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Taking the Kids: Family reunion central

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

What's the most fun? Maybe the Rocky Mountain hikes, the horseback riding, the chance to do crafts and eat homemade ice cream. We are after all in Estes Park, Colorado, at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

But as fun as Colorado is in the summer, there's something more important going on here at the YMCA of the Rockies. "It's eating and joking around with all of our cousins," explains Jack McQuillen, 15, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. "We don't get to see them very often."

"I hear so many family stories I wanted to be able to put the faces with the names," added Victoria Dennis, 21, who is from St. Paul, Minnesota.

"This is the only time I see the extended family," said Ben Afflerbach, 25, a grad student at the University of Wisconsin.

Like many families, my husband's relatives migrated far and wide from Yoakum, Texas, where his mom and her six siblings were raised and in turn raised a gaggle of kids of their own. (My husband is one of 40 first cousins). There are still some Texans in the bunch, but there are also Californians (northern and southern), Seattleites, New Englanders, Coloradans and Midwesterners.

We are here at the YMCA of the Rockies for a big family reunion of my husband's family -- 100 people, ranging in age from infants to late 80s, the fourth we've held here over the last 20 years. Just this week, there are 36 reunions here at the Estes Park Center and another 19 at the YMCA's Snow Mountain Ranch about 60 miles west of here over the Continental Divide. Some have as few as five people; some have hundreds. Most average 30 to 45. Both sites host more reunions than any other venue in the country, they believe, more than 1,000 a year.

Lodge rooms, including breakfast, start at $179 per day during regular season. A two-bedroom basic cabin starts at $154 per night. Pets are permitted in some cabins.

Not only is the 860-acre YMCA resort affordable and in an ideal location (you can hike into Rocky Mountain National Park and the YMCA's "hike masters" obligingly will tell you which trail heads will be less crowded and even lend hiking boots), but there are lots of free activities (all the mini golf you want to play!) and there's a reunion staff to help you with everything from reservations to special activities (perhaps a cookout, campfire or hayride?) This YMCA resort, in fact, has just been nominated as one of the top family resorts in the country in USA Today’s 10 Best contests, along with the likes of luxury dude ranches, Orlando mega resorts and posh Hawaii properties.

It's easy to see why families love this place -- and keep returning. There are lots of organized games run by young staff, including "Gaga Ball," a version of dodge ball inside a small fenced area and "Bubble Soccer," where the kids get inside giant plastic balls and play a version of human bumper cars on the lawn. The staff is unfailingly helpful and friendly.

For the adults, there's yoga, a concert series, art talks and landscape painting, chess and cards, guided hikes (one to see the beavers here on the expansive property -- some 30 activities a day).

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