Lasting Impressions-The Summer Camps of Key Peninsula


Matthew Dean & Lisa Bryan, KP News

Happy campers jump for joy at Delano Bay Christian Camp.  All camp photos: Richard Miller, KP News

Thousands of young campers experience their first taste of independence at the summer camps dotting the shores of Key Peninsula. Each day at camp brings something new. 

Whether learning to paddle a kayak or scaling a climbing wall, by the time they leave they are seasoned campers, hooked on the joy of being outside. They’ll know the soft feel of the forest floor underfoot and hear the howls of coyotes in dark of night. Maybe they’ll spot a doe with twin fawns trailing behind or watch an imposing osprey dive to catch a fish.

With privately owned camps tucked away out of sight here and there, it is easy to forget the Key Peninsula hosts this recreational wonderland.

Sound View Camp

Located at the extreme southeast end of the peninsula, Sound View Camp and has been welcoming campers to the Key Peninsula since 1952. Previously operated under the Camp Fire USA organization under the name Camp Wakoma, the camp was sold to the Presbytery of Olympia in 1985. 

Sound View draws campers from all over Western Washington, especially through the Presbytery, which includes churches as far away as Longview and Aberdeen. Sound View currently serves about 60 campers each week, from ages six to 15, over three weeks of official summer camp.

Sound View has extensive beach access and is “land that is not being encroached by development,” according to Camp Director Kurt Sample. Renovations and an influx of new staff in 2016 have helped to revitalize the camp and regenerate several underused areas. Popular activities include paintball, a ropes course, boating and swimming, and ukulele lessons.

Sound View is open to campers from the KP, and camperships are available through the Food Backpacks 4 Kids program. Word of Sound View has also spread through KP-based Waypoint Church, which runs its annual weeklong summer camp at the Sound View facility

YMCA Camp Colman

Founded in 1912, YMCA Camp Colman prides itself on leadership and tradition. Situated on approximately 100 acres, a half-mile of beach and a 6-acre saltwater lagoon make the camp unique for swimming on the Key Peninsula. Camp Colman hosts about 9,000 guests annually, 1,600 of whom are youth campers in the summer program. The camp is owned and operated by the YMCA of Greater Seattle. 

Julia Derocher, 23, recent Simon Fraser University graduate with her BS in environmental science, has spent the last 17 summers at Camp Colman and said she can’t imagine her life without summers there. She credits Camp Colman for teaching her the independence and people skills she couldn’t have learned anywhere else. 

“Every year camp is something you look forward to. It’s a time when you begin to see yourself growing most, in that single week you spend at camp. And you just start seeing that growth again and again until the next thing you know you’re a counselor,” Derocher said. 

This summer she directed the program for 16- and 17-year-old campers, after having been a counselor to that age group in previous summers. Returning each summer is a tradition she wants to pass on. 

“I think that especially now having a chance to spend a whole week outdoors without technology and learning how to interact face to face is the most valuable thing we offer,” Derocher said. “Even if they don’t keep coming back they’ll have this fabulous skill to take with them––just knowing how to be with people.” 

Delano Bay Christian Camp

Originally owned by the Delano family, the property was purchased in 1973 by the Stan and Marlene Granberg who had the vision to found the nonprofit Delano Bay Christian Camp in 1979. Owned and operated by The Church of Christ, the campground is open, filled with light and gently slopes down toward an unspoiled beach with inspiring mountain views. 

The lodge dining hall, with two hillside dormitories and four seaside cabins can house up to 160 campers, but according to Camp Director Charlotte Larson they average about 130 guests. Delano Bay’s summer youth camps are Christ-centered and run in five sessions based on age level. 

During summer, nearly 400 youth campers of all ages are surrounded by a volunteer staff who lovingly demonstrate the ideals of Christian love on a daily basis. 

The open green space is perfect for volleyball, kickball and team-based sports, according to Larson. Beach activities, slip and slide and hiking coupled with arts and crafts are interspersed each day with teachings and worship that keep young campers fully engaged and learning. Beachside campfire circles with fellowship, devotionals and singing make for powerful iconic memories of camp life among friends old and new. 

The camp is available throughout the year for rental exclusively to other nonprofit organizations that hold tax identification numbers. Delano Bay Christian Camp’s vision is to be a harbor of refuge for the spiritual growth and renewal of Christians and youth in the Pacific Northwest. 

Camp Gallagher

Lakebay’s Camp Gallagher was founded in 1970 as an overnight location for the Catholic Youth Organization, and is currently owned by the nonprofit Friends of Camp Gallagher. After the Seattle Archdiocese sold the property in 2015, word spread that the camp was going up for auction. 

“A group of former campers and staff rallied to ‘save Camp Gallagher’ and started a crowd-funding campaign to buy the camp,” Marketing Coordinator Madge Kay said. The group was unable to purchase the property outright. The Friends of Camp Gallagher ended up coming to a lease agreement with the new owners, and resumed operation the same year.

Today’s Camp Gallagher is a nonreligious camp for middle and high school kids, running five 60-camper sessions of summer camp per year as well as two smaller “Gallagher Expeditions.” Key Peninsula middle and high school students are welcome and the camp is available for group rental on select weekends during the summer. 

Camp Gallagher counts a “camper-led experience” as one of its strengths, with campers voting on daily schedules and assisting staff throughout the week. The camp also offers overnight trips, where campers and counselors plan a boating expedition to another part of the South Sound and spend the night away from camp.

YMCA Camp Seymour

Widely known for its message of environmental sustainability, YMCA Camp Seymour was the gift of Tacoma Mayor W.W. Seymour in 1905. The 138-acre camp rests above the shores of Glen Cove, which provides an ideal place for young campers to practice boating and kayak skills. Each year over 2,000 youth campers participate in the summer youth program. Overall the number of campers and guests throughout the year exceed 17,000.

The Outdoor and Environmental Education program at Camp Seymour integrates the study of forest ecosystems, marine science, wildlife ecology and sustainability. Using current ideology in best managed forest practices, the long-lived trees of Camp Seymour forests continue to inspire campers and demonstrate the need for stewardship to improve forest health. 

Camp Seymour’s “Living Machine” demonstrates how properly composted food waste can be utilized in a thoughtful manner to harness the power of nutrients to grow more food while preventing runoff of those nutrients from harming the ecosystem of Puget Sound. 

The classic experience of summer camp continues to promote cooperation, collaboration and leadership with time-proven traditions that fulfill every parent’s desire to provide a high quality traditional camp experience where their children can build skills and knowledge. With challenge courses, climbing walls and even zip lines, the thrill of achievement is around every corner. 

Camp Woodworth

Camp Woodworth is a private Christian camp and retreat center tucked away on 10 partially wooded acres with trails gently winding down to the beach below. Board member Mike Sherman and his wife live on the property year-round, volunteering their time to the camp as caretakers. 

“Seven of the approximately 10 acres the camp sits on were donated in 1945 by Mr. Woodworth,” Sherman said. “He wanted to ensure opportunities for young girls and boys to be able to enjoy God’s creation in the wild lands away from the city. We want to minister to small churches with congregations that aren’t able to afford to send their youth groups to bigger, more expensive camps.” 

For the last three or four years the camp has been working to refurbish the bayside chapel and modest bunkhouse style cabins with new roofs and fresh paint. Owned by Northwest Bible Ministries, Sherman said, “The board of directors with the help of volunteers are making steady progress on long deferred maintenance.” 

Camp Woodworth doesn’t offer a summer camp program but instead encourages youth groups from other churches to come and use the facilities for their own program. Sherman said, “We don’t have a lot of fancy stuff, like some of the other camps, but the peaceful solitude of the area inspires a time for reflection and prayer. We have no funding, receive no grants, but we have this wonderful place to offer that’s natural and wholesome.”