Jennifer Blain admitted she was a little nervous when she unlocked the gate to Calgary Area Girls Guides' Camp Jubilee along the Bow River in Cochrane.
Jennifer and co-chair Elaine Lingnau got their first look at the camp's new playground, which has been literally years in the making, on Sept. 20,
"Oh, I think it's absolutely amazing," says Jennifer. "I love it. I love it."
"We stopped down the road when we caught a glimpse of it, and we thought, 'Oh my God, look at it. It's amazing," says Elaine.
The 84-acre camp's original playground was destroyed 10 years ago in the Flood of 2013. Its replacement is an up-to-date accessible playground that will bring hours of enjoyment for girls attending camps.
The $212,000 playground became a reality because of many generous donors. The Cochrane Rotary Club was the first to take it under their wing with a major fundraising drive in 2019. Many other substantial donations followed.
The footings and grounds preparation began on Aug. 28 and from Sept. 11 to 14 volunteers assembled the equipment, directed by Rochelle Cowles, the Alberta rep for KidNation Playgrounds.
Since then, its rubberized surface has been added and the remaining groundwork will be completed soon.
Long-time friends, Jennifer and Elaine took on the project after reading about the need for volunteers to step forward. Both have been involved in the movement since a young age and at one time, Elaine's mom was the Calgary area commissioner.
The pair started working on the design in December and after Christmas went full steam ahead. They wanted to ensure it would be fun for the wide age group involved in Guiding (ages 5 to 17) and did plenty of fieldwork.
"For hours, we watched her grandson play," says Jennifer. "What's he playing on? Look at all those kids playing on that thing, we want one of those."
They chuckled as they talked about how it all came together and laughed even harder when they admitted to trying out some of the equipment themselves.
Cowles helped them put their ideas into motion.
"All of my playgrounds are custom because people rarely go with a unit out of the catalog," explains Cowles. "I gave the Girl Guides a drawing that they might like, and we sat down, collaborated, and this is what we came up with."
On the day we popped by, Rotarian Denise Anstey was working alongside a volunteer crew from Pason Systems Corporation. She saw it as a great opportunity to help the Girl Guides and the community and regularly works with youth through the Rotary's Generations clubs.
It was Alex Baum who spearheaded the Rotary Club's fundraising drive back in 2019 and spent a day helping assemble the playground.
He says the club typically doesn't get involved in the front end of projects like this but saw the need for some grassroots funding to get it off the ground. Cochrane proud, he said once again Cochranites showed their generosity.
"A tip of the hat to our community. For those kinds of projects that come up, you just have to get the word out, and the community responds."
He says the community was fully invested, even when it took longer to complete than anticipated.
"It took longer, no doubt COVID got in the middle of it, but at the end of the day the outcome is everything we hoped it would be, and maybe even more."
Camp Jubilee is situated on 84 acres of pristine land along the Bow River. It's out of sight, yet right in the heart of Cochrane, providing a slice of heaven for the almost 4,000 girls and the 1,000 adults involved in the Calgary Area Girl Guides. They boost the largest membership of any Guiding area in Canada.
Camp Jubilee was established in 1977 and was the result of the generosity and vision of Stan Pallesen. Stan and his wife Jean enrolled their two daughters in Guiding and were impressed with what it offered girls and young women, explains a framed article from the 1995 Grapevine hanging in Stan's Cabin, one of special cabins on the property.
"Stan saw the need for a place that gave girls and their leaders the opportunity to camp and enjoy the outdoors," the article states. "Many hours of Stan's time were then spent searching for a suitable site, purchasing it, clearing the land and erecting the buildings. Camp Jubilee became a part of Stan Pallsen's life and continued to be so, even after he donated it to the Calgary Area Girls Guides."
Deputy area commissioner Rose Crowley says this has been one of their busiest summers that she can recall.
With the COVID gap, members were eager to return to camping, the younger members getting their first taste of it.
"If you haven't had cookies in three years, now you need to eat a box full of them. That's what everybody's acting like," says Crowley. "Everybody jumps in, and they want to do everything."
It's not uncommon to have 400 girls attend a camp. June and September are their peak months in the summer/fall and the winter months are typically booked solid.
Besides plenty of room for tenting, there are four buildings with indoor bunks. There are gathering places, cooking facilities, and maintenance buildings in strategic locations.
The camp hosts international camps but more typically provincial and area camps.
It also has treasured spots, like a magical garden and a Memorial Grove to remember those who have passed for their contributions. Each fall, they hold a well-attended memorial service.
Nonprofit organizations and businesses making contributions include the Cochrane Rotary Club, Pembina Pipelines, Bow RiversEdge Campground Society, Enterprise Holdings, Cochrane and Area Events Society, and the Venue Bar and Grill. Private donations were provided by Glen Richardson, Glen Rumpel, and Friends in Memory of Melva Blood.
Volunteers from Pason Systems, Cochrane Toyota, and the Calgary Area Playground Committee assembled the equipment.
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