Camp gets ready for summer season

HARDY, AR (KAIT) - If you ever attended a summer camp as a child, you know the special memories you carry with you forever.

Outside Hardy, Old Kia Kima provides a means for today's young people to make special memories like the thousands who preceded them through the gates.

Old Kia Kima was built as a Boy Scout Camp in 1916. When the new Kia Kima was built in 1964, this camp sat abandoned but not forgotten.

In the 90's, 4 former camp staff members including Ron Tate came to visit their old camp. What they found was depressing if not shocking. For years people had used the old camp as a dump. The buildings had fallen into disrepair and overgrown.

Tate, "I remember walking through the quadrangle. Is was so overgrown you couldn't even see the cabins. It was just horrible. But I vowed that the next time I came I would sleep in what was left of Cabin 1." And he did.

From that first visit came formation of the Old Kia Kima Preservation Association made up of former campers and staff.

"It was a way for us to give back what we received as kids." Says Rich Schmid, who first came to scout camp here when he was 11. As current president of the OKKPA, he's leading the efforts to preserve the camp.

The camp re-opened in 2002, but not just for Boy Scouts. Now the camp is available to all youth groups or any group who want the outdoors experience.

Current board member Robert Driesel says the camp stays pretty busy. "This year we kicked off in March and we're finishing up in the third week of November right now."

Driesel says they expect about 1600 kids to pass through the gates this year. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this facility is it's cost to campers.

Schmid, "We don't charge any funds for the use of the camp. All the kids need to do is bring their sleeping gear and the food they need for the weekend or the week long whatever program they want to do."

All possible because former campers and staff donate hours of labor to get the camp ready for the season. All around the camp there are men and women, most in their 60's and well above, wielding hammers, and paint brushes, pouring cement and all the other things it takes to get the camp ready.

Schmid says that many former campers and staff are unable to donate time and labor but they do donate funds to the Old Kia Kima Endowment fund.

Schmid, "As we build the fund we have monies invested and when we get to a certain amount and we will be assured that this camp will stay in operation for perpetuity."

And that is what the old volunteers and the new volunteers are planning on. This camp will never close again except in the winter.

Schmid, "When you come up here and you see kids running around this place and in the river swimming and doing their activities and the smiles on their faces. That's what makes it all worth while."

Bob Williams the "senior" former staff member was rinsing off a cement mixer getting ready for lunch. He and his crew were pouring foundations for new seating at the fire ring. Williams who worked at the camp in the late 40's and attended before that says this is all done for tomorrows generations.

"To know that kids coming behind us are going to be able to enjoy this place as much as we do. That's the thing. Make sure it's available to the younger group coming up."

A metallic clanging sound drifted on the breeze.."Lunch." Williams said.

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