Aurora summer camp embraces zombie madness

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AURORA | Every Friday for the past month, Lulu Wilson has thrust herself into the nightmares of Aurora children.

“I become a zombie every Friday,” says Wilson, a teacher at Denver Public Schools and instructor for the City of Aurora’s fitness boot camps. “I really like to scare them.”

Coated in macabre makeup and gooey faux blood, Wilson sent kids screaming out of the Meadowood Recreation Center gymnastics facility Friday. She repeatedly sustained a barrage of Nerf bullets and petrified screams after unveiling herself from behind a movable divider in the center of the room.

At one point during the roughly hour-long Armageddon, Wilson and several of her half-dead peers became barricaded in the large room by a group of intrepid, Nerf-gun-wielding zombie slayers. Plenty of tears ensued.

Wilson has been one of dozens of zombies who have descended on the hallways of Meadowood this summer, the bane of young Aurorans trying to rid the recreation center of walking corpses at the city’s first-ever Zombie Apocalypse Camp.

Nearly 200 kids have already participated in the inaugural week-long programs this summer, according to Kristen Allen, recreation specialist with the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space department, and supervisor of the zombie camps.

Allen said that the program, intended for kids ages 8 to 13, was designed to provide participants with the survival skills necessary to survive a zombie attack, as well as foster an appreciation for the outdoors.

“I think the zombie theme — kind of like when the vampire thing came through — is just kind of the pull for the camp, even though we really only do the apocalypse on Fridays,” Allen said. “But the focus of the whole camp is just on the outdoors.”

For 50 hours each session, attendees learn and participate in traditional summer camp activities such as knot tying, archery, plant identification and fishing, according to Allen. All of the lessons — many of which are led by local experts from nearby organizations and locales including the Morrison Nature Center — are tethered to the zombie theme and ask campers how they would apply their newfound skills in an apocalypse situation.

“It’s wrapped up in the zombie thing, but there are really some practical skills they get in the weeklong session,” said Sherri-Jo Stowell, marketing specialist with the city.

Each week culminates with an unannounced apocalypse that features around eight volunteer zombies comprised of city staffers, parents and siblings of campers. The zombies have free reign of the building, and watch as the building instantaneously is cast into chaos.

“A lot of (the campers) try to run for the back door, so I usually try to have a staff back there to be like ‘No, no no, you can’t go outside,’” Allen said.

She added that there’s always a guaranteed cohort of petrified kids who spend the majority of the event in a quarantined office with a camp staffer.

“They really freak out the kids, and some of them really think it’s really real for a long time,” Allen said.

Parents like Melissa Rendek said that the camp curriculum was perfect for her 10-year-old son, Kameron, who has a penchant for hands-on learning and science.

“He’s really into making slime and blood at home with corn syrup,” said Melissa, who volunteered as a zombie with her 8-year-old daughter, Madison, at last Friday’s apocalypse. “This was just a perfect-sounding camp because it gives you all those little survival things.”

The idea to create an entire camp tied to the undead started at a multi-state parks and recreation webinar in which city employees heard about other cities that were exploring similar concepts. Similar programs, for adults and parents alike, have proliferated in popularity following the rise of the AMC television series, “The Walking Dead.”

“Another parks agency had done something a little bit similar, but we put a different twist on it to make it a little more practical,” Stowell said. “It was during a webinar and the idea just kind of grew and grew.”

There are currently no more openings for the remaining two sessions of zombie camp this summer, according to Stowell. Nonetheless, she said that the wait list for the camp is currently more than 70 names long.

“We’re going gangbusters with this camp,” Stowell said. “The kids are having the time of their lives.”