Nestled within the serene 127-acre campus of Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC), Camp Kingfisher has been an oasis of nature exploration, discovery, and joyful memories for three decades. Its mission: connecting kids with nature and each other.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Camp Kingfisher this year, we reflect upon the immeasurable impact this remarkable camp has had on multiple generations of young minds. With a commitment to fostering environmental stewardship and a deep connection with nature, Camp Kingfisher has become a beloved institution, inspiring children to forge lifelong bonds with each other and the great outdoors.
Camp K is a place where everyone belongs, where campers come to be welcomed, supported, and loved.
Exploring Nature’s Classroom
Since 1993, Camp Kingfisher has welcomed campers from around metro Atlanta and the entire world! From hiking along forest trails to canoeing through tranquil waterways, every day brings new adventures and discoveries. Set amidst the lush woodlands and serene banks of the Chattahoochee River, the camp offers an unparalleled opportunity for children to explore and connect with the natural world.
Camp Co-Director Debby Head started her Camp Kingfisher journey as a 4-year-old camper, progressing through the ranks to her current position. Reflecting on the profound impact of the camp, she says, “For me, Camp Kingfisher holds a special place in my heart because it’s been a part of my life since I was a child. This camp has shaped who I am today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to its legacy.”
Debby’s journey from camper to Camp Co-Director is a testament to the transformative power of Camp Kingfisher. The camp ignited her passion for nature and environmental education during her early years as a camper, where she discovered the joy of connecting with the natural world. As a counselor, she found purpose in guiding and inspiring young campers, encouraging them to explore, learn, and develop a deep appreciation for the environment and become the best, most true version of themselves.
Debby estimates that 30% of camp staff Counselors begin their journey as campers at Camp Kingfisher, just like her! We call this a Camp K Legacy – a camper who becomes a Leader-in-Training (LIT), then a staff Counselor. This summer, we have 10 Camp K Legacy Counselors on staff, another testament to the positive impacts of Camp Kingfisher.
The Beginnings of Camp Kingfisher
Ronald Warnken, Jr., Camp Kingfisher’s first Camp Director, remembers Debby as an eager young camper-turned-counselor. Ron came to CNC in his 20s with a wildlife management degree from UGA and a second degree in environmental education. He had volunteered at nature centers during his school years, spent a year touring America’s National Parks, then ran a nature program at a summer camp. His mom, Sally Warnken, a longtime Docent at CNC, told him of the CNC job opening for Camp Director.
Hired in April 1993 and expected to launch the camp in June, Ron teamed up with longtime CNC staff member Henning Von Schmeling and the maintenance team to prepare the campus, where they painted, pulled weeds, and removed rusty nails. Ron developed a curriculum, secured canoes, hired and trained staff, and managed the logistics of turning the existing Camp Chattahoochee, a small half-day camp, into a full-day camp for 100 children. The Camp Kingfisher name evolved from a competition between staff members and volunteers, settling on the name Kingfisher in honor of this beautiful bird often seen around CNC’s 127-acre property.
Under Ron’s leadership, Camp Kingfisher grew each year and kept a robust waiting list due to its reputation as a safe, fun, wholesome educational environment for children. He added more weeks, developed new themes, and hired more staff. When he left the role, he had 20 counselors working for him.
Ron and his wife, Jean, lived on the CNC campus for the eight years he served as Camp Director, and he remembers fondly the peaceful time they spent there, especially hiking and canoeing during off-hours. He treasured the family environment of Camp Kingfisher and the safety, beauty, and serenity of Chattahoochee Nature Center. Ron continues to nurture his passion for the environment and conservation by serving as the Director of Conservation Programs for six states for the National Wildlife Federation.
Engaging Activities and Environmental Education
Camp Co-Directors Debby Head and Laura Viator have continued to grow and contribute to the camp’s success, which lies in its ability to combine education with fun-filled activities, resulting in an unforgettable summer experience. Campers explore a diverse range of activities, including animal encounters, wildlife observation and habitat study, organic gardening, native plant identification, archery, canoeing, swimming, nature-inspired crafts, and scientific experiments. Experiential learning is the focus, and counselors encourage campers to get their hands dirty and immerse themselves in nature.
Viator states, “Through hands-on activities, interactive learning, and engaging experiences, Camp Kingfisher cultivates a sense of wonder and curiosity in children. In today’s digital world, it is imperative that children have opportunities for safe, fun outdoor exploration. We aim to inspire the next generation of environmentalists who will cherish and protect the natural environment.”
Today, Head and Viator hire over 50 counselors each year and welcome over 2,000 campers throughout the summer.
“We believe that nature is the best classroom,” says Viator. Head adds, “At Camp Kingfisher, campers have the opportunity to have fun, make friends, and engage with the natural world directly, which opens their mind and encourages them to respect the environment.”
Donate today to celebrate Camp Kingfisher’s 30th anniversary and support CNC’s mission to connect people with nature.