in Meddling, Parks and Rec, Politics, Raleigh

Raleigh quietly pulled the plug on Camp Ranoca. Why?

We met Kelly’s family at a Virginia state park for our new “Cabin Thanksgiving” tradition. Standing around the campfire Friday night, we were close to exhausting our measly repertoire of camp songs when Hallie and Travis giddily led the others through several zany camp songs they had picked up from their summers at Raleigh’s Camp Ranoca. Anything that gets both of my kids to happily cooperate gets my attention and it was obvious they both looked back fondly on their Camp Ranoca experiences.

Hallie was greatly looking forward to the chance to be a camp counselor this summer at Camp Ranoca. She is excellent with kids and loves the camp experience. Goofiness runs in the family (if you couldn’t tell). She would’ve been great. I was probably as crushed as she was when we found out at the beginning of the year that Raleigh had quietly discontinued Camp Ranoca.

For those who aren’t familiar with Camp Ranoca, it is a summer day camp that the City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation department offered for over four decades (RaNoCa is a contraction of RAleigh, NOrth CArolina). Two generations of kids have grown up collecting mosquito bites, corny songs, swimmer’s ear, and sunburn at the camps held simultaneously at both Umstead Park and Durant Nature Park. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to Camp Ranoca. I would’ve thought the demise of such a beloved camp would’ve been cause for at least some announcement, but no such luck.

When I say “quietly,” I do mean quietly. Google searches turn up nothing. A few stale Google links point to a city webpage that used to have Camp Ranoca information but has since been scrubbed clean. Camp Ranoca isn’t listed in any of the minutes of the Raleigh City Council. All I was able to find is a budget item for the 2016-2017 budget [PDF], showing Camp Ranoca dropping funding from $140,000 last year to just $3,000 this year. Poof. Gone.


Back in February I emailed Diane Sauer, Director of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources department, asking for more information on Camp Ranoca’s demise. I never got an answer (UPDATE: turns out I used the wrong email address. Whoops.) and didn’t think to follow up until I saw the smiles on my kids’ faces Friday night.

I’m reaching out again to Raleigh’s Parks department to see if I can get the scoop. If Ranoca is gone for good, it deserves a proper send-off.

UPDATE 29 Nov:
I heard back from Scott Payne, Recreation Superintendent, with a detailed explanation to what led to the decision. tl;dr: dwindling demand ended Camp Ranoca. More on that in a future post.

Scott says:

Yes, Camp Ranoca as we knew it for more than 40 years no longer exists as one of our summer camp offerings. In 2015 we acknowledged challenges with delivering the traditional Camp Ranoca: an aging facility for Ranoca West; re-classification of Ranoca North’s home as a nature preserve; and a downward trend in registration for both sites. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed Camp Whispering Pines located at William B. Umstead State Park hosted Ranoca West for decades, yet the facility had aged to a point where we could no longer sustain a quality experience. Durant Park, home to Ranoca North, was reclassified to Durant Nature Preserve, one of our four (4) nature preserves, with a new emphasis on education of natural environments, a direction supported by the 2014 Park System Plan. The downward trend in registration called to question if a traditional outdoor recreation-based summer camp still met the expectations of our patrons.

At the end of the 2015 summer camp season we made the very difficult (especially for me, my son attended and loved Ranoca) decision to not offer Camp Ranoca for 2016. We notified all of the 2015 Camp Ranoca families by letter of our decision for 2016 and shared information on other similar camp programs offered by the Department for the 2016 season. A team of staff developed an on-line survey instrument on desired summer camps experiences and administered to more than 5,600 attendees of our 2013-2015 summers programs, Camp Ranoca attendees as well as all of our other summer camp and program attendees. Analysis of the results from the survey confirmed patrons highly value outdoor activities such nature lessons, outdoor games, hiking, swimming and boating; however, participation in camp traditions (a Camp Ranoca hallmark) were not valued as highly. With this information and awareness in hand, our creative staff developed for the 2017 summer camp season a new outdoor-recreation focused camp series, “Oak City Adventures.” This series will originate from two (2) hubs, Durant Nature Preserve Park and Walnut Creek Wetland Center, with opportunities for 10-12 year olds as well as 13-15 year olds. The camps will be on the go, leaving each day from their respective “hubs” to visit and enjoy outdoor activities such as boating, swimming, hiking (and for the older group biking and kayking) at outdoor spaces the “City of Oaks” has to offer, Lake Johnson, Lake Wheeler, the Capital Area Greenway System, Neuse River, etc. Durant Nature Preserve now provides a series of smaller, environmental education-focused camps: these offerings were developed and successfully delivered in 2016.

In summary, Camp Ranoca, as we knew it, will not be offered as summer camp; yet, its memories of fun and laughter will live on. The Department now offers a new program, Oak City Adventures, seeking to create new memories of fun and laughter through new exceptional outdoor recreation-based experiences.

So there ya go.