Kids around a campfire at Camp Colton

Visiting Camp Colton has become a rite of passage for nearly three generations of 6th-graders in Northern Arizona. UniSource Energy Services is proud to financially support the camp, which teaches students about nature and science through hands-on lessons.

“Over the years, many UniSource employees and their children – and even some of their grandchildren – have attended Camp Colton and have many fond memories about their learning experience there,” said Roni Sandall, UniSource Gas Administrative Assistant who leads the Flagstaff Office Community Action Team. “UniSource proudly supports programs like those offered by Camp Colton that help youngsters learn first-hand about nature, science and environmental stewardship.”

Located in the Coconino National Forest just north of Flagstaff, Camp Colton was built in 1970 by local environmentalists and philanthropists Dick and Jean Wilson. It operated as a summer camp for inner city boys until the Wilsons deeded the 33-acre camp to the Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) in 1976. Since then, the district has used the site to provide a four-day, three-night camping and learning experience to students from FUSD and other school districts statewide.

Lessons are taught by FUSD environmental educators, and students are chaperoned by their teachers. From dawn to dusk, students have a variety of learning experiences, including hiking various terrains, searching for signs of wildlife, taking water samples, exploring lava tubes and learning how to navigate using GPS and a compass.

“We’re focused on connecting the kids with their environment to help them learn and explore their natural world,” explained Ari Wilder, Executive Director of the Friends of Camp Colton, the nonprofit group that raises funds to support the camp and offer grants. “We focus on local environmental issues, such as snowfall, drought, water quality and area plants and animals, and how they interact. This year, we added a forestry component that includes wildfire management.”

The students’ evenings include recreational activities – such as square dancing, archery, campfires and arts and crafts – that boost their confidence and help them develop leadership and interpersonal skills.

“For many of the students, attending Camp Colton might be the first time they’ve gone camping or have stayed overnight away from home and in the woods,” Wilder said. “The experience builds their confidence and resiliency. Students discover abilities and skills they never knew they had. We might have learning outcomes in mind, but there’s always room for something creative to happen.”

Camille Warke, daughter of UniSource Flagstaff Gas Supervisor Darin Warke and a student FUSD’s Apex Academy at Mount Elden Middle School, attended Camp Colton last fall. Like many other student campers, she left with a greater understanding and appreciation of her natural world.

“My favorite part about Camp Colton was when we explored the lava tubes,” said Camille. “It was really fun learning about how they formed and how old they are. We did a lot of hiking and spent a lot of time in nature. It was an amazing experience.”

About 750 6th grade students attend the camp each year, which offers sessions in early fall and again in the spring. Last year, the camp added a day program for first- and second-graders in the spring.

Camp Colton is free for all FUSD students. Students from other districts may attend for a nominal fee per student. Friends of Camp Colton’s Fellowship Program covers 100 percent of the cost for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

Said Wilder: “Our goal is to make camp assessable to students from all schools, regardless of their family income level or school of attendance, and financial contributions from UniSource help us do that.”