Camp Timberlake, Prairie Dolls, and Other Profiles

The founder of Camp Timberlake and a severely disabled man who sews cotton prairie dolls are two of five people profiled in this installment of an ongoing feature.

| January/February 1979

In celebration of little-known MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type folks from all over.

Ken Webb: Founder of Camp Timberlake 

In 1940 Ken Webb found himself totally disenchanted with the existing system of education in Vermont. He'd been teaching school and working in summer camps for a number of years and was convinced there was a better way of dealing with youngsters than to dress them in uniforms, feed them unhealthy foods, and teach them to compete against each other for the sake of a ribbon or an empty title.

Ken had the idea that children would benefit more from a noncompetitive environment where they could grow their own food in organic gardens, build their own shelters, make their own music, and invent their own amusements. So he moved to Vermont's Plymouth Valley with a little money, a lot of energy, and a small group of boys and transformed his Quaker-inspired dream into a reality: a boys' camp called Timberlake.

At first the local folks thought Ken mighty strange when he openly recruited campers from minority groups (years before the civil rights movement). And campers' parents were a bit uneasy about the nonconformist Timberlake diet: The youngsters grew much of what they consumed and did not eat the traditional "meat with every meal." But Webb persisted and Timberlake grew ... and soon Ken and his wife Susan had established a girls' camp—called Indian Brook—as well.

Soon after, two Indian culture camps developed where youngsters studied the American Indian way of life and respect for the earth. Then, a fifth Webb venture resulted in a boys' hiking camp with down-to-earth ecology and conservation programs. And, finally, Ken set out to organize a series of environmentally oriented activities for older teens as well as some special programs for college-aged folks.

Today—thirty-eight years and six camps later—Ken Webb serves as elder/adviser to the Farm Wilderness Foundation (now called Farm and Wilderness), which oversees the operation of his camps' programs and the administration of camp-owned grounds. He spends much of his time writing, gardening, and canoeing over the lake where three of his camps are now located. Most often Ken visits Timberlake, where it all began and tells tales to each new group of youngsters that the summer months bring.

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