After 39 years of summer adventures, the YMCA of Greater Omaha has decided not to reopen Camp Pokamoke next summer and to put the property near Crescent, Iowa, up for sale.
The camp closed in mid-June due to rising flood concerns on highways surrounding the camp.
But this time, it's not flooding but the cost of keeping campers and staff safe and of maintaining the property that have created the day camp's predicament.
Building a proper shelter that could protect some 200 children — plus staff — in case of storms would cost between $400,000 and $500,000, said Lance Cohn, the YMCA's vice president of membership and marketing. The camp also faces roughly $1 million in maintenance costs that have been deferred, including the repairs that would have to be made to its ropes course before it could be certified.
Kurt Goetzinger of Omaha said his two daughters attended the horse and art camps at Pokamoke a year ago and were signed up for last summer's camp before it closed.
“They are going to be crushed because they loved that camp,” he said.
Letters are on their way to past camp participants notifying them of the camp's closure, Cohn said. The YMCA will do “everything in our power” to offer an outdoor camp next year, and the YMCA is looking to partner with other nonprofits to make it happen at another location.
“We're looking for other opportunities for campers,” he said. The YMCA also offers its Summer Fun Clubs at 10 branch locations.
The organization will seek to place as many staff as possible in its other locations, as it did during last summer's flooding, Cohn said.
And it's seeking homes for the camp's 40 horses, which currently are being cared for elsewhere after being evacuated earlier this summer. The YMCA is reaching out to other YMCA camps and to state parks in its search for homes for the animals. Horseback riding was a centerpiece of the camp.
Cohn said the storm shelter issue came to the attention of Len Romano, the YMCA's president and CEO, after he took the post early this year. The YMCA brought in engineers to evaluate the camp's facilities.
“His bottom line is safety for those children and staff,” Cohn said.
Millard South senior Taylor Kopcho has been going to camp at Pokamoke for nine years, first as a camper and then as a junior camp counselor. She planned to apply to be a full-fledged counselor for next summer before learning the camp was closing over Facebook.
“To a bunch of us who have been there forever, it's like a second home,” she said.
Kopcho also is sad that the camp's horses might not be kept together.
“They've been a herd forever. The thought of them being split up is terrible,” Kopcho said.
She is among former counselors and campers at Pokamoke who have started a “Save Camp Pokamoke” group on Facebook. The group has only a few members so far but, she said, “we would like to raise donations to try to save it.”
Cohn said the group's cause is noble, but the YMCA hasn't heard from anyone offering to raise funds for Pokamoke. The organization also is currently focused on seeking donations for other projects, including a new Council Bluffs YMCA, he said.
Camp Pokamoke had been in operation since 1972. According to the YMCA's website, it's located on 100 acres and includes a barn, horse-riding arena, challenge courses, trails, climbing tower, high-ropes course and sports courts.
The YMCA closed another outdoor camp, Camp Elkhorn, after the 2006 season.
Officials said at the time that the camp had been running at low capacity and that the costs of keeping up the large property had been a financial drain.
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