Inside JCPRD: Camp Director Diana Bliss loves summer camps as much as the kids do!

Creek hikes are just one of the fun activities participants can look forward to this summer at JCPRD summer camps!

By David Markham

If it were up to Park Naturalist Diana Bliss, she’d be running youth camps all year long!

“I think that it is essential to give kids an opportunity to be outside in the summertime doing ‘old school’ things, like catching frogs, swimming at the pools and beaches, building forts, and having supervised unstructured play – where they can choose their own activities,” Bliss said. “I want the participants to have a great summer, whether that’s for a day, a week, or all summer. I am hoping that the time we spent was impactful enough that it generates a positive memory, is safe, and they cannot wait to come back! If the kids have taken home a fraction of the joy that I have experienced working with them at camp, then I would say that it is a worthy investment!”

“Diana has years of experience working with children in camps, challenge courses, preschool programs, history programs, and nature, wildlife, and outdoor skills programs,” noted Bliss’ current supervisor, Outdoor Education Manager Andrea Joslin. “Her experience allows her to be able to make camps both fun and educational as well as makes it easy for Diana to manage the day-to-day opportunities and challenges that camp brings. She is overflowing with creativity and loves nature. This shows in the programming she offers in her camps. Diana also does an excellent job mentoring and organizing her staff which are critical in offering quality and fun camps. She has supervised countless staff over the years.”

Now in her fifth year at the Outdoor Discovery Camp at Ernie Miller Park, and 12th year with JCPRD, Park Naturalist Diana Bliss loves summer camp as much as the campers.

“What I like best is getting to work with a diverse group of people to create the best summer camp experience that we can for the kids!” Bliss said. “I enjoy building relationships with the staff and helping them to reach the goals that they have for themselves professionally.”

This will be Bliss’ fifth summer as a naturalist working at the Outdoor Discovery Camp at Ernie Miller Park. She started with JCPRD about twelve years ago as a seasonal assistant director for the Outdoor Discovery Camp at Shawnee Mission Park, and went on to take on a full-time role as a program director for JCPRD’s Children’s Services Department’s Out of School Time program between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017 at the Mill Creek, Broken Arrow, and Starside locations. While in that position, she was the outdoor camp director at Shawnee Mission Park Shelter #8 for seven summer seasons. In March of 2017, she took on her “dream job” as a park naturalist at Ernie Miller Nature Center in JCPRD’s Outdoor Education Department.

Bliss holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture with a major in park management and conservation from Kansas State University. Interpretation was her area of focus, and she also has a secondary major in natural resources and environmental sciences. In the summer of 2007, she interned at Rock Springs 4-H Camp in Junction City, Kan., and she held seasonal positions following graduation at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kan., at the Wildwood Outdoor Education Center in La Cygne, Kan., and has been a challenge course Facilitator at JCPRD’s TimberRidge Adventure Center. In 2016, she completed the requirements to be a Kansas Master Naturalist within the Kansas State Research and Extension program.

In 2017, Bliss was nominated for “Kindest Kansas Citian” by a JCPRD Starside Elementary student.

“I have made many friendships over the years with staff, participants, and program parents that I am still in contact with today,” she said. “I love the sense of working for the community and building long-lasting relationships. My original Starside Kindergartners are graduating in 2023 and we have stayed in touch over the years. I attend their games and programs, and one of them is even an assistant teacher for an Out of School Time site!”

JCPRD’s 2022 summer camps are now online at JCPRD.com/camps, and camp registrations began Monday, Jan. 24. Some additional summer camps will be listed in JCPRD’s May through August program information, scheduled to be online beginning March 18.

Camp offerings include full-day programs and partial-day programs serving a variety of interests. Most full-day camps offer sessions beginning weekly from June 6 to Aug. 1. For the convenience of working parents, most full-day programs provide supervision and self-directed activities from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Other camps start throughout the summer and around the county with programs offered for ages three through 18.

Exploring nature is a common theme throughout JCPRD summer camps.

A total of 90 different camp programs are being offered this year, and range from fine and performing arts, nature, science, leadership, sports, and many more! There are nine entirely new camps for 2022, as well as lots of new topics, ideas, and locations at many existing JCPRD camps. New offerings include: Page to Stage Camp, Roald Dahl Creative Drama Camp, TRAC Sailing Camp, TRAC Jr. Biologist Camp, Challenge Island© Arcade Mania Camp, Challenge Island© Shark Camp, Challenge Island© Slime Squad Camp, Challenge Island© Super Steam Hero Camp; and Museum Explorer’s camp.

“JCPRD camps are unique because there is a program for everyone,” Bliss said. “If you have a special interest, more than likely JCPRD has a camp for it! The instructors are passionate about what they do and are invested in giving you/your child the best experience possible. You can’t go wrong picking a camp for your kids.”

Having worked with camps from two different program areas, Bliss has a unique perspective on JCPRD camps.

“Both the Children’s Services camps and the Outdoor Discovery camps are great,” she said. “Both camps are licensed by KDHE and have highly trained program staff to deliver an excellent summer camp adventure. Each camp has its strength and a lot of that comes with the program director, but overall, I would say that the strength of the Children’s Services indoor camps is that the kids are with their peers from school and are probably near their homes. For Children’s Services outdoor camps, the kids are outside and have various activities to choose from, and they meet kids outside of school. The strength of Outdoor Discovery Camp is that the kids are outside and they’re learning new outdoor skills, seeing live animal programs, and playing in forts. The main difference between camps is that the Outdoor Discovery Camp is completely nature-based! If that’s your child’s ‘thing’ than ODC would be a great fit for your kid(s). Regardless of the camp you choose your child will make new friends, learn something new, and have an authentic and awesome summer!”

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