A Natural Legacy: Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp

by | Jun 15, 2022 | Features

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Kids and nature should be the best of friends. Beatrice Johnson intuitively knew. She lived in a paradise of leaf canopies, moss-covered rocks, curly-cue ferns, secret places and meandering clear streams. A place where you can tell the wind your secrets.

Mrs. Johnson didn’t have children, but left a legacy to children in the Arkansas River Valley and beyond. In 2008, she passed away and left 160 acres of Johnson County forestland to be used for a youth camp. She requested that the Missouri-Arkansas District of Kiwanis International develop the camp for children in need of help, especially poor and troubled children, and keep the land as natural as possible.

Kiwanis History

Kiwanis International is an organization with its beginnings in early twentieth-century business networking. Two Michigan business owners, Allen Simpson Browne and Joseph G. Prance decided to meet as a club. For the first year, the club was referred to as the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers. After realizing that was probably not the best name for a business group, they used the regional Native American Otchipwe (Ojibwa/Chippewa) expression Nunc Kee-wanis, which loosely translated as “We trade,” and shortened it to Kiwanis. In 1920, the name remained, but the motto became “We build.” That motto lasted until 2005, when members voted to change it to “Serving the children of the world.”

With the founding of the Kiwanis Club of Ontario, Canada, in 1916, the organization became an international network of citizens helping children thrive. The Missouri-Arkansas District of Kiwanis began building its membership in 1918, under different names as it evolved through the years.

Kiwanis International locally, regionally and worldwide, takes on the challenges of disease, poverty and education to improve the lives of children. Serving the children of the world is more than an organizational tagline for Kiwanis International.

Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp

In May 2009, following an inspection of the property by area Kiwanis members, a task force was appointed to evaluate the location and feasibility of developing a camp. The property was legally deeded in January 2010, and in October 2010, the task force voted to name the camp the Missouri-Arkansas Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp. The task force also voted to ask the District board to approve the formation of a new District Foundation to continue to develop and manage the operation of the camp, and the Missouri-Arkansas Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Camp Foundation was established and dedicated on April 14, 2012.

“The Missouri-Arkansas Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp was created to fulfill the need for kids to connect with nature through a variety of nature-based, hands-on activities in a primitive environment. It’s our belief this will equip them with the skills and abilities to thrive,” the Youth Kamp Board released a statement saying. “The goals of the Missouri-Arkansas Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp are to enhance understanding of our environment and escalate appreciation of nature by heightening use of all senses.”

Recent studies and world events have shown that activities connected with nature and just being outside has several benefits for children. For example, social-emotional learning by participating in group activities, physical wellness from moving their bodies, breathing fresh air and being exposed to Vitamin D from the sun, confidence in trying new things, discovering how nature connects us all, finding purpose in protecting and conserving local environmental systems, and sparking curiosity by observing the natural world.

Location and Kamp Features

The Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp is located near Piney Bay Recreation Area off of Highway 359. The site is what Foundation Board President Thom South calls “a diamond in the rough.” That diamond is slowly being cut and polished to reveal a valuable place for children to shine.

At the camp entrance, a large painted wooden sign stands with the words, “Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp, Missouri-Arkansas District Kiwanis International, Serving the Children of the World.” Through the gate and a short distance up a gravel road, you will find another road to the left and the central hub of the camp, which has a large multi-purpose pavilion equipped with electricity, water and picnic tables. A few yards away is a new restroom facility with vault toilets. In the same area are a bulletin board, a meeting/meditation space, and a flagpole.

Just beyond the flagpole, is the trailhead of Half-Moon Trail and spurs that lead to primitive campsites. Thanks to several volunteers, there is a growing number of tent pods that include multiple tent pads. The first pod has several gravel pads with a central fire ring surrounded by stone slabs. Definitely a gathering spot for ghost stories and s’mores. Not far away, down another trail spur, is another tent pod in progress as part of an Eagle Scout project.

Going back up the Half-Moon Trail, there are a few interpretive wayside signs featuring information about native wildlife like raccoons and turtles. Wild turkey and White-tailed deer have been seen roaming the grounds. Toads, snakes, bats and insects surely call this home, too.

Across from the flagpole and pavilion is an uphill hike dotted with American beautyberry, wild muscadine and redring milkweed. It leads to a stone outcrop that is a familiar feature in the Arkansas River Valley and Ozarks. Stacked and tumbled slabs and boulders like ancient puzzle pieces among the moss and ferns, provide a good place to just sit and observe.

In another area away from the central hub and off the main road, is a clearing that will someday be used for an archery range and other activities. Right now, it has a handful of disc golf baskets waiting for Frisbees to fly. The potential for fun is as big as the camp property.

Sam Taylor, Vice President of the Kamp Foundation Board and Thom South, President of the Kamp Foundation Board, say that Kiwanis members have been discussing plans for the next phase of improvements, including including a headquarters cabin, showers, kitchen facilities, development of a nature overlook, multi-use recreational space and additional trails with signage.

The camp is a free-to-use site. Groups may ask for programming and activities or they may bring their own. Below are available current and future programming/activities:

    • Primitive overnight camping
    • Day camps with park interpreter (upon request)
    • Hiking trails
    • Youth Archery range (future)
    • Disc golf course
    • Gaga pit (future)
    • Human foosball game (future)

Scout troops, school groups, and other children’s groups are welcome. Please coordinate with the Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp by visiting their calendar and contacting them to register at https://kampkiwanismoar.org/calendar/.

If you would like to be involved in other ways with the Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp, consider volunteering or donating. Contact https://kampkiwanismoar.org/contact/ or mail donation checks, not cash, to:

The Missouri-Arkansas Beatrice Johnson
Kiwanis Youth Kamp Foundation
P.O. Box 1998
Russellville, AR 72811

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