Sanborn Western Camps

Florissant, Colorado

About the Project

In the late 1940's an idealistic young couple had a vision of a better world. In the years just after World War II, Laura and Sandy Sanborn wanted to contribute to putting the world back together. Their original dream was to set up a working ranch and develop an exciting hands-on program for boys that would allow them to gain knowledge of the outdoors and of themselves. But one dream led to another, and now, 60 years later, Sanborn Western camps and its associated organizations, Colorado Outdoor Education Center and The Nature Place, provide outdoor experiences for thousands of children and adults each year.

Sandy came to Colorado from New Hampshire with the U.S. Army's Tenth Mountain Division during World War II. Laura, a native of Sterling, Colorado, was attending the University of Colorado at that time. They met on a blind date and were soon married. After the war, they finished their degrees and found land they could afford in rural Teller County-a broken down potato farm ravaged by erosion. They borrowed money to buy it, moved to Florissant, and pitched a tent. For the first few years, they worked as superintendent, principal, janitor and only teachers of the Florissant junior and senior high school.

In 1948, they talked four families (two were relatives) into sending their sons to Florissant and their dream was launched. Gradually Big Spring Ranch for Boys took shape. They tore down the two-room farmhouse and used the materials to build the office which served as home, dorm, dining hall and infirmary. Later they erected semi-permanent tents and created a recreation area in the old barn. They explored the 480 acres with a spirit of adventure and discovery, reclaimed the eroded valleys by restoring native vegetation, and developed playing fields and meadows. Later a big lodge was built, additional tents marched up the hill, and a swimming pool and program buildings added to the growing list of facilities. In 1959, they hired Jerry McLain as program director.

As Big Spring Ranch grew during the 1950's, families expressed interest in a similar program for girls. The summer of 1962 saw the opening of the High Trails Ranch for Girls. Both camps quickly expanded to include extensive programs in western riding, hiking and backpacking; a great variety of sports, water sports, arts and crafts; geology, biology and other natural sciences; rafting adventures and mountain climbing; all mixed with lots of trips and camping out.

Throughout the 1960's the staff grew in proportion to the number of campers, bringing expertise in education, knowledge of the outdoors, and skills in working with children. Under the direction of Sandy and Laura, these talented staffers extended the original educational vision of the Sanborns to a growing number of youngsters. Facilities, land, and learning centers grew to keep pace with the educational goals of the camps. Learning centers were developed which include a working cattle ranch, a restored 1890's homestead, two astronomy observatories, a simulated Ute Indian tipi village, a rebuilt frontier sawmill, and geological collecting sites. The Interbarn, an interpretive science center, contains active displays, a library, and a wide variety of scientific equipment.


As a logical outgrowth of the educational emphasis of the camps, an innovative outdoor education program with local school districts was developed in 1967. A pilot program with one class of fifth graders from District 11 in Colorado Springs was the beginning of a residential outdoor education program that to date has involved over 85,000 elementary students, 15,000 high school students, and 6,000 teachers from districts throughout the state. In 1978, The Nature Place was built as a conference center where adults could also enjoy and learn in the out-of-doors. Business executives, families, educators, scientists and many other groups have enjoyed conferences and retreats at the Nature Place.

Today, Sanborn Western Camps with 140 staff members serves over 600 children every summer, with more than 40 states and 12 foreign countries represented each year. From the original 480 acres, the amount of deeded land has grown to over 6,000 acres. Since the 1980's Big Spring has been actively directed by Rick Sanborn, Jerry McLain and Mike MacDonald. High Trails has been directed by Jane Sanborn, Jan van West and Julie Richardson. Facilities continued to expand-and new programs, such as technical rock climbing and mountain biking have been added. In 1999, Sanborn Western camps became a non-profit organization and merged with Colorado Outdoor Education Center. With new and exciting growth, the goals have stayed the same over the years to give people an opportunity to learn something about themselves, about living together, and about living in the natural world.

To read more about Sanborn Western Camps, visit their website at sanbornwesterncamps.com/

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Project Info

Project created by ianstafford

Website: http://www.sanbornwesterncamps.com/

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Project Activity

An anonymous user funded this project.

$3.53, May 2, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$0.59, March 29, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$0.01, March 26, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$0.01, March 26, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$0.01, March 26, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$4.76, March 24, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$0.36, March 23, 2014


An anonymous user funded this project.

$1.65, March 18, 2014