History: Science Camp 1963-1981

HOME | 1900-1951 | 1951-1963 | 1964-1981 | 1982-


(primarily by Richard G. Dawson)


Submitted by Richard G. Dawson, MS, Ranger-Naturalist, Municipal Camps, Kansas City, Missouri

It is proposed that the Camp Hope area of the Municipal Camps property in Swope Park be used as the site for three Natural Science Camp sessions in the summer of 1964, these sessions to be 11 days in length. This area includes two living units with tents and sanitary facilities, accommodating 24 campers each. The dining hall is large enough to be divided in half by a partition, with one half for a nature center with exhibit and workshop space, and the other half for dining purposes. This central area is surrounded by at least 100 acres of hills and valleys ideal for nature study and supplying living examples of a variety of natural communities---upland forest, grassland-shrub succession, intermittent stream, and permanent stream---plus outcrops of the four types of rocks common to this region. The land is fenced from trespassers, and has been allowed to develop its natural interrelations of plants and animals for many years. The site is close enough to the city for rapid medical or other emergency aid, but effectively removed from overt urban influence. The age of campers would probably best be that represented by children just completing the 5th through 8th grades, possibly 5th and 6th in one session and 7th and 8th in another, or all at the same time but subdivided into different activity groups, or all at the same time but not subdivided; on the other hand, the camp could concentrate on the 5th and 6th grade age the first year, and extend to higher grades only for those wishing to return a second year for a more intensive program. There is also the possibility of eventually having such a camp for those completing 9th grade general science. At present, because of the availability of programs supported by the National Science Foundation in colleges and universities throughout the area, it is not considered advisable to attempt to provide an advanced field biology experience for high school students as part of this proposal, although such a program might be set up by the Kansas City, Missouri, school district. Both boys and girls can be accommodated at one time at the camp, since there are two living units available. Ideally, the staff of the camp would include elementary school teachers, biology and earth science teachers, college students majoring in science or education, and selected senior high school students with strong natural science interest and background, all of these people to have had prior camping experience. In addition, resource persons from universities and state or federal conservation agencies, would be brought out for enrichment of special topics, along with the use of selected motion pictures.

The program would be based upon practical field demonstration, observation, exploration, and experimentation in the study of the living world of plants and animals and its geological and climatic foundation, including the inter-relations of man and this natural world. In addition to this natural science program, certain accessory camping activities could be included, such as swimming, cookouts, etc.

REPORT OF FIRST ANNUAL NATURAL SCIENCE CAMP held at Camp Hope, Swope Park, June 11-20 and July 6-16, 1964

In October, 1963, a proposal for a natural science camp session or sessions at the Municipal Resident Camps was given to Mr. Ralph Hileman, Superintendent of the K.C., Mo, Recreation Division, upon the suggest of Mr. John Banghart, assistant to Mr. Hileman. Because the first camp session, June 11-20, has used only one of the two camp areas for the Optimist Club group of boys, it was decided to run a pilot program for a natural science camp during that session in 1964. The Camp Hope area provided a dining hall which was divided by a folding partition into a dining area and a nature center area, and the two units were available with tents for sleeping the campers, allowing 25 boys and 25 girls. The recreation division was then joined by Science Pioneers, Inc., with Mr. Leo Roedl helping to publicize the camp through mailings to Science Fair entrants and providing contacts with speakers for the sessions. With the publicity given the camp through the Science Fair group, the Recreation Division, schools, and newspaper, entrance applications forced the extension of the camp into the July 6-16 session to accommodate all who wanted to come, bringing a total for the two sessions of 69 boys and 26 girls, or 96 total campers. The staff was supplied by the recreation division and by the Humane Society support of the camps; supplies and equipment were supplied largely by the Recreation Division, the Humane Society , and the Shawnee-Mission High School District (whose terraria and aquaria were made available for purposes of maintaining in captivity animals to be used by Mr. Dawson in teaching classes in the fall), plus books belonging to Mr. Dawson. The staff consisted of two high school biology teachers, four college students, four high school students, and visiting experts, and was supplemented by the students taking Mr. Dawson’s course, Biology 301 (Techniques of Instruction in Natural History) at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The camp program involved (1) group studies of ecological communities, (2) individual research and collection projects, (3) lectures, films, slides, field trips, and discussions involving the entire group, and (4) supplementary camp activities such as swimming, horseback riding, cookouts, and archery. The campers and staff were both very enthusiastic about the program, and campers were generally very interested and intelligent and learned a great deal about biology, geology, astronomy, and weather, through first-hand field and laboratory study. The large numbers of enrollees, enthusiasm and accomplishments of the campers, and staff recommendations seem to ensure that the natural science camp will be continued as a regular part of the camp program, and perhaps should be set up for three sessions for 1965, with a larger number of specifically trained staff members and more resource specialists to assist with individual projects. For the summer of 1964, cost to the campers for the 11-day sessions was $22.00.

STAFF: In the community studies, there were two staff members for each study, who carried out the same set of activities for each camper-group in turn. However, different staff members were involved in the activity areas in each of the two sessions---for instance, Ed Steiner (a biology teacher) was ion charge of the field study in the first session, and the lowland-lake study session session.In the first session, the girls’ s staff consisted of unit leader, two counselors, and three assistants, while the boys had unit leader, one counselor, and three assistants; this covered 38 boys and 18 girls as campers. Having only one senior staff member for the boys was a problem only at night, since all activities were coed. In the second session, the girls’ staff assigned to the science group consisted of one counselor and one assistant, while the boys had unit leader, two counselors, and two assistants; there were 31 boys and 8 girl campers. Staff were all very enthusiastic about the session, and would like to have more of the science camp sessions. Despite the fact that half of the staff members had not had more than introductory courses in natural sciences, all worked very well with the campers. However, while studying allowed them to lead successful community studies, they were at a disadvantage in helping with individual projects, and here we could have used more resource specialists. The staff or the science camps except for one first-session senior male counselor and the boy assistants, was made up of regular camp counselors hired by the city on the basis of recreation examinations and not for any particular abilities in natural sciences. An advantage that camp-staff has over specialists is in knowing how to handle the campers in units, how to supplement the program with recreational camping, etc. I would not recommend that the staff consist entirely of science specialists.Recommendations for 1965 by the staff include having least one full day of training for science staff members as distinct from the regular staff training period, to prepare them to lead, learn use of equipment, etc., and to give time to really prepare their community studies. A set of planned activities for each community study group should be worked out in advance, with complete directions and list of equipment given to the staff members working with that group. These activities should be changed from year to year, so that returning campers would do different things in each community each year.



1964: Upland Woods, Lowland Woods and Swamp, Stream and Brook-edge, Lake and Marsh-edge
1965: Fields and Succession, Woodland Stratification, Hillsides and Valleys, Streams and Lake
1966: Life in the Swamp, Influence of Light and Moisture on Plants, Soils
1967: Rocks and Fossils, Plants, Animals
1968: Use of taxonomic keys for identification, influence of I-435 construction, aquatic life as managed by man
1969: Marsh and lake community, Plant ecology, Ecology of rock outcrops
1970: Indian Creek Sewage treatment plant, Aquatic populations and balance, Terrestrial populations & balance
1971: Impact of I-435 on terrestrial ecology, Impact of I-435 on aquatic ecology, The Designs of Nature
1972: Life support systems of spaceship Earth, disruptions of life support systems, Man in the food chain--edible wild foods
1973: Living like Indians, Indians’ natural foods, Aquatic acclimatization
1974: Prairie relics at camp
1975: Cycles: Geologic erosion, deposition, and fossilization cycles, weather and atmospheric cycles, plant/animal/decomposer energy cycles, Acclimatization
1976: Populations, acclimatization
1977: Aquatic food chains, Land food chains, edible wild foods for people
1978: Highway erosion and Lake of the Woods, effect of flooding Ecology of Our Landings
1979: Cycles on hill influenced by human actions, geologic and aquatic cycles in valleys around camp
1980: life of lake and marsh, How plants and environments differ on north and south sides of hill, lowland ecology along Blue River
1981: Acclimatization


1964: James A. Reed Wildlife Area (with D.W. Frazier), Swope Park Zoo (with Bennie Henry), Geology (with Eldon Parizek)
1965: Swope Park Nursery (with Jim Taylor), Albert Saeger’s prairie
1966: Pesticide Research (with Jean Henderson), Geology and Soils, Pollution Treatment
1967: Fisheries Management (D.W.Frazier), Line Creek Park and Maplewoods, Geology
1968: U.S. Weather Bureau , Corps of Engineers River Management, Squaw Creel National Wildlife Refuge
1969: Taberville Prairie
1970: Metal recycling---Prolerized Steel, Griffin Wheel Company
1971: C. G. Stephens Farm, Kansas City Zoo
1972: Sanitary Landfill Demonstration (N. Artz), Phillips Petroleum Refinery (H. Comstock), Baker Wetland Prairie (Ivan Boyd)
1973: Missouri University archeology field school (Robert T. Bray)
1974: C. G. Stephens Farm---prairie management, Shawnee Mission Park prairie
1975: Acclimatization experiences
1977: Jerry Smith Farm, Family Gardening (Dr. Richard Myers), Large-scale farm (Joseph P. Pepper), Farmland Industries research farm (Don Crim)
1978: The engineering of Missouri (Col. Gurnie Gunter, former camp staff member), How the living city changes through deterioration and urban renewal, pollution analysis at Environmental Protection Agency lab
1979: Metal recycling at Prolerized Steel , paper recycling at Batliner Paper, Kansas City Sewage Treatment Plant, Bethany Falls Limestone man-made caves for underground storage
1981: How coal is turned to electricity, and issues of strip mining, pollution,etc--- Hawthorne Power Plant of KCPL

EVENING GUEST SPEAKERS and programs included:

Ruth Saunders-White: artistic values found in nature (Burroughs Nature Club)
W. L. Philyaw, J. Mett Shippee, "Doc" Wilson: Archeology of KC Area (KC Archeological Society)
Elizabeth Cole: Conservation Problems and successes (The Nature Conservancy)
John Urton: Biological Insect control
Jan Davis and Jack Armstrong: KC Zoo
Dr. Charles Miles: Ecology of Parasites, Effect of Disease on History
Mark Kinsey, Robert Redding, Hollis Schmohe, Richard Henke: Astronomy (Astronomical Society of KC)
Gerald Foree: Agriculture and Pollution (Farmland Industries)
Jack Root: Metropolitan Planning for a better quality of life (Metro PLAN)
Patricia Duncan: Landscaping and Urban Ugliness
Dr. Richard Myers: East Pakistan---Portrait of an underdeveloped catastrophe (UMKC), car-choked smog in Iran, ecology of caves, world population problems as seen in Bangladesh
Drs. Michelle and Dan Stern, Pollution in Our Town (UMKC);
Mark Shapiro: Pollution in Kansas City (Citizens Environmental Council)
Eleanor Dawson: Flowers, leaves, and insects through the camera
Neil Jenkins: Missouri Department of Conservation Programs of restoring wildlife (MDC)
Dr. Alvin Hylton: Environmental Impacts of Man’s Constructions (Midwest Research Institute)
Merle Zirkle: The Population Explosion and You (Planned Parenthood)
Andrew Melnykovych: wild mustangs, their ecology and population control (Yale U., former science camper/couns)
Frank Dillenkoffer: weather forecasting (National Weather Service)
Dr. Edward Zeller: research in Antarctica (KU)
Jerry Overton: The pollution of the Blue River as seen by canoe (Burroughs Audubon Society)
Rep.Karen McCarthy: environmental and scientific issues in the legislature
Ralph Kiene: environmental impacts on an island near New Guinea
Dick Dawson’s presentations included paleontology of KC area, River conservation issues involving Buffalo River, Grand Canyon, Rampart Dam, aquatic life, Science and Survival, Game Research in Missouri, Ian McHarg’s "Design with Nature", World environmental problems and solutions, Spaceship Earth, Planet Management Game, Club of Rome’s "Limits to Growth" computer simulation, Raft trip down Hell’s Canyon with Pete Seeger and Willy Unsoeld, Congressional hearings on Prairie National Park, Terra II spaceship ecology simulation, the fight for Alaska’s wild areas, Natural America---past, present, and future.


Following the pilot Natural Science Camp in 9164, the enthusiastic response of the 96 campers gave sufficient support to the desire of the Recreation Division for an expanded year-round natural science program that five different areas of activity began or were carried to completion in this year. The Edwin R. Weeks Hall at Camp Hope was remodeled into a year-round nature center for boys and girls, involving insulation and interior paneling, installation of permanent screen and winter glass windows, and forced air heating, plus paving of the gravel road to the building. In this newly remodeled nature center, including a kitchen and dining space for about 80 people, the staff of the Recreation Division have carried out three different programs: (1) an after-school Science Hobby Club program which served about 250 boys and girls for four hours once every two weeks with a nature and recreation program; (2) Natural Science Club which served an average of 50 boys and girls once a month for six hours with a program emphasizing field and laboratory studies of nature; (3) Resident Camp in the summer of 1965 in which 136 boys and girls each spent 11 days at Natural Science Camp over a period of three sessions in a program of studies of natural communities, individual science projects, group discussions and programs, and recreational activities. The building and facilities were also used for a resident camp for mentally retarded boys and girls before the Science Camp and for diabetics after the Science Camp.

In addition to the enlargement of program at Camp Hope, two additional buildings were constructed to greatly expand the opportunities to serve the public in the field of nature. The former concession stand at the intersection of Gregory Boulevard and Oldham Road in Swope Park was made available by the Park Dept. as a public Lakeside Nature Center; this was remodeled to provide a long room for displays and living plants and animal, another room for meetings to include bulletin board and projection facilities, and a downstairs laboratory room. This building was used as a nature center in the park for the park visitors, a meeting place for nature study and science organizations, a location for leading conducted field trips for public and organized groups, and a laboratory for study of plants and animals and geology of the park and the Blue River Parkway by high school and university students. Dan Dougherty was hired as the first full-time Naturalist to operate this center, conduct field trips, lay out nature trails, etc.

On the campsite itself, near the James Fuller Dining Hall at Camp Lake of the Woods, an observatory was constructed. The city constructed this building with a sliding roof , where the Astronomy Club of Kansas City housed the 16" reflector telescope members had built . It was used by the Astronomy Club members and by the Recreation Division in developing an astronomy program for our own science camp and science club and after school groups, for other youth and adult groups in the city, at no charge. From opening in October, 1966 to fall, 1973, the observatory served 4135 visitors and campers, and was in use about 335 nights.

Also on the camp property, Dick Dawson taught an 8-week summer school course in the mid-60’s for the Biology Department at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, "Techniques of Instruction in Natural History," emphasizing specific ways of studying natural history and especially the ways of presenting natural history to youth and adult groups through displays, nature trails, and conducted field trips, including working with the summer science campers. We also operated a school-year Outdoor School where teachers could bring classes out to Camp Hope for a day’s nature program led by an expanded interpretive staff.

Carol Schwarting was hired to develop a Nature Wagon program which visited schools with demonstrations with living animals and lessons on animal ecology, behavior, and how we should treat nature to provide the best opportunity for wildlife to flourish. Outdoor Discovery Teams visited classrooms and led youngsters on explorations of their school grounds to draw implications from survival of playground life to human survival.

The Line Creek Archeological Center including bison and elk enclosures was developed in the mid-70 north of the Missouri River, and provided both interpretive displays and activities including simulations of an archeological dig. Wildlife and historical displays were opened at the Swope Interpretive Center inside the park entrance, and at Heritage Village north of the Missouri. The Riding Academy program was developed on the campsite to teach western horsemanship and help maintain the camp horses in prime condition for summer.

In 1972-73, participant-days in these Outdoor Education programs of the Parks and Recreation Dept. were:

Resident Camping 4684
Day Camping 7598
Outdoor School 2593
Observatory demonstrations 208
Lakeside Nature Center drop-in visitors 32,001
Nature Wagon presentations 21,002
Field Trips 45
School Nature Walks 7129
Non-school nature walks 1695
Ecology classes 625
Meetings 3386
Film showings 115
Weekend camping by other groups using our facilities 3200
Riding classes 3281
Talks 137
Symposia 115


Since this program was the first tax-supported science camp in the country, the staff shared their ideas and programs through professional publications. Mr. Dawson published an article, "Natural Science Camp Plans Program for Growth and Fun" in the April, 1965, issue of Camping Magazine and another entitled "A Natural Science Camp for Pre-Teens" in the March, 1967 issue of The American Biology Teacher. Another article was published in Parks and Recreation on camp science programs in general. The Missouri Parks and Recreation Association Explorer carried a two-page spread "The Wonders of Nature, a picture story at Lakeside Nature Center". The photographs in these articles were by former camp staff member Carter L. Hamilton. A report of the science camp program was given at the regional convention of the National Science Teachers Association in 1966. The camps have been listed in national indexes to environmental education programs published by the National Audubon Society, National Science Teachers Association, Nature Centers for Youth Foundation, and Educational Resources Information Center. A 77-page mimeographed Field Guide to Nature Study in Swope Park and a 28-page Projects in Ecology and Natural History were also produced, the latter distributed by Science Pioneers to schools as well as through our program. In addition, Mr. Dawson produced monthly and seasonal nature trail bulletins for visitors to the campsite, and trees and other sites were marked with interpretive signs on wood or enameled metal.

Articles about our programs also appeared in The Kansas City Star, This Month in Kansas City, and other publications, and there were also newscast features on local television stations.


Due to increased demands on the city budget, through the years the amount of subsidy provided through taxes for the cost of operating the camp gradually declined, meaning the cost for parents to send children to the Swope Park camps increased , and some public images of Swope Park viewed it as a less-than-desirable place to have children living. In 1977, Camp Hope’s Osage and Chouteau units were closed for the summer, and Natural Science Camp was reduced to one session. Although we had the entire 4-unit camp, the Science Camp program was only one small part of the summer and we no longer had a staff specifically and adequately trained for that purpose. We used Hope dining hall for projects, meaning more time walking back and forth, and the "family" atmosphere of the campers/staff was less---but staffwise there was no longer the "Hope clique". The effect of both increased costs and reduction in camper-staff spirit and camper expertise in ‘77 was shown by the shrinkage to 42 campers in 1978. Hard work by staff in ‘78, however, coupled with changing to two sessions of two landings to provide more flexibility in enrollment time resulted in nearly 80 campers in 1979, and a chance for science staff to capitalize on what went best in first session and build up skills; it thus gave back some of the Camp Hope advantages. In 1980 there were 19 returning campers, but there was another decline in program, with one session and sharing units with horseback riding specialty campers one of sessions. Science camp suffered for lack of enough junior counselor advisors, and it was recommended the acclimatization program be extended to both experienced and new campers, meaning it would have to change each year like community studies have; the next year’s enrollment showed 1980 had been a disaster in affective terms. In 1981, there was one 3rd session science camp, with full unit and one half-unit for science campers of each sex. Half of the spots were reserved for the subsidized low-income Camping Connection kids, while other campers’ fees continued to rise. Few of the Camping Connection kids came with any understanding of scientific method learned in school, so staff experience was especially important in research projects.

Unfortunately, only 2 senior staff out of 10 had previous science camp experience. Of the 43 1981 campers, median age was 11, only 8 were returning campers and only four of them had been first-timers in 1980, and while ten years earlier half the campers came from suburban areas, there was now an almost total reliance on Kansas City, MO, school district children. New recruitment was thus pretty good. The development of the Outdoor Education Lab programs in Johnson, however, gave alternatives to Shawnee Mission kids with lower-priced day camp programs and with high school teachers running a more specifically science program. However, those who had experience with it and with the Camp Hope program in the mid-70’s felt that for closeness of staff and campers, fun, and dedication, there will never be a world like ours was. "Camp" was often coming to mean teaching in the summer for kids who wanted a particular specialty, such as computers, and the term was increasingly used for activities carried out indoors in the city.

Times change. Eventually the entire resident camp program was forced by circumstances to be dropped. Despite the fact that participants in a variety of programs felt that none of the others had anywhere near the real impact and influence for good of the resident camps, they reached a much smaller number of people than could be accommodated by other programs for less tax money. Numbers count, and the numbers were stacked against us; the Outdoor Education program could not afford to endanger all the full-year activities and staff by betting the whole budget that enough parents would pay private camp tuition to send their kids to SwopePark. And the children of our campers and staff members spend their summers in tightly organized sports and lessons where they must be there every day, or every Thursday, or they’ll be thrown off the team. Too often they want to spend the rest of their time watching TV, or playing computer games, or at least being inside where it isn’t 90 degrees , or 105. They don’t sing songs, they play CD’s of electronically enhanced sounds on their boom-boxes, listen to lyrics unintelligible unless there is an insert with the words. Every generation looks back to the "Good Old Days".

But OURS REALLY WERE (as long as we were intelligent, educated, middle-class, had our camp and friends, and had the kind of parents we each hope we can be.) Blessed be.


While the Environmental Science part of our program has been the backbone of the Camp Hope experience, when I look for its heart I am brought back to the operating philosophy first learned in 1952 from Nelson Wieters:

For many years following the establishment of the first known camping program by Dr. Frederick Gunn, the justifications of resident programs were many and varied. Fresh air and sunshine, military maneuvers, maintenance of the underprivileged, summer schooling, all were but a few. The numbers of camps were few also, as well as the growth of the field.
Resident camping began to grow when certain unique values, even though they had not been a part of the original justification, were discovered. It was found that sound appreciation of man’s environment was developed when confronted with the ingenuity, self-reliance, cooperation, and many other skills necessary for gadget-free living in the out-of-doors. This same program of outdoor living provided not only fun, it provided adventurous fun. Adventurous because it was set apart from the standard types of play available in urban life. This adventure became a special memory and as a result provided the basis for the carryover values of education and association.
Generally speaking, this whole process comes from the realization that when separated from the usual environment, be it good or bad, the camper becomes susceptible to new problems and new opportunities. This is what makes resident-camping a unique experience.
A resident camping experience also provides an unequaled opportunity for the basic realization of the out-of-doors. The esthetic qualities that are instilled in the mind of the campers and the skills that are learned, help develop their ability to depend upon their resources rather than dependence upon the provisions of others.
We have a need to escape from the "concrete world": the need for training and appreciation is shown by poor sportsmanship, forest fires, destruction of wildlife, and trashy campsites. This same need becomes apparent in the over-development of wilderness areas and the modernization that must be provided if the untrained "city folk" are to enjoy outdoor living.
As a result, in our program we replace studio-type crafts with nature-crafts. We live in adirondacks or tents even though they create a greater expense than cabins. We improve our living units by our own construction of primitive "gadgets." We "study" nature in the form of its relation to our everyday living. We combine ingenuity and primitiveness in our cook-outs. We curb the camper’s desire to participate in his favorite sport not through flat denial, but by making certain that our activities are providing an incomparable FUN experience.
The basic desire to have fun is common to all campers in the group. Although the fun experience is the method of accomplishing our purpose, it can never be considered of secondary importance. The very fact that children come to camp to have fun, gives us a medium by which we are able to implement the advantages of group living. These advantages become real only when a good counselor helps provide a good experience.

Thanks to all you good counselors, there are a great many of us---staff and campers--- who to the end of our days will remember that we never had as much fun as did on that hill in Swope Park. And maybe never made as much positive impact on our own lives and those around us as we did then.

---Dick Dawson, December, 2000

HOME | 1900-1951 | 1951-1963 | 1964-1981 | 1982-