the generational woodleaf experience

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Maple syrup and breakfast sausage. Smells trigger memories more than anything for me and maple syrup and breakfast sausage are what trigger the memories of Woodleaf.

In 6th grade, going to this camp for a week was a rite of passage. I’m not sure if fellow students were more excited for a camp atmosphere or just getting out of classes for a week. I looked forward to being in the open air the most; to learning how to build a proper lean-to shelter; to learning about edible plants versus the ones that will instantly kill you; to getting to hike and adventure in new territory.

Here, we also learned about waste and the importance of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” way of thought and living. I could semi-grasp this at the age of 11, but going back as a counselor in my senior year of high school made it all the more prevalent and tangible. I remember there being a competition amongst the cabins (the mention of cabins has triggered their smell and, considering I haven’t stepped foot in one in nearly 16 years, it is mind-blowingly potent) and whichever cabin was the cleanest before going to breakfast wins. I don’t remember what was won. Probably just the joy of taking pleasure in winning. But if you didn’t have much waste in the cabin, it was an easy win, and I think this was part of learning to reduce, reuse, and recycle. We won once during the week (I think it was rigged, so everyone could win at least once. That’s reality, I guess. Or I’m just a sore loser).

I wasn’t a fan of the sing-along songs they taught. I enjoyed a song from a mixtape more at that age that had the lyrics “Worms shit dirt but they don’t eat concrete.” Very informative. I vaguely remember stories involving Teepee John, but these could just be memories my mom has told me throughout the years when she went in the ‘70s.


In Northern California, in the town I grew up in there was a rite of passage, so to speak, that every sixth grader in all the schools within the school district went through…Woodleaf!

Woodleaf is a campground nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that was long ago, a stagecoach stop during the gold-rush era. Woodleaf revamped in 1966 to be a nature and recreation camp, that for one week I was shipped off 45 miles away with my peers to survive.

I attended in the late 70’s, and Woodleaf’s focus then was on nature and conservation skills paired with fun camp-like activities (swimming, basketball, soccer, arts & crafts, zip-lining, et al). My memories are fuzzy about most of the week, reduced down to just a scattering of highlights. I remember there was a guy who lived in a teepee, named Teepee John. He was kind of the Mr. Nature of the camp and was pretty cool. He was also well-versed on Native American folklore and traditions (for example, how the stars were created, how to make acorn butter, and, I want to say, leg wrestling & mancala?).

I remember learning basic survival skills too, like how to find North whether it’s day or night, what plants are edible if you are lost in the wilderness, building a shelter, water from urine, constellations of the night sky, stuff like that. I also recall feeding an eagle that had been injured and was being rehabilitated. There may have been bad experiences too, like getting poison oak or getting in trouble for staying up late talking past lights out, but now I chalk that up to being all part of the ritual of going to Woodleaf.

What I do remember most is the feeling of joy being with my friends and having fun there, away from home and school. Warm fuzzies for sure. Aww… Woodleaf!


2010s... kinda
Starting in 2007, actually, (the year after Hannah was a camp counselor) was the beginning of the end of the original Woodleaf.

Woodleaf was operated by the Sutter County Office of Education, which is how each 6th grade class was able to go for free. A unique program for that reason alone. In 2007, the owners of the land, Young Life (a Colorado-based Christian ministry that was leasing the land to Yuba County) decided they wanted to take on the land for their own programs. Woodleaf had two years to find a new location.

As pointed out in a 2007 news piece on this exchange,

"For some children, it’s their first chance to experience the natural world. If it just touches two kids, it helps the ecosystem because they learn to respect it."

From that point on, I found articles about fundraising for the move. Then in 2009, Young Life is using the title Woodleaf in their own marketing. Which I assume means the school program failed to raise the funds they needed to move and continue on. I also assume Young Life held onto the name to benefit from some 38-year long legacy by the original camp (more so than it's the town name). There also is a lot of crowdfunding for kids to go to camp, so the program is no longer free to students.

Thanks, organized religion.