DESTINATION DIY: Grownups Go Back To Summer Camp

By Julie Sabatier, host of radio show Destination DIY

We all tend to get a little nostalgic at the end of the summer. Some crafty folks in the Northwest are taking it to the next level. They’ve created a summer camp for grownups. Julie Sabatier , host of the public radio show, Destination DIY, became a camper for a day and has this dispatch.

It’s called The Looplore Experiment. Kelly Totten cooked up this idea over brunch with her friends Elaine Vradenburgh & Jen Furl. None of them can quite remember where the name came from.

Jen: I mean, I dont’ know. I mean, the “lore” part, we wanted “lore” in there.
Kelley: yeah.
Jen: I don’t know.

The “lore” part refers to the history these three women have together.

Kelley: We met at University of Oregon in Eugene. We were all folklorists. We were getting our Masters.

That’s Kelley and she did say “folklorists.” I didn’t know you could major in folklore, let alone get an advanced degree. But there you go.

The vertical gardening workshop gave some campers new ideas and skills to take home along with their own individual vertical garden panels.Looplore was in its second year when I visited. About 60 campers set up tents among the big trees shading Bear Springs campground. It’s about two hours from Portland, just east of the Mt. Hood National Forest. This cozy little spot has picnic tables, and logs for extra seating.

There was a distinct lack of drama at this summer camp. Many of the people who came brought their husbands or wives. Some even brought babies. Needless to say, summer flings and camp crushes were not the focus of the weekend. Instead, Looplore revolves around arts and crafts. Campers could choose among an array of workshops, including screen-printing, canning, cross stitch and, my personal favorite, vertical gardening.

Photo: The vertical gardening workshop gave some campers new ideas and skills to take home along with their own individual vertical garden panels.

Most of the campers I met were in their thirties. Many, like Tanya Barham, said Looplore was a lot better than their childhood camp experiences.

Barham: I remember writing one of those “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda” letters to my parents. There’s a part in it where some of the ink is smeared and I drew an arrow to it and wrote “tear.” (laughs) I hadn’t made any friends yet and it was’s great here, you know, we have delicious overbearing counselors of course. You don’t have to rebel against authority here because you are an authority. You’re an adult. That’s really nice.

Originally, I had planned to come to Looplore for the day. I didn’t bring a tent. I didn’t even have a toothbrush with me, but as it got later, I found I didn’t really want to leave. Let’s see: drive 2 hours back to Portland in the dark or stick around for s’mores? The choice was clear.

The nighttime activities were pretty loosely organized. And they covered pretty much all the bases: there were campfire songs, awards and even a talent show.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I took to this summer camp like a fish to water. A weekend out of cell phone range with a bunch of friendly, somewhat nerdy people making stuff with our hands — it’s pretty much tailor-made for someone like me. And it seems like the summer camp experience might even be more valuable for grownups than it is for kids. As we get older, we get fewer and fewer chances to learn new skills and make new friends.

[Julie Sabatier curates the public radio show and website, Destination DIY. Find out more at]

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