Camp Ravencliff is located across the South Fork of the Eel River from Redway and accessed on a private, gated road from Whittemore Grove. It originally belonged to the Eureka YMCA but was taken over by the Richmond YMCA around 1931. For going on 80 years, kids and families have been coming to Camp Ravencliff every summer.
”It’s your basic, traditional, rustic camp,” says director Bria Cartwright, “and we really like it that way. The kids get to come and enjoy nature and, for the kids from the Bay Area, it’s a real switch to come to this environment. We also get kids from Sonoma and some from Humboldt County. They meet each other and get to know each other and it’s a really great experience for them.”
The summer camping season at Camp Ravencliff begins with a Memorial Day Family Camp that is already sold out. The youth camps begin on the Fourth of July with four weeklong camps in succession. On the fifth week, they have a week of teen camp from August 1 through August 8, and that closes their camping season.
”The program is based on choice,” Bria says. “The kids chose what they want to do but they have to be involved in some activity. They’re always supervised. We do a lot in the river – swimming, canoeing, water aerobics, water soccer – and there’s also arts and crafts, tie-dye, traditional camp crafts, archery.”
She says they always have some spontaneous activity as well. The camp counselors come up with ideas they think the kids will like. She says that last summer they had a “getting dirty” activity, where the kids were sprayed with water and then got to roll in the dirt and sprayed with paint to see how dirty they could get. That was very popular. Another activity was called “hide from authority, a variation on hide and seek where the kids tried to hide from the counselors.
”Those will sometimes be the most popular activity,” she says.
Every day starts with a visit to the camp’s special redwood grove, designated the chapel.
”We start the day with a non-denominational message,” Bria says, “such as making new friends – and end the day with a campfire circle that includes singing. You may have heard us if you were on the other side of the river.”
The camp tradition calls for a chant that goes Y – M – C – A and Bria says it echoes across the river and comes bouncing back off the cliff. The kids are also encouraged to work up skits and songs and perform for campfire.
The camps also include one night when the campers leave their cabins behind and go off into the woods.
”We have developed campsites up there where the kids get to cook over a fire and sleep out under the stars,” Bria says.
Every year it takes a lot of volunteer effort to get the camp ready for summer. This year, they benefited from a program that rewarded people with a free pass to Disney theme parks in return for a weekend of volunteering. They could volunteer for any organization that registered with the Hands-On Network, which partnered with Disney. The Richmond YMCA registered and a lot of people signed up to volunteer with them. When the volunteers come and do their work, Bria verifies their attendance and the volunteer gets a voucher to redeem anytime between now and the middle of December.
”It brought in a lot of people,” she says. “We had a work party earlier in March and we had eight new people who had never worked with us before. They signed up to get the Disney ticket, but they liked what we did and said they’d come back and help us again. This weekend we will have 38 volunteers total, our biggest work party ever. We’ll be rebuilding a main trail in camp and getting the camp ready for use. We have to clean everything and get all the cabins ready this weekend because we have a group coming in April that’s renting the camp for a retreat.
The new volunteers are a welcome addition to the regulars, some of whom have been coming to Ravencliff since the 1950s. They started out as child campers and now come back to volunteer their time for other kids.
”We’d like to see more of the local kids here,” Brian says. “That’s one thing we’re focusing on this year. There are a lot of people who don’t know we’re here. We’re a great resource to this community and to the people who send their kids here, so we’re a treasure in your back yard.”
Anyone interested in sending their kids to Camp Ravencliff this summer can go online at www.campravencliff.org. They will find information about the camp and can access the registration form and register online. You can also call Bria at 925-371-8401 ext 31 and request a registration form be mailed to them.
”We know parents have a lot of questions when they’re going to send their kids away for a week,” she says, and I’m always happy to talk with parents and answer questions. There’s no such thing as a silly question when it’s your child. We believe strongly in what we do and we have very specific programs. One of our goals is for kids to make new friends. Last year, 100% of our kids in our summer survey said they made new friends here, so we felt good about that. And 94% of our parents said they saw a positive change in their kids after being here.”