Summer camp is not just for kids anymore

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Ah, summer camp. Canoeing and playing Capture the Flag all day. Roasting s’mores and telling ghost stories by a blazing fire. Making friends and learning new skills, like how to make a lizard key chain out of gimp. Remind you of the days of your youth, those seemingly endless summer nights after your parents had shipped you off to camp when you were young?

Well, guess what — camp isn’t just for kids anymore. Now, at camps throughout the nation — and Maine — we adults can frolic in the woods, get covered in poison ivy and huddle around a camp fire with newfound friends too. And if you think it’s just for people going through a mid-life crisis or those living in the past, you’re wrong.

It’s for anyone and everyone, from people interested in perfecting their waterskiing abilities or studying birds to those who just want to kick back and make some friendship bracelets.

“It’s a nostalgic kind of a thing,” says Lucy Norvell, director of Public Information for the American Camp Association, New England. “There are so many adults who carry these wonderful memories of their summer camp experience with them. Either they carry them in their brains or they carry them in their hearts. They have this memory of being in a setting where time is sort of suspended.”

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Even for many adults who never had the chance to experience summer camp as a child, an idea of what it would be like formed in their mind from speaking to others about their camp experience, reading or watching movies about camps.

“The idea of going to this special place to be connected with something larger is a very appealing idea,” says Norvell, of the growing popularity in camps catering to the 18 and up crowd.

Adult camps aren’t a completely new phenomenon. For instance, the Highland Lodge and Christmas Tree Inn in Bridgton, Maine, offered recreational programs for “gentile” adults in the 1920s to early ’30s. But the trend of including adults didn’t really begin to take off until the ’90s when interest in family-oriented camps surged and many summer camps began inviting parents to join along with the kids. By 2005, family camping was extremely popular and eventually adults began asking for a camp of their own.

“We’ve been running a girl’s camp for a number of years and parents were always like, ‘Gosh, I wish there was a spot where we could go and sort of let loose and be like campers and relax if we want to,’” says Burt Jordan, owner of Snowy Owl Camp in Harmony, Maine, which will begin offering adult programs this summer. “We figured it would be exciting.”

Unlike children’s camps, adults aren’t locked into structured schedules and managed by a team of counselors. Some programs offer all the activities you would associate with going to camp, like sports, arts and crafts and group games that you can chose to do at your leisure. Others have a theme, such as knitting or running, that campers can focus on, with time allotted to enjoy the facility’s other offerings.

At Medomak Retreat Center, the adults-only facility at Medomak Family Camp in Washington, Maine, Executive Director Hollie Stone has been offering adult programs for the past 14 years. It began when a childhood friend of Stone’s from summer camp (ironically enough), Kenneth Kiesler, who is the director of orchestras and professor of conducting at the School of Music of the University of Michigan, proposed hosting a conductor’s retreat where conductors could gather and hone their skills in a relaxing camp-like atmosphere.

“(The participants) all completely fell in love with being in an environment where they could study one thing intensely, but could still go swimming and could still go canoeing and still do archery and sailing and be in an environment that was like being back in camp,” says Stone.

From there the programming has grown to include a “New England Fiber Arts Retreat” where attendees spend a week learning all facets of working with fiber and complete their own fiber project; a “Reading the Landscape” program with ecologist Tom Wessels who teaches and explores natural surroundings with camp-goers; and, in past years, various additional programs such as a “Women’s Wellness Retreat.”

“Camp is a great change of pace from the normal work-a-day life that we all lead,” says 62-year-old Anne Rosen of Columbia, Md., who participated in programs offered at Medomak Retreat Center. “It’s lots of fun and being up in Maine in that beautiful setting just feeds my soul. It’s good to get away and to be in a place where you can try new things, eat healthy and relax.”

Adults like Rosen are finding summer camp programs to be an alternative for expensive or physically taxing vacations. Not only can they have a new experience in a new place, but, depending on what program they choose, adults can find themselves around like-minded people who share the same interests, all while learning new information and skills that help perpetuate personal growth.

For 53-year-old Joan Wattman of Plainfield, Mass., attending the “Reading the Landscape” program at Medomak Retreat Center was an opportunity to expand her own knowledge. In addition to the new information she gained, she also forged new friendships and connected with fellow campers within the 30-person program.

“The topic was a huge thing for me. If it had been a workshop that I was driving to and then drove home, I wouldn’t have had the same experience — those kinds of serendipitous late-night conversations or early in the morning or just taking a walk around the cabin — that was a part of it; we were all outside of our usual place and we were able to be completely integrated there.”

Adult camp programs in Maine

Part of the draw to attending a camp is to be around like-minded people. There are dozens of specialty camps available in Maine and a quick Internet search can drum up endless possibilities. Here are a few samplings of what’s available:

Camp Mechuwana, Winthrop

Specialty camps for moms, grandparents and special-needs adults.

207-377-2924

www.mechuwana.org

Maine Audubon Camps, Falmouth

Ornithology programs

207-781-2330 Off-season: 207-529-5148

www.maineaudubon.org

Medomak Camp, Washington

Fiber art, ecology and specialty retreat camps

207-845-6001 Off-season: 301-854-9100

www.medomakcamp.com

Slovenski Camp, Raymond

Running and knitting focused camps

207-751-1123 Off-season: 207-725-0062

pslovens@bowdoin.edu

Snowy Owl Camp, Harmony

Open programming

207-683-2032 Off-season: 305-793-3708

info1@snowyowlcamp.com

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