Don Kirby

By: Sandi Stratton-Gonzalez

“I have managed the last week of summer for over 50 years. It seems like a lot but if you are having fun it goes quickly.” Don Kirby

Don Kirby first came to Kingswood about 60 years ago. Already a long-term volunteer at Sessions Wood, he was invited by the New York Conference Camping Executive to Kingswood. Both were rustic camps. At the time Kingswood was a youth camp with volunteer counselors and four sites, the two Orchards and the two Coves. 

Don came to Kingswood for a season and stayed for sixty years! Kingswood provided him the opportunity to work in the outdoors and build community with others. In fact, Don sees the Kingswood tents as symbolic of community, and the teepees as symbolic of the work that we do. He enjoys sleeping outside under canvas, and still does so routinely, unless he is managing and then he stays in the farmhouse.

Soon after Don came to Kingswood the conference run program for youth was discontinued and Kingswood pivoted to become a family camp. Don worked alongside other veteran volunteers David and Karen Taylor and Judy and Bud Swanson in realizing the family camping vision.

From the mid 90-s to 2015 Don was involved with Woodsmoke, the next iteration of Kingswood youth camp. Don volunteered first as photographer, then as “Mr. Foods” responsible for collecting youth-prepared menus, organizing items for purchase and delivering the requested food back to the campsites and then as a staff cook responsible for the meals of non-counseling staff.

An accountant by trade, Don has enjoyed doing the physical work at Kingswood, including years working on the water line, which has always a big challenge. He describes himself as “not a skilled workman but a jack of all trades,” enjoying the learning experience and the constant influx of new people over the years. When I asked Don what keeps him coming back year after year, he said “a feeling that what we do is worthwhile not only in preparing the camp but also in the community that we have up there.”

Don has noticed many positive changes. “In the beginning we didn’t have money to put into stuff,” he said, but now we are getting money coming in supporting stone ministry, folks contributing equipment and skills, restoring the Farm House and keeping the camp in good shape. There is such a wealth of talent among Kingswood volunteers, and management (especially David Taylor and Cheryl Winship) seems to know just how to use the talent for the benefit of the camp community. 

Among the challenges Don observes is the loss of the clergy involvement and lack of support for Chapel services. A lifelong Methodist who currently worships at The Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew in Manhattan, Don would love to see a more intentional worship experience restored at Kingswood, including during volunteer events. The other challenge he feels that Kingswood faces is its absence of racial diversity, particularly among the large number of volunteers.  Noting that Conference leadership and staff and the Camping Committee include many persons of color, Black, Latinx, and Asians as well as Whites, Don believes that we should work toward a more inclusive volunteer and family camping presence.

On behalf of everyone at Kingswood, volunteers and campers, I raise a glass of profound thanks to you Don Kirby! You have been integral to Kingswood’s success over many decades. In turn Don extends thanks to “all the folks who are at Kingswood, who are a blessing to each other and to our camping population.”

Reservations for 2021 Opening Soon!

By Rachael Skuggevik

If you’re like my family, you’ve already started discussing what dates you want to camp for the 2021 Season.  This also means your countdown to New Year’s gets a +1 until Kingswood opens its reservations for the season.  Here are the 2021 Season Opening Dates so your family can plan as well:

There were a lot of changes in 2020, and we’re changing a few things to our reservations process, too…  In hopes of reaching more campers we’re working on moving our reservations process to a new system.  Those who book a week-long stay before our new booking engine software is complete will receive a $5 discount.  

There will be a few differences once the system rolls out:

As always, we’ll be here to help you.  You can call the farmhouse directly at 607.637.5407. We’re also introducing a new texting number! Off season you can text or call me (Rachael, the Kingswood Administrator) with questions at 607.301.0640.  You can also email me at kwadministrator@nyac.com.  There will be delayed responses, but I will work on getting back to everyone as quick as possible!

Stone Ministry Fall 2020

In spite of the pandemic Stone Ministry remained a one-of-a-kind program for Kingswood campers throughout the summer of 2020.  We just had to modify the way we did certain things to make sure all participants were protected.

We no longer had tractor rides, but campers found their way to Stone Ministry on their own. Of course, we wore masks and tried to stay distanced. We used watering cans to wash stones individually rather than dunking scrub brushes into common buckets. Finally, the mason’s gloves we always wore to do the cementing were worn throughout the process.

Thanks to diligence on the part of camp staff and campers, Kingswood had a very full and vibrant summer without anyone getting the disease.  

The core Stone Ministry enthusiasts were disappointed to have to cancel their April weekend working on the slate roof but did have a September weekend doing just that. That slate roof is just magnificent!.

Stone Ministry just completed its 16th year of giving campers the spiritual experience of  befriending  rejected stones, inscribing them with personal messages and cementing them into our “timeless evolving structure.“  This “wonderfully impractical“ program is well along at creating a temple of diversity where every stone is a keystone.

The core Stone Ministry enthusiasts are looking forward to doing some more slate roofing one weekend next spring and then starting to erect the next phase of the heavy timber roof structure during  a weekend in the fall.

Happy Anniversary to Our RV Sites

2020 is the 10th anniversary of Kingswood’s RV camping area.

In 2010 Jack and Dotty Seirup and Andrew Seirup started occupying RV sites numbers 6 and 7.  These were the only two sites built at the time. The Site Committee had decided to build just two sites at first as a pilot program.

The RV camping area however was designed for 10 sites total which is what we got approval for from the New York State Department of Health.  That required installation of a dumping station that would be satisfactory for the 10 sites if ever built. Also, the entrance road was built to accommodate site numbers 1 through 7.

Three years later, in 2013, the Site Committee decided to build sites 2, 3. and  4, then followed soon after with site number 5. 

The cost of developing the first five sites was made affordable by most the labor being provided by Kingswood volunteers. Nevertheless, the investment was significant.

Besides the cost of installing the road, grading sites, creating the dumping station and putting in new waterlines, the RV campground required a nearly thousand foot long buried high-voltage electrical service with full-size transformer and overhead wires on poles.

But even with the sites less than half rented over the last 10 years, that initial investment has been more than paid off.  The RV campsites are both a wonderful way to enjoy Kingswood and are also profitable for the camp itself.

Indeed, RV camping at Kingswood is a wonderful experience. These campsites are 80 feet from each other and nestled in the woods, while fronting a picturesque field with views of the mountains and sunsets. Campers get to enjoy all the benefits of our wonderful camp and also have advantages of enclosed RV camping.

Our camp is wonderfully located near the legendary Delaware Rver fishing which makes the RV sites attractive to fisherman.

 2020 was the busiest year yet at the RV campground. The Kingswood Directors have decided to build RV site number 1, bringing us up to seven out of the ten eventual sites.  Site number 1 should be ready to rent by the end of next summer.

Now there is even some thought about when we might build sites 8, 9 and 10.

Kingswood Chickens and Wings of Refuge

By: Sandy Andrews, Program Director

Chickens! What was the first thing campers saw when arriving at Kingswood in 2020? Chickens! What a happy sight after months of sheltering in place due to the pandemic. The story behind Kingswood’s newest addition is three-pronged with:

Quite simply: 

With this in mind, bringing a bit of farm life back to Kingswood seemed only natural. We built and installed a sturdy predator-resistant coop near the parking lot. The addition of deterrents, including electric fencing and blinking laser lights, seemed to keep predators away. From opening day on June 26 to the last day on September 7, my 10 hens were the first to greet campers as they arrived and the last to bid them farewell as they departed. Everyone from toddlers to seniors was excited to meet the Kingswood hens. Campers got to participate in morning and evening chores, letting them out in the morning, feeding and replenishing water for them, and (maybe best of all!) gathering eggs to take back to their sites for breakfast. If a camper was there on the right day, the attached mini garden offered up summer squash or peppery nasturtiums. It was fun watching the hens jump up to peck at a dangling apple and chase after the re-purposed gum container that held their treat of chicken scratch. They learned to kick the container around and peck at the drilled holes to get morsels of cracked corn, oats, and other grain seeds. Campers enjoyed holding the hens and discovering how soft they were. Little Dominique was the most accommodating volunteer for this task.

While the campers learned some interesting facts about chickens, I was surprised to learn how many of our visitors had their own chickens, even in their suburban backyards, or had experienced chickens in other settings, such as the brothers who recounted visiting their grandfather who had chickens – in the Philippines. I was touched by the teen who cooked eggs for his girlfriend the next day from eggs they hand-picked from the nest box. I appreciated my helpers for the week, who faithfully showed up to assist with chores. Even the extra precautions needed to make Kingswood safe for all seeking a respite from the pandemic brought a bit of fun – people enjoyed using the battery-operated sprayer to wash their hands.

I hope that all of the 2020 campers felt the figurative open arms of Kingswood welcoming them as they sought refuge, respite, and relaxation from society’s turmoil. May the memories of visiting the Kingswood hens remind you of the image of a protective mother hen gathering her young under her wings, keeping them safe and secure. And if you were not at Kingswood this past summer, I invite you to come next summer, as the hens and quiet refuge of Kingswood will be there again.