YMCA Camp Kitaki

When the Waters Rise

When the Waters Rise

Over the last few weeks we have gotten a lot of questions about camp.  In the wake of this historic flooding in our state, and the powerful devastation that it caused, it’s no wonder that people would be concerned about us.  The Lied Pedestrian Bridge, which crosses the Platte River just by our lake, is closed.  The water, and the giant trees and other debris it carried, buffeted the bridge, taking out it’s safety rails.  Just 25 miles from us, the Salvation Army Summer Camp is being reported as a total property loss.  I’m sure that you have seen many of the pictures and video of the floods.  At Kitaki, we haven’t shared too much about how camp was impacted because it feels a little weird to say “we are ok” when so many aren’t.  But we ARE ok.  The flood waters did damage the levee between the lake and the Platte River, but it held.  The rest of camp, although suffering some spring time erosion issues, is unaffected by the flood.  

In 1903 the Lincoln YMCA opened it’s first overnight summer camp, YMCA Camp Strader, near Crete, NE.  Situated on the Blue River, Camp Strader had a near annual issue with flooding.  In fact many times, visitors would only be able to access the property by stopping loading luggage into a canoe, and canoeing across the river.  In the late 40’s and early 50’s the Y was unable to continue operation of the camp due to the constant water.  A small group of Y leaders set out to find the new home for the YMCA of Lincoln’s overnight camp programs.  Irvin Yohn, one of those men, located a cow pasture near the Platte River that would become Camp Kitaki.

Now believe it or not, I wasn’t there in 1953 when Kitaki opened (despite what some of the campers think!).  I would imagine that making sure the new camp wasn’t going to flood was a huge priority.  And Irvin and his fellows delivered.  The best guess I can manage, using free tools available to me on Google Maps, is that our closest lodging building to the river (fittingly called Strader Lodge) is at least 130 feet above river level.  No wonder everyone talks about the hill coming up from the lake.

The weekend of the floods I stood on Overlook, the scenic view overlooking the river that was dedicated to Irvin Yohn.  As I gazed down every single one of those 130 feet to the turbulent white caps below,  a dull but audible roar of the ferocious amount of water rushing above it’s normal channels filling my ears, I said a word of thanks to Irvin and his crew.  Their work, effort, dedication and vision helped create a new version of camp, and one better suited too many of the challenges they knew would befall it.  

At the end of the day I think that is what we can all hope and strive for.  That our work, the personal and professional toils that fill our days, will leave behind a better world.  While we may never be able to control when the waters rise, we can control the legacies that stand to help those who come after us weather the flood.  In fact, much of what camp is about is growing kids better prepared for a complex world.  

Most of us won’t ever get our names on a scenic overlook.  But we can write our legacy every day, in thousands of small phrases, etched in the hearts and the minds of those who will follow.  In so doing we craft the story of a future better prepared, as so many have done for us.

Because it’s never been if the waters rise, but when.  

Thanks to everyone for reaching out about camp and, more importantly, for reaching out to give aid and assistance to our neighbors who need it.  


Executive Director

YMCA Camp Kitaki

How to Help Flood Victims

Give to the Scott O'Neill Memorial Bouldering Wall - Follow the link, choose YMCA Camp Kitaki as the Designation, and in the Comments box put Scott O'Neill Memorial