Inspired by her family camping tradition, Katherine Michiels began taking city kids camping in the Sierras in the 1980s. “They have a lot of fun here and there’s really just water, sticks, rocks, and sand” is how Katherine describes the radical camp philosophy of unstructured play outdoors. The campers are mostly students at Katherine’s school in San Francisco’s Mission District. The annual trips grew until 2001 when, because of environmental issues, liability concerns, and burnout, Katherine announced her final camp. Three campers-turned counselors refused to let the camp die. This is their story and the story of why, for so many of the children who experienced it, this camp became a touchstone, a place of profound meaning and deep personal satisfaction.

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