Anthony Taylor doesn’t like the idea of just “exposing” a child to a new outdoor activity.
“If you expose a kid to roller-skiing just once, it’s a huge mistake, because they already know they don’t know how to do it,” Taylor said.
The key, said Taylor, who as adventures director for the Loppet Foundation runs the Minneapolis nonprofit’s nine-week summer camp program, is to build on that first exposure, giving kids the chance to progress and grow. At the Loppet Summer Adventure Camps, each day’s experiences build on what came before.
“Everybody has a personal-best experience every day, because they’re not comparing it to other kids, they’re only comparing it to their past and current experience of the activity,” Taylor explained.
Experiences at the Loppet Summer Adventure Camps, held June–August at Theodore Wirth Park, include roller-skiing and rollerblading, canoeing, mountain biking and orienteering, or navigating outdoors with a map and compass — activities that exemplify the Loppet Foundation’s mission of creating “a shared passion for year-round outdoor adventure.”
Taylor described the camps as “both structured and unstructured.” When campers aren’t learning new skills on Wirth’s mountain biking trails or practicing orienteering in the woods with a map and compass, there are opportunities to swim, enjoy nature and play outdoor games like capture the flag and ultimate Frisbee.
“They have an experience that feels organic to them, that they’re co-creating with their councilors and the rest of the team,” he said.
Part of co-creating the experience is allowing campers to take risks, Taylor said.
“We’re not taking away all of the risk. We want them to be a part of managing the risk for that day and working within their limits,” he said. “Part of the adventure is the risk associated with it.”
Gabe Engel, who spent three weeks at Loppet Summer Adventure Camps over the course of two summers, said he “really enjoyed the independence” granted to campers — and having all of 740-acre Theodore Wirth Park as a playground.
“If you’re a kid who really likes the outdoors and outdoorsy stuff, just being outside in the summer … this is the place, I think,” Engel said.
A Bryn Mawr resident, Engel lives near the park and was originally recruited to the camp through a friend whose mother got involved in the Loppet Foundation through its work promoting cross-country skiing. A few other neighborhood friends joined him that first summer at camp, and now that they’re all older teens, some of those friends have returned to the adventure camps as counselors.
Engel said the adventure camps gave him his first experiences with roller-skiing and orienteering — skills that campers put to the test in the relay-style adventure race that closes each week. Engel described it as “kind of like the Olympics,” with campers splitting up into teams and dividing up the course’s mountain biking, orienteering, rolling and paddling sections.
Taylor said the adventure race exemplifies the social-emotional learning component of the camp curriculum. It gives campers a final opportunity to reflect back on the experience and recognize just how much they’ve grown and how much their skills have progressed.
“What happens is, no matter where they are on Monday in biking, because they bike every single day and then they put it to the test, they actually see their growth,” he said.
When he wasn’t picking up new outdoor skills, Engel and the other campers made the most of all the unstructured time to explore the park or organize “ginormous games of capture the flag.” He said he was having so much fun he didn’t even realize how much exercise he was getting.
“You’re just going, going, going, and then I would come home and nap for hours,” he said.
Engel’s mom, Patty Wycoff, said it was a nice change of pace from math camp and other summer activities that keep kids indoors.
“It’s a physical camp, and he’s a really physical kid, so it was the perfect camp for him,” Wycoff said.
She said she also appreciated the diversity of the campers, adding that her son “got to know kids from all over the city.”
Taylor said the majority of campers come from Minneapolis, and the camp draws heavily from the Near North Side’s 55411 zip code. About half are Minneapolis Public Schools students, he estimated.
Many of those campers are first exposed to the Loppet Foundation through its school-year partnerships with area district and charter schools. Ten schools participate in the Minne-Loppet program, a ski program for elementary grades students.
Taylor said about 60–70 youth participate in Loppet Summer Adventure Camps during each of its eight or nine sessions (depending on the summer calendar), and one-third of the slots for each week are reserved for scholarship campers. The camps typically fill by the first week of summer, he said.
Each summer also includes one girls-only session, this year running the week of July 15–19.
Taylor said campers often start with one week of camp, but many choose to do two weeks when they return the next summer.
“Kids always want to come back,” he said.
LOPPET SUMMER ADVENTURE CAMPS
When: Nine weeklong sessions beginning June 10. The final session begins Aug. 12. July 15–19 is a girls-only session. Camps run 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Where: Theodore Wirth Park
Cost: $275 per session ($250 for Loppet Foundation members). Scholarships available.