Lizzie Tamaren says Camp Taum Sauk is “the best place to be.”

Ask Lizzie Tamaren how long she’s been going to Camp Taum Sauk, and the 17-year-old replies: “Since I was born, really.” She’s not kidding. Longtime director Nick Smith is her uncle, and Tamaren, her two sisters and her brother, who live in Ladue, all visited the camp as small children, then as campers and finally became counselors in training (CITs). Officially, Tamaren has been going to to the camp on the Black River in the Missouri Ozarks for the past nine years, most recently as kitchen staff.

    Though camp takes up eight or nine weeks of the year at most, it’s something CITs dream of year round. Some of the closest friendships are developed at camp. And when it’s time to leave, the tears seem endless. When summer ends at Camp Taum Sauk, “Everybody cries,” says Tamaren. “You won’t come back for another year, and friends that you never get to see you won’t see for a year.” That’s because camp friends often come from halfway across the country, or even another continent. Some of the people Tamaren has met at camp live in Australia, Europe, Hawaii and Mexico.

     The past two summers, Tamaren worked in the kitchen, helping Camp Taum Sauk’s cooks. This summer, she’ll return to do the same. Helping in the kitchen doesn’t prevent Tamaren from having fun. She says she has to miss only about an hour of camp activities and can participate in all the others, like a giant swing, a ropes course, horseback riding, nature hikes and swimming and paddling in the Black River.

    As a camper, Tamaren says her favorite thing was to be on the river, whether canoeing, pontooning or splash-boating (in a small boat like a kayak). “As long as I’m on the river, it’s so much fun,” she says. Tamaren hopes to keep going back to work in the kitchen, then as a counselor, and maybe even after that. “It’s the best place to be.”

        Johanna Lowell, who has been going to camp for nearly as many years as Tamaren, also thinks of her summers at camp as one of the best parts of the year. The 15-year-old from University City was an Animal Specialist in Training (ASIT) at Cub Creek Science Camp in Rolla last summer. Cub Creek is a little less traditional than Camp Taum Sauk, the 240 acres in the Ozark Mountains are home not just to campers but to more than 200 animals, including wallabies, an armadillo, two-toed sloths, and chickens that lay blue, green and pink eggs. Lowell’s favorites are the pot-bellied pigs, the wallabies, and the baby goats.

    Like Tamaren, some of Lowell’s closest friends go to camp, including her best friend Lenore Edwards, whom she has known since she was one. Edwards moved to North Carolina the summer before seventh grade, but the two still see each other every year at camp. Lowell also keeps in touch with several other ASITs from camp. “We’ve all been going to camp awhile,” she says. “And we still talk on Facebook and text.”

    Does Lowell want to do something with animals one day? “I get asked that a lot,” she replies. “Not particularly. I just have a lot of fun at camp playing with them.”