Camp Wokanda allows visitors to shape their own experiences

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

The Peoria Park District’s Camp Wokanda in Chillicothe sits on 316 woodland acres with a lake for catch-and-release fishing and canoeing. The former Boy Scout camp also features rustic cabins, tent camping, a lodge, dining hall and hiking trails. (Photo courtesy of Camp Wokanda)

Peoria native Alise Butzen had never been to Camp Wokanda until her parents suggested she look at it as a possible venue for her wedding reception in June.

“My parents go out there to hike my with dogs,” Butzen said of the old Boy Scout camp that the Peoria Park District bought in 1975. Camp Wokanda sits on 316 woodland acres at 620 E. Boy Scout Road in Chillicothe, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Peoria.

“I chose Camp Wokanda because of the beauty that surrounds the dining hall,” said Butzen, who now lives in Texas. “My husband and I are nature people and love to be outside as much as we can. When we went to visit camp, I instantly said, ‘This is the venue.’ We wanted our reception to be more relaxed and earthy, but also beautiful and bohemian chic at the same time. I am still having guests tell me that it was hands down the best wedding they’ve ever been to.”

While Camp Wokanda hosts up to 30 weddings a year from May to October, that’s just a small part of what makes the camp appealing to so many.

“Camp Wokanda is a place where you can really shape your own experience,” said program director Cathy Lane. “We’re very close to Peoria, but if you’re out here at night, it’s utterly quiet. You can have that getaway feeling without having to get away.”

The camp was acquired by the Peoria Park District from the W.D. Boyce Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which had officially operated a Boy Scout camp there from 1937 to 1975.

Lane said Camp Wokanda inspires loyalty and nostalgia from the many people who have camped there over the years because so little about it has changed.

Alise and Donald Butzen held their wedding reception at Camp Wokanda in June. Alise said they were looking for a venue that would be “relaxed and earthy but also beautiful and bohemian chic,” and they found all that at the Chillicothe park. (Photo by Chris McGuire Photography/courtesy of Alise Butzen)

“The only thing that that’s really different is the swimming pool is gone. That was filled in when the park district bought it,” she said. “The buildings themselves are just about identical, and the trails are the same. It’s a place in time that hasn’t changed very much.

Lane takes calls nearly every day from individuals or groups wanting to rent cabins and/or the dining hall for weddings, family reunions, church retreats or other events. “I just got a call from a group of five dads who are going to come here and rent a cabin and have some quiet time together,” she said.

The camp is also a popular place for high school and college cross country teams to hold practice or a retreat.

Rental options vary from renting just one cabin to renting the entire camp. Camp Wokanda has four rustic cabins that sleep 12 and four that sleep 20. Tent camping is also available throughout the camp from very secluded areas to others that are closer to parking and the shower house, which offers hot showers and flush toilets. Cabins are heated by a wood stove.

The camp has a lake for catch-and-release fishing, a dining hall, program buildings, a variety of naturalist tours and environmental education programs.

Upcoming events at Camp Wokanda include a barn dance from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 6, in the historic dining hall, featuring music by the Young and the Fretless. Cost is $7 per person or $20 maximum for a family, and no experience is necessary.

Also upcoming is a night paddle and campfire dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 14. Canoes, paddles and life jackets will be provided, as well as instruction for any who need it. The cost is $15 per person or $50 maximum per family and includes a dinner of hot dogs, beans, chips, drinks and s’mores.

“They can just float around on the lake in the evening while dusk is coming in and we get dinner started. Then they come up to eat and can go back in the water if they want,” Lane said.

During spring, summer and fall, the camp rents canoes for $10 for two hours, but calling the camp beforehand to set a time is advised.

Camp Wokanda is open every day of the year and is popular with people who like to hike or camp in the winter. A Chill Billy event in early January offers fun activities to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors in cold weather.

The Peoria Park District’s Camp Wokanda in Chillicothe has eight rustic cabins that it rents year-round. The camp also hosts a Chill Billy event in January to remind people they can still have fun outdoors in the winter. (Photo courtesy of Camp Wokanda)

The camp also makes its own maple syrup and hosts a maple syrup event in late April. A few pints and small bottles of this year’s syrup are still available for sale at the camp or at the Forest Park Nature Center’s store. Pints are $10 and small bottles are $3.

Peoria minister Lauren Padgett officiates at many weddings at Camp Wokanda and appreciates the history of the place. “I love that Peoria Park District took it on and saved much of that heritage and added to it,” she said.

One memorable wedding she recalled officiating at took place in mid-October. “The fireplaces were lit in the main hall, and the couple had sunflowers as decorations. There was a gentle cool rain that amplified the scent of fallen leaves and burning woods. It was simply magical,” Padgett said.

With only three employees, Camp Wokanda relies on volunteers to help with projects and events. For more information about Camp Wokanda or to volunteer, call 309-579-2157 or visit the camp’s Facebook page.