Are We Making Progress Toward More People Understanding and Supporting the Value of the Camp Experience?

April 19, 2016
CA CEO Tom Holland with Christy Goldfuss, White House Council on Environmental Quality and Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service

It’s National Park Week and National Environmental Education Week (NEEW) — why should the camp movement take notice?  Sure, they are both nice events. All National Parks have free admission this week. NEEW celebrates environmental learning through events and projects across the country. And, Earth Day is April 22. It is arguably the most popular week in the year to celebrate and learn about the outdoors. But most camps are not in session, nor are they planning events to celebrate the week. So, why care?

The camp movement should, and must, care in order to continue to move camp out of being a well-kept, albeit deeply cherished, secret of only those who have camp “in their DNA.”  We need to paraphrase a recent quote of ACA CEO, Tom Holland, and shout our movement’s message from the mountaintops (and lakes, and computer labs, and sports fields). When asked for a quote on why ACA supports the National Park’s Every Kid in a Park initiative, Tom said “ …like the national parks, the camp experience was one of our nation’s best ideas…”

Indeed. With every fiber of our beings, we know the value of the camp experience. But do others?

In 2007, the American Camp Association (ACA) Board of Directors asked the question, “If we are successful, what will have changed in the world?”  They answered that question with three interconnected answers — called the “ENDS” (i.e., “what do we want to accomplish in the end?”). (View the full ENDS statements.)  One answer was “we want more people to understand and support the value of the camp experience.” While the strategies and means to this “end” are numerous and multifaceted, then ACA President Marla Coleman was famous for repeatedly stressing that ACA needed to “be at the table.”  All too often, ACA — and the camp movement — was overlooked in the national conversation about so many issues ranging from the education of children, stewardship of the land, workforce development, and many more.

The Board committed to making changes, and just one example was the adoption of an aggressive public policy agenda that included a priority to assertively “push” our way in the door to national conversations. The goal was to ultimately set up ACA so we would be asked to those tables, bringing the expertise of the camp movement and showing the value of the camp experience to so many issues challenging our society.

So that brings us to National Park Week and National Environmental Education Week this year. We didn’t have to push, nor convince others about the value of the camp movement — instead, ACA was on the list of invitees from the beginning for one of this weeks’ important national dialogues. The U.S. Department of the Interior-National Park Service is hosting a national summit — Learning from the Outside In. One goal of this event is “to help the public and policymakers understand the importance of an expanded learning landscape; one that equally values and supports the public education that goes on in- and out-of-school.”  This sounds remarkably like a key element in ACA’s public policy agenda. Coincidental?  No! 

We’ll be there — at the table.

So, are we making progress? Yes!  But there’s still so much more do to. What are YOU doing to convert others to the camp movement? 

Susan E. Yoder is the former ACA Chief Public Policy and Outreach Officer.  Reach her at

Pictured above, ACA CEO Tom Holland with Christy Goldfuss, White House Council on Environmental Quality and Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service