Thirty camp counselors in matching green T-shirts clustered around a line of tables at Hummel Park Nature Center.
They talked and laughed raucously, the noise level in the room slowly rising. When Mayor Jean Stothert’s silver car crested a hill in the distance, the din grew.
“Mayor!” a boy in a red baseball cap shouted. The counselors chanted Stothert’s name and rushed outside, forming a tunnel with their arms.
“I’ll have to admit, no one has done this for me yet,” Stothert said and laughed as she walked under the bridge of arms.
Stothert and other Parks and Recreation Department officials spoke at Hummel Park Day Camp on Friday, which Stothert officially proclaimed Hummel Park Camp Counselor Day.
The officials lauded the success of the camp, which started and ended at Hummel Park for the first time since 2010. The day camp was shut down in 2011 because of the Missouri River flood. In 2012, it moved to Hitchcock Park after about a dozen camp counselors began showing symptoms of histoplasmosis, a disease associated with bat droppings.
But improvements — such as five new shelters with concrete pads, running water and a four-season nature center — allowed the camp to head back to its original stomping ground this year. The upgrades were made possible by $1 million in capital improvement funds and a $350,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Hummel Park is along John J. Pershing Drive in northeast Omaha.
“We are excited and are continuing to look for future opportunities for growth,” said Emily Burgess, special projects coordinator for the city.
More than 2,070 youth campers streamed through the camp over the course of nine weeks.
Jackie Tvrdik, 18, a junior Hummel counselor, said it was special to return to Hummel. Tvrdik attended camp at the park for seven years. This is her first year as a camp counselor.
“I used to go to this camp,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to go back and help lead kids, just like other people used to do for me.”
Lura Walker, 22, a veteran camp counselor of three years, said she was devastated when the camp left Hummel in 2011.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “I cried when we first left. This park means a lot to people. We are walking the same trails I did as a kid. There are so many memories here.”