camper fishing from a bridge

April 14, 2022

After 70 years, Camp Little Giant will be reimagined better than ever, taking hiatus for 2022

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Paving the way for the Special Olympics and becoming the first camp of its kind in the nation, Camp Little Giant at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Outdoor Education Center has since 1952 been a place where people with differing abilities “can do anything,” thanks to special adaptations. Now, Camp Little Giant and Touch of Nature’s Inclusive Recreation Program are going to be completely reimagined, making it even more fun, relevant and exciting for the campers of today.

To devote sufficient time and energy to the project, officials at Touch of Nature, where the camp is held, have made the difficult decision to put the camp on hiatus for 2022, issuing full refunds to those who had registered, and move full speed ahead on the process.

A special task force is being established, comprising Camp Little Giant stakeholders, along with industry specialists in the fields of inclusive and adaptive recreation, nursing, mental health, veteran services as well as other engaged community leaders. The group will look at all of Touch of Nature’s inclusive programs, facilities and staffing structure to help shape its future offerings.

In the pre-COVID-19 environment, campers from ages 9 to 90 typically came from hundreds of miles to attend the overnight camps for one or two weeks. The popular camp format had been relatively unchanged in its 70-year history. However, the pandemic forced cancellation of the camp entirely in 2020, and since then, to assure the health and safety of campers, Camp Little Giant shifted to a scaled-down day camp format with fewer sessions available. Registrations dropped dramatically.

Brian Croft, assistant director of outdoor education and recreation for Touch of Nature, said the task force will examine every aspect of the program, getting varied perspectives from interested parties along the way. The group will determine what parts should remain unchanged and what parts should be adjusted to be more engaging or relevant to campers of the 2020s.

“One of the five pillars of SIU’s Imagine 2030 strategic plan is Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” Croft said. “After 70 years of making great memories for campers, we think it’s time get some valuable input and make sure that Touch of Nature’s Inclusive Recreation programs are the absolute best that they can be. We’re eager to get this process started and look forward to unveiling what the true summer camp experience for youths and adults with varying abilities will be for 2023 and beyond.”