Southeast Exposure Outdoor Adventure Center held a kids kayak camp this summer for the first time, with support from a grant supplied by the Royal Caribbean Group and the Alaska Travel Industry Association Foundation.
According to information from Southeast Exposure Manager Katelyn Gross, the Royal Caribbean Group and the ATIA Foundation have partnered to assist more than 65 Alaska tourism businesses and community organizations in recovering from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic .
The camp was held at Southeast Exposure in the Knudson Cove area three days per week for two weeks in August. 20 kids aged 9 and up participated.
Gross said, in a recent phone interview, “the kids were such sports and they were so fun — they were just down for paddling in the rain, which was delightful.”
She said they would sing songs as they paddled and always found a way to have a good time.
Southeast Exposure guides Hannah Moody and Cade McAllister worked with the campers daily, Gross said. Moody is a senior at Ketchikan High School, and McAllister just graduated, and Gross said the kids really enjoyed hanging out with them.
Moody met the kids every morning, and planned out each day of the camp.
Gross said that Moody had attended a kayak camp when she was young, operated by a now-closed Ketchikan kayak tour company.
“With that being gone,” Gross said of the previous camp program, “that was missing from the community and we definitely wanted to fill that gap.”
The idea for the kid’s camp was brought up by Southeast Exposure owner Betsey Burdett, Gross said.
Previously, Gross said that the company was so overwhelmed working with their normal tourist season that they hadn’t considered offering a summer camp. This summer, she said at first she was worried they wouldn’t have time even this year, as they were working to pull together the reduced season that they did have, but it turned out that the project wasn’t difficult.
Another surprise of the camp, Gross said, was “how tough the Ketchikan kids are.”
She said the kids didn’t flinch from the bad weather they faced on many days, and came prepared with their gear. She said that she also was impressed by how naturally kayaking came to them.
Gross’ husband Jared Gross, who is Burdett’s son, agreed that the poor weather conditions were a challenge, but that the kids were up for it. They especially loved racing each other.
When the weather turned especially onerous, the group one day participated in a scavenger hunt. On another day, they all geared up and tackled the zipline course.
Gross said the kids also had a thirst for learning during the paddling adventures.
“They really liked being coached, so that was fun,” he said.
He explained that they would pair up kids by ages in the double kayaks, so that older kids would paddle with the younger ones to balance them out. Sometimes the kids would want to stay with their same-age friends, but were flexible. Gross would have the pairs paddle by him one by one and he would share his pointers on paddling improvement.
The most fun part of the camp for him, Gross said, was “knowing that those kids are getting outside and exercising and exploring Clover Passage and getting the opportunity to be on the water. That was the heart of the course.”
Each camp spot cost $200, Katelyn Gross said, but they offered scholarships for families who needed the the help.
When asked if they would plan another kids camp, she didn’t hesitate.
“Oh yeah, it was awesome,” she said. “It was really fun. The response from the parents to immediately sign their kids up was encouraging. They wanted something for their kids to do.”
Another component of the camp that Gross said was important to her was that the kids learned water safety skills while in the program.
“It’s nice to help out the community,” she said. In past years, it’s been so busy it hadn’t occurred to them to offer such a program. She added that they’re pondering adding more local programs next year in addition to a kid’s camp, such as a women’s paddle or a local’s paddle night.
The company also values its hometown employees, keeping eight Ketchikan locals on its payroll in 2021.
“I think it’s cool that … Betsey started the business in 1986 and Jared and I are running it for her,” Gross said. “We have kids and we want to be part of the community and not just seasonal … we’re trying to set our roots down here more."