer with a new week-long camp for seventh and eighth graders who would be otherwise unable to attend a summer camp. Using grant funding, the program will be free to students, who will be selected by FUSD’s middle school teachers and counselors. Because many of these students will have attended Camp Colton as sixth graders, the summer camp will have a different educational program and activities.
Despite additional options like the summer camp, though, Wilder said the camp’s traditional sixth grade residential experience will remain its top priority.
The master plan is expected to move into its next stage as early as spring, with detailed cost estimates, architectural renderings, better visuals and more information about infrastructure like water and septic using ongoing input provided by community members
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at email@example.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.