Camp Nizhoni (1924-1945) [Children’s Edition]

Andy Family, Camp Nizhoni, Colorado, 1935
Courtesy Denver Public Library (ARL-127)

This entry is for juvenile audiences. To see the full version of this entry, click here.

What is it?
Camp Nizhoni was a summer camp for African American girls, located at a Colorado mountain resort known as Lincoln Hills.

Why is it important to know about?
At a time when racist rules prevented African American children from attending most summer camps, a group of men and women cooperated to create Camp Nizhoni.

Details of the place:
In the early 1900s, city-dwellers began sending their children to summer camp to spend time in nature. Some camps for girls were run by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA.) But African Americans were not allowed to use the same YWCA camps as white children.

In 1916 a group of Denver, Colorado women started a Phillis Wheatley branch of the YWCA. Named after Black poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), this national program sought to improve the status of African American women. In 1920 the Denver branch began sponsoring summer camps for the girls in their club, but they struggled to find places where the girls could camp.

Finally, in 1924 they got an offer from a group of businessmen who were developing an African American resort called Lincoln Hills. They had a piece of ground with a house on it. If people from Denver’s Wheatley YWCA branch would camp there every year for three years, it was theirs.

Camp Nizhoni (from a Navajo word for “beautiful”) quickly became popular. Campers took the train from Denver to Pinecliffe in Colorado’s Gilpin County for two weeks of hiking, climbing, swimming, and enjoying the mountain air. They also learned about plant and animal biology, did astronomy, and even learned to pan for gold.

Camper Marie Greenwood recalls, “It was 1928…It was a brand-new experience. It opened up my eyes to all the beauty God had created around me and really gave me a place in the world.”

Its lasting impact:
Camp Nizhoni was part of Denver’s Wheatley YWCA chapter for twenty years. But during the Depression and World War II years, there were not enough funds to take care of it, so the property was sold in 1945. That same year, Denver’s Central YWCA Camp Lookout hosted twenty-nine African Americans, five Japanese, and three Hispanic campers among its one-hundred twenty-three campers. Finally, a few racist rules were beginning to loosen.

In 2007 two local investors created Lincoln Park Cares to provide youth and family recreation. In 2013, the Nizhoni experience was re-created, this time as a horseback-riding program for young women.

What we learned from it:
When different groups of people cooperate, wonderful things can grow. The women of Denver started a program for African American girls, while the Lincoln Hills developers were building a resort for African Americans and their families. The original developers offered the land, and the Wheatley YWCA tended it. And today’s Lincoln Hills Cares program, along with the new Nizhoni Equestrian Program grew out of a similar partnership.

For additional information please see BlackPast.org.