Deluge closes YMCA Camp Leif Ericson

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) – On a normal, sunny June day, the sights and sounds of more than 700 children ages 4 to 15 enjoying summer would fill the air at YMCA Camp Leif Ericson on the banks of the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls.

But thanks to massive storms last Thursday and Friday and the relentless deluge that followed from the river, the 60 acres of campgrounds near the intersection of East 26th Street and Southeastern Drive have turned into a vacant, silent, muddy landscape , forcing the camp to close. for at least a week.

On Friday, it was a quagmire – the highest river crest seen there in 41 years.

“I hesitate to use the word ‘devastating’ because I don’t want people to think the Camp was completely destroyed,” said Kadyn Wittman, Sioux Falls Family YMCA director of development.

“But, this is a pretty devastating thing for us. The water level was three to four to five feet in some places, and some things were completely submerged.”

On Thursday, forecasts of an oncoming onslaught of rain gave camp leaders enough caution to make sure they were transporting the camp’s 26 horses to nearby horse wranglers, while the neighboring Cliff Avenue Greenhouse and Garden Center a allowed the camp to park its buses and heavy machinery in its parking lot up the small hill and above the flood line.

But all sorts of “legendary camp items,” plus smaller structures and supplies that are essential to the camp experience, were destroyed or washed away—fishing rods, bows and arrows, BB guns, and kayaks, for starters.

“Our Port-O-Potties, picnic tables, carpet ball tables, things like that,” said Camp Leif Ericson YMCA Administrator Megan Thompson. “That’ll be it for the next couple of days – just rebuilding and purchasing supplies that unfortunately we weren’t able to get out of the camp.”

The arts and crafts hall is a muddy mess of ruined or devastated objects. Debris from fallen trees and other destruction litters the grounds. Most councilors now spend their days cleaning up the wreckage.

“We were overwhelmed by the support of the camp counselors,” Wittman said. “They reached out and said, ‘What can I do if there are no trailers? I’ll come and scrub things up. I will put waiters (pants). I will collect debris. We have been deeply moved by the outpouring of our staff.”

But the camp is closed to all on-site activities until the end of this week, at best. Thompson hopes the field could be safe to host the typical end-of-camp awards ceremonies Thursday or Friday. But with the cancellation of at least the first three days of this week, 696 of the 718 campers will have lost about half of the two-week camping experience, which runs weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” Thompson said. “The experiences they will miss, that they didn’t get to say goodbye to their new friends and counselors, that’s why summer camp, camp. So you can’t put a price on that.”

The cost of the damage is still being assessed, but the nonprofit YMCA has already started an online fundraiser that has raised more than $26,000 in less than 24 hours with more than 250 donors from across the country — from Seattle to Washington, DC to Texas. .

“The camp has been around for a hundred years, and the thousands of children and families it has touched are now coming back to help us, no matter where they are in their lives,” Wittman said. “Seeing that support pouring in from all over the nation was just incredible.

The YMCA is setting its goal for the facility at $100,000. Donations will help pay for repairs and replacement of damaged structures, plus the purchase of new supplies, plus the revenue the YMCA loses by issuing partial refunds to families of campers who opted to take them.

Another option for camping families is the credit that will allow children to attend the portion of one of the three future sessions that the children missed during this one.

Meanwhile, Central Church donated its space to the 22 campers whose families opted for day care for the week — the kind of care that a true outdoor camp can’t provide. Still, these campaigners are playing with the councilors and will also be taking field trips to some Sioux Falls landmarks as they walk their session.

Wittman summed up the last few days as follows:

“Nonprofits, as a whole, tend to be very resilient, and we tend to find an edge in anything we can,” Wittman said. “So we see this as a time for us to deep clean the cabin and staff areas.”