It’s that time again! Camp Paxson 2022.

Summer is on its last legs. Nights are becoming cooler. Days are a little shorter. And the first day of classes in Missoula County Public Schools is rapidly approaching.

Every year, this changing of seasons is bittersweet for us at Soft Landing Missoula. On one hand, it means the return of after-school tutoring and the chance to see more families regularly walk through the doors at the Community Center. On the other hand, it means the conclusion of our long lineup of summer activities for the youth program (rafting, hiking, trail runs!) and a farewell to many volunteers, interns and AmeriCorp members who do so much great work during the season.

But what we all love about summer’s end is our annual youth trip to Camp Paxson near Seeley Lake!

This year, around two dozen middle- and high-schoolers made the trip to one of Western Montana’s most historic sites. Camp Paxson sits on a 15-acre peninsula that was cared for by the Salish, Blackfeet and Crow tribes for hundreds of years prior to European colonization. Though the land and its stewards far predate the construction of the present day buildings, the cabins and other structures were built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Camp Paxson began as a camp for the Boy Scouts of America, and a couple years later, it became a school for smokejumpers for the United States Forest Service.

Today, it’s leased by a nonprofit to all kinds of organizations and groups to host gatherings, and here at Soft Landing Missoula, we are lucky enough to use the space for three days and two nights as our bookend to summer every year!

The highlight of the weekend was certainly all the swimming. Kids spent hours splashing, jumping off the dock and canoeing! Those who didn’t swim – or at least not as much – enjoyed sand volleyball and games of soccer, and we had an afternoon of crafts including tie-dye and beading.

Though kids spent most of the day doing a variety of activities, everyone came together over meals. We cozied up to the long, wooden tables in the dining hall and shared traditional dishes from some of the cultures represented by campers such as Congolese plantains for breakfast and Syrian lentils and rice for dinner. We had almost as much fun cooking this food as we did eating it! The kitchen turned into a bonafide dance party.

It wouldn’t be summer without a proverbial gathering around the campfire. And while fire restrictions meant we had to forego the actual flames, we did conclude the weekend all together for a talent show. Kids choreographed dances and shared music from their home countries, and we passed along traditional campfire snacks with a twist: a cake celebrating Soft Landing’s three summer Americorp members who made this summer so special – Rachel, Matthew and Lydia!

As the sun set on our final night at Camp Paxson and on the summer overall, we paused for a moment of gratitude – for the amazing kids and their families we get to learn from every day; for the special moments shared in beautiful places; and for all the people in this community who help to make it feel like home for all of us.