This was the last summer for a “Camp Fire” camp in eastern Iowa.
After more than eight decades, Camp Hitaga, near the town of Walker in Linn County, is closing. Valerie Smith, the camp’s executive director, says in the 1960s they had 200 campers every week during the summer, but this summer only 150 kids came to Camp Hitaga.
“We had also seen a decline in participation in Camp Fire clubs in the towns around here,” Smith says. “There are now sports to so much bigger a degree than there used to be. Kids are so involved in their sporting activities and a lot of the team have harder rules, so if they were to come to summer camp for a week, they’d miss their practice and be kicked off the team.”
Smith was a Camp Fire girl in the 1970s who spent some of her summers at Camp Hitaga. She says the council that manages the camp doesn’t have enough money to deal with ongoing operations, upkeep of camp facilities and two bank loans.
“With the decrease in participation came a decrease in income and, you know, it takes a lot of money to maintain a wonderful facility like the one that we’ve had when it was established in 1931 and then buildings added in the late ’60s,” she says. “There’s a lifespan to buildings.”
The council which oversees the camp has contracted with a real estate company to sell the property.
“We currently have 158 acres of wooded hills and also a patch of native prairie,” Smith says.
Smith has no idea when a sale might be completed or who may be interested in the property.
“We certainly hope it would be someone who would continue to preserve the natural environment and maybe a couple of the more historic buildings,” Smith says.
A reunion for alumni of Camp Hitaga is scheduled for October 4 and 5. Camp Fire Girls of America was founded in 1910. In 1975 Camp Fire allowed both girls and boys to join the group. There are currently Camp Fire councils in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Monticello managing Camp Fire activities in Iowa.