By Bonnie Andrews
Families looking for relaxation, adventure and summer fun come from all over the United States to enjoy the inviting, stimulating atmosphere at Aspen Grove.
“We live 1400 miles from here and are willing and anxious to pay the fees to come to have a family environment where we”re not just leaving the kids behind, wondering how they”re doing, but at the same time it”s not all centered on kids,” said David Bishop, from Missouri. “There are opportunities for the parents too.”
The family camp began in 1963 after Ray Beckham, executive director of the BYU Alumni Association, solicited alumni for money and collateral to purchase thousand dollar notes at a bank. The funds were raised and construction of the facility began.
Aspen Grove”s simple beginnings have since turned into an elaborate production.
The 55 acres of the camp include swimming pools, an archery field, a simulated golf facility, family cabins, a fishing pond, an amphitheater and more.
“The camp offers activities that appeal to all age groups,” said Mark Longhurst, Aspen Grove marketing and programs manager. “We provide guest lectures, church services, firesides and age group programming so the children are in fun activities, and we provide all the meals for mom. It”s a neat retreat they”re able to participate in, and the children are very comfortable because of the surroundings. Families are able to forget some of the cares they have at home and be rejuvenated spiritually, emotionally and physically here at the camp.”
“Activities range from a high adventure ropes course, night games, campfires, contests, dances, hiking, fishing, swimming and golfing,” Longhurst said. “Of course that”s not everything.”
Parents don”t have to cook, clean or baby-sit, he said. People are hired to take care of all that.
Sixty-five BYU students are employed at Aspen Grove each summer, Longhurst said. Positions are offered for camp counselors, maintenance, dining services and custodial services.
“I”ve come to Aspen Grove for family reunions since I was 1-year-old,” said Scott Dodds, a camp maintenance employee. “I liked it as a participant, but I love working here. I get to be here all day, everyday for the whole summer. I just love the environment, and the people that work here are so friendly and kind. They would do anything to make your visit here enjoyable.”
“When you work here, Aspen Grove really does get under your nails,” said Jamie Johnson, a camp counselor. “You love it here, it becomes a part of you.”
As a counselor Johnson runs daily activities for a certain age group of children. The jobs are demanding, Johnson said, but it”s worth it.
Most staff members are required to work six days a week, usually the only time off is noon Friday until noon Saturday. All staff must live by the BYU Honor Code, and be responsible to work in a variety of areas.
“We work hard, and we play hard,” said LomaMarie Lamb, a camp counselor. “We are constantly learning. It”s always an adventure working with the kids.”
Each day of the weeklong camp has scheduled activities. Regular check-in begins Saturday afternoon. There is a brief orientation meeting that night which is followed by staff members performing musical numbers, skits and dances.
“There are Latter-day Saint church services held each Sunday,” said Sam Sponseller, an Aspen Grove business assistant. “Each week firesides are given by visiting church authorities or CES employees. Last Sunday President Thomas S. Monson was the fireside speaker. I think it is a privilege to combine church services with vacation, we are not a bible school camp, but we do offer religious services.”
On Monday nights, after a day full of activity, everyone gathers to watch a talent show given strictly by camp guests. Sometimes they last an hour and a half to two hours, Sponseller said.
On Tuesday there is always a festival, this year there is a medieval theme and the activities are things like jousting and archery, Sponseller said.
Wednesday is hike day. There are a few different hikes, including the Timpanogos hike. The camp is cradled at the base of Mount Timpanogos, and the hike draws many participants, Longhurst said.
Thursday brings about the closing show. It begins with pool games for families, youth cheers, a slideshow that captures the weeks activities and culminates with a family dance, which ends at about 9:30 p.m. It then turns into a teen and young adult dance.
Those are just some of the bigger activities.
Within the camp convenience store and game center, families can checkout board games to play, eat ice cream and talk the afternoon away.
The camp also offers arts and crafts where anyone can experiment with activities like painting, pottery, ceramics or leatherwork.
“I was an employee here 11 years ago,” said Marilyn Kearns a camp guest from San Antonio, Texas. “It”s my first time back. The best thing about it is that the kids have something to do. You like to spend time with your family, but you like to have that alone time too, and Aspen Grove offers that.”
Children can roam pretty freely here, Longhurst said. It is a comfortable atmosphere that provides protection and fun all in one.
Three meals are provided daily in the dining lodge where each participant can enjoy quality meals. There, employees race to restock the buffets, parents enjoy a cook and clean-free meal and children can leave with their half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches.
Many families go to camp, not just for the activities, but also the social and spiritual environment.
“Our children make friends with other kids, you can always make connections here,” said Margaret Tueller, from Boise, Idaho.
“One of the greatest things is how they run it. It”s beautiful and everything, but the spirit that is here and the attitude of the staff is what makes it such a great experience,” Dave Tueller said.