Camp Director Karen Culpepper Retiring Next Year

Dear Friends and Families:

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Camp Treetops Director Karen Culpepper as she begins her transition toward retirement at the end of summer 2022. For over three decades, Karen has worked tirelessly both as a stalwart of Camp, as well as on behalf of the institution as a whole. Although this news is bittersweet, we are thrilled to have Karen at the helm to assist in this important leadership transition. Throughout her remarkable tenure, Karen has embodied the true spirit of Treetops, inspiring generations of campers and counselors with her infectious enthusiasm, resilience, and love of creativity, community, and adventure. 

Karen, her husband John, and their three children, Kelli, Katie, and Tucker, first came to Camp Treetops and North Country School in 1990, drawn by the wild beauty of the Adirondacks. Almost immediately, Karen recognized how deeply aligned her family’s values were with those of Camp. Her legacy at Treetops began with nature trips alongside beloved counselor Mildred Brooks (CTT staff 65-02), exploring the fields and woodlands, and entrancing children with their knowledge of wild edibles and the wonders of the natural world. From Mildred, Karen learned that if you want to see the world afresh, go out into nature with a child. 

Once, on a hiking trip a camper turned to Karen and said: “I wish it would rain today.” When Karen asked why, the child said that trips are more exciting and memorable when it rains. Of course, Camp Treetops has always been more about the journey than the destination—the challenges, as well as the joys. For Karen, the hiking trips that stand out are the ones where the group faced adverse or unusual conditions. She’ll never forget climbing Couchsachraga in the heat, humidity, and a cloud of black flies; sinking in snow up to her waist every third step going up Haystack; or climbing Street and Nye in a torrential downpour. But the more whimsical excursions have been just as memorable: “whale-watching” trips on Round Lake; tea parties complete with formal wear and cucumber sandwiches on top of Balanced Rocks; a mission to rescue the Junior Camp napkin horse from the top of Hurricane Mountain; or a walk to Chapter Lean-to with a llama. Karen will also forever cherish her memories of polar bear swims with junior campers, who were always delighted by the thrill of plunging into the icy waters of Round Lake with their beloved camp director. 

Karen is equally adored by her counselors and staff. As Camp Director, she brings a deep level of intention and caring to all that she does, including in her relationships with colleagues, family, and friends. Her sense of play and adventure infuses the whole Camp program. As a mentor and colleague, Karen always seeks to empower others to share their voices and to express their creativity. For her, honoring the traditions of Camp also means being progressive and forward-thinking in our approach. Achieving this balance is quite an accomplishment in a time when we are surrounded by so much change in the world. Karen has been a remarkable leader through these challenging times. 

Over the years, Karen has served in many roles at Treetops—from counselor to program director to camp director. After several years living on campus, graduate school and then new job opportunities took the family to Ithaca during the off-season, but summers at Treetops were the constant throughout. The Culpeppers returned to Lake Placid as full-time residents in 2003. 

A graduate of Springfield College, Karen is well versed in the fields of environmental, experiential, and special education, as well as recreation and physical therapy. Karen’s passionate commitment to the philosophy, adventure, and community that make up the Treetops experience has only deepened over the years, strengthened as well by her own children’s longtime involvement as campers and counselors.

“Sharing this journey has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life,” Karen says. “Like so many campers and counselors, my family and I have found a deep sense of belonging here. To be part of a community dedicated to the nurturing of childhood is our greatest joy as a family. Thank you to this community for all you have given us.” 

In her retirement, Karen looks forward to more travel, reading, hiking, skiing, and sketching in her nature journal, as well as spending time with her family. Karen and her husband, John, will reside full-time in Jay, a mile down the road from their first grandchild, Rowan, who was born just last week! Of course, we will continue to welcome Karen on campus through next fall as she works to support the incoming director. On behalf of the institution, we wish Karen the very best in her final months as Camp Director. Please join us in congratulating her on her tremendous tenure at Camp Treetops and North Country School.