Camp KEEP Reopens Doors to Students

Camp KEEP Reopens Doors to Students

  • October 18, 2022

Close to 100 bright-eyed 6th graders enjoyed breakfast together in the dining room hall on an early September morning after more than two years of camp closures and virtual programming at Camp KEEP. For both the staff at Camp KEEP by the Sea in San Luis Obispo and Camp KEEP Ocean in Los Osos, this long awaited reopening was a welcome sight.

Amber Atkinson, or Willow if you’re using nature names, started with Camp KEEP back in 2004 as a naturalist. Over the years, her experience teaching students about  how to connect with nature led her to become a Lead Naturalist, a job that she has thoroughly enjoyed over the years. Now that students are back in the mix, engaging with them during hikes, campfires, and around the camp itself have been energizing.

Even for newer staff members, like Naomi Klinkenberg, Lead Cook at Camp KEEP, the work to reopen the camp has been tiring but worth it. Even in her two months of experience in the kitchen, a job that she has fallen in love with, Klinkenberg has found a new and exciting purpose in her life.

“I’m so grateful to be here and work with the most exquisite group of people,” she said. “You can tell they love what they do. The passion, talent, and compassion they’ve shown me while I get settled has been amazing.”

Like most programs over the past year, returning to normal, pre-pandemic procedures isn’t always possible or easy. Staff shortages and rising costs of living have created challenges for Camp KEEP and the Central Coast in general, making it difficult to fill open positions. Additionally, the ever-changing landscape of school guidelines can make planning difficult.

Yet, Ellalina Keller, Program Supervisor for KEEP by the Sea and Virtual KEEP, is proud of how her team has handled the return to in-person programming. Like Klinkenberg, Keller is thankful for the hours and passion her staff have dedicated to making sure students are receiving the best experience at Camp KEEP possible.

“We’ve made it work,” said Keller. “Regardless of the challenges, seeing the student’s faces at the tidepools or engaging with each other after a week of connecting with one another makes it all worth it.”

Even counselors who join the fun during the week are grateful to be back. John Thompson, a 6th grade teacher at McKee Middle School has been coming to Camp KEEP for over 28 years.

“The things that happen at camp are so important,” said Thompson. “Coming off of COVID, getting the students together outside of the classroom so they can run and play as a community is a big thing. It’s so much fun seeing them get to be children.”

Students finally get to break in new campus

Beginning this school year, students were able to experience KEEP By The Sea’s new campus for the first time. KEEP By the Sea was previously located in Arroyo Grande. The beautiful new location at Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School was formerly operated by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education (SLOCOE) but is now used to provide outdoor education to both SLO and Kern County. Situated near Morro Bay and nestled in the foothills of the Cuesta Ridge, the expansive campus is much larger, with double the capacity of previous camps, and is able to sleep 300.

It boasts many built-in benefits and recent improvements, including: Modern air-conditioned teacher accommodations, with attached bathroom, living area, bedrooms, and kitchenette; A student infirmary adjacent to the teachers’ quarters; 21 rustic cabins and a brand-new village of yurts that can house more than 200 students; Recent kitchen and dining hall improvements and renovations to support more people during meals; A brand new restroom and shower facilities; A large amphitheater for campfires and group gatherings; A number of trails to provide for adventure and learning on campus, including a new riparian interpretive trail; An onsite pond with multiple observation stations to learn about freshwater wildlife; Recreational opportunities including drum circles, ping pong, basketball, volleyball, and soccer; A freshwater creek that runs through campus and serves as a beautiful learning resource; Easy access to Morro Bay field trips, as well as local and diverse tide pools.

For more information about Camp KEEP, please visit or watch the video about the new KEEP By the Sea campus below.