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Crafts and Campfires and So Much More: The Remarkable Range of Maine Camp Offerings

“There’s a camp out there for everybody.”

Catriona Sangster, director of Camp Wawenock, a traditional girls’ camp in Raymond, is president of Maine Summer Camps, a non-profit organization with 125 Maine member camps. She knows Maine camps.  Yet parents looking for camps for their kids may be surprised at just how much today’s camps have to offer.  Whether it’s a specialty camp with a particular niche, or a more traditional camp, the variety of activities for kids is vast.

Take Hidden Valley Camp, a co-ed camp in Freedom.  From llama care to glassblowing, the camp’s programming promotes variety of activities to attract a diverse community. Peter Kassen, who has directed the camp with his wife, Meg, since 1989, says Hidden Valley’s range of offerings  “helps campers and helps families.”

“Well-rounded people are the lifeblood of our community,” Kassen says. A child who isn’t “purely an outdoorsy kid or artsy kid has lots of choices.” In addition, Kassen says, variety supports diversity.  A child who is interested in riding horses may be in a cabin with a child who likes theater, for example.  Exposure to that diversity is good for the community, he says.

“When we are thinking about these activities ahead of time, we don’t just pick activities,” Kassen points out.  “When we are looking and thinking about programs, we have that symbiosis between the particulars of the program and the holistic aspect of the community at large.”

Sangster says in offering variety, camps must “really be able to respond to the interests of kids, do things that are alive and interactive to connect with that interest.”

That is exactly why Fernwood Cove, a girls’ camp in Harrison, recently constructed an entire post-and-beam building dedicated to culinary arts.

Beigette Gill, who owns and directs Fernwood Cove with her husband, Jim, says a camper originally suggested that Fernwood Cove teach cooking. And, after several years of Beigette teaching in her home kitchen at camp, the interest expanded beyond capacity. Today the camp boasts a 30-by-30 foot building and teaches culinary arts to 72 campers a day.

“We wanted a home feel,” Beigette Gill says. So while the kitchen has commercial equipment, it also has kitchen tables in the middle, where campers gather to eat their creations.

“Some of them do [the activity] because they love to cook, and some do it because they love to eat what they cook,” Gill says.

But while they offer culinary arts, Fernwood Cove remains a traditional camp, Gill says, offering land and water sports and arts.

Another traditional camp that also offers unique programming is Alford Lake Camp, a more than century-old girls’ camp in Hope.  Director Sue McMullan points to the camp’s variety of Global Challenge Trip opportunities as a way of “having our mission taken out on the trail.” Whether it’s the camp’s seven-week Appalachian Mountain, or its five-week Alps trip (including the world-famous Chamonix Guides), campers have the chance to build community, and become “stronger, more self-aware and more confident,” McMullan says.  Alford Lake also offers a seven-week Nova Scotia trip that includes not only sea kayaking, sailing, and surfing, but also three weeks on a 28-foot open pulling boat.

McMullan says the Appalachian Mountain Trip offers “gifts that are difficult to articulate.”

“What happens in your heart and soul is difficult to put in words,” she says.  The trip, which sometimes also includes male participants, offers “a sisterhood and brotherhood like no other,” McMullan says. “They are out there to be human beings with one another.”

“We are so clearly defined by how we look or act,” she says.  That is “stripped away.”

“Who we are inside is the gift,” she says.

Other Maine camps are less traditional. At Maine Arts Camp, which beginning this summer will be based at Colby College, director Rick Mades says programming is “geared to kids on the creative side.” For those kids, offerings range from visual and performing arts, to filmmaking and rocketry, to writing and robots.

Mades says the camp is “very intentional” both about a high level of instruction – including a significant number of professional teachers. Maine Arts Camp also serves a smaller number of kids – about 100 per session – than many more traditional Maine camps. Mades says that allows the camp to be “more selective” in staffing, with counselors serving more as assistants than lead teachers.

But like traditional camps in Maine, Maine Arts Camp is also intentional about creating community, Mades says. “We really discourage cliques and bullying. We do this from day one.”

While Maine Arts Camp is geared to creativity, the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership seeks to attract youngsters interested in a variety of science pursuits.

Not affiliated with Hurricane Island Outward Bound (which is no longer based on Hurricane Island), the program is in its fourth year of offering summer programs in marine biology, environmental leadership, island ecology, and sustainability for middle and high school students.  The center also offerings programming to schools, says director Barney Hallowell, but in the summer, it gives campers a chance to explore their scientific interests.

“Maybe they’ll discover something that they want to do,” he says. “That is the kind of kid we are appealing to.”

Trips and robots, cooking and farm animals, sports and arts.  Camp offerings are as varied as the kids who attend them.  And though those adventures may be many cold months away, camp directors continue to strive to put their missions to work through a broad range of activities, all intended to give camper summers of a lifetime.