Beautiful Mountain Ranch Gives Children a Chance to Experience Nature and Fun

Round Up River Ranch provides children experiencing serious illnesses the opportunity to take part in camping sessions during the Summer
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Kids being kids, making memories by paddling canoes at Round Up River Ranch. | Photos courtesy of Roundup River Ranch

Situated on 125 bucolic acres alongside the Colorado River in Gypsum, Roundup River Ranch is a literal slice of heaven for the children with grave or serious illnesses who take part in one of the six camping sessions that are offered every summer.

At the end of each weeklong camp, youngsters between the ages of 7 and 17 whose lives revolve around doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy, dialysis, special diets, pills, shots and hospital stays leave Roundup River Ranch as “giggling, laughing, conspiring, arrow-shooting, horseback-riding, art-creating kids,” according to its website. Adds Jennifer Clark, the camp’s manager of marketing and communications: “They go home with new friends and a sense of belonging.”

During their stay, kids can also paddle a canoe, gaze at the stars through a telescope, experience the thrill of ziplining, sit around a campfire while making s’mores and singing camp songs, or use their hands (not forks) to stuff their mouths with spaghetti—something few parents would allow at home.

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No matter the difficulties these kids face each day, their time at Round Up River Ranch serves as a reminder that they are all just normal kids and simple joys like learning a new skill brings much confidence.

The doctors and nurses who staff The Depot, Roundup River Ranch’s fully equipped on-site medical facility, are prepared to handle routine, urgent or emergency situations. The medics trade their scrubs and lab coats for tutus and Superman capes in an effort to get away from the sterile situations to which the kids have become accustomed.

Each camp session is tailored for those with similar or related conditions. For example: Session No. 1 this summer was for kids with moderate to severe asthma, lung disease or celiac disease; the last will be for those with cancer, brain tumors, acquired immunodeficiency, bone marrow transplants, blood disorders or sickle cell disease.

There are also weekend retreats for the entire family.

Special effort is taken to make each camper comfortable with his or her medical needs. “If a camper is out boating, the medication he or she needs is delivered to them out on the water,” Clark says. “If someone needs to eat at a certain time, we adjust the meal schedule so everyone eats at that time.

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Campers enjoying a summertime favorite, making s’mores over an open fire.

“Parents know their kids are going to be well taken care of while they are at camp,” Clark adds. “And the campers themselves develop deeper connections and understanding when they see they’re not alone—that others are going through the same things they are.”

In addition to the on-site sessions, outreach manager Maria Salm or a member of her team brings camp to patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado by using the hospital’s Seacrest Studio to broadcast a camp activity to screens in their rooms.

Founded in 2006 by Alison Knapp and a group of prominent Vail Valley residents, Roundup River Ranch is part of the SeriousFun Network, a global community of camps that late actor/philanthropist Paul Newman started in 1988. Today, the SeriousFun Network has independently funded camps in some 50 countries on five continents.

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Stays at all SeriousFun Network camps, including Roundup River Ranch, are offered at no charge to participants.

Following five years of fundraising, board development and construction, the first camp session was held on July 6, 2011. By summer’s end, 241 kiddos had completed their one-week stays. Clark estimates that this summer, approximately 400 will participate.

Eighty percent of the campers reside in Colorado, with some 50 percent from the metro Denver area. Many are referred by their doctors, but parents, guardians or individuals can apply directly to Roundup River Ranch.

Currently, a $27 million capital campaign is being promoted to fund construction of three additional cabins and expansion of programs. Some $20 million has already been raised, with full funding expected by the end of 2024. Campaign donations can be made directly on the ranch’s website.

8333 Colorado River Road, Gypsum

Joanne Davidson is a frequent contributor to Colorado Expression

Categories: Community/Society