I'd like to tell you about Camp Wyandot in southeastern Ohio, the Camp Fire USA summer overnight camp where I work as a counselor once a year. I'd like to try explaining why I drove 450 miles each way every summer when I was living in Chicago to spend my hard-earned vacation days with other people's children; and why I can't wait until my two little ones are old enough to be campers there. There's just something about that place that won't let go.
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Camp Fire USA is the organization that began as Camp Fire Girls, and became co-ed in the 1970s. Camp Fire USA is non-sectarian and does not discriminate with regards to race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or any other aspect of diversity. Camp Wyandot is an overnight camp emphasizing outdoor adventure and nature. The local council's mission is Reuniting Children and Nature. The camp believes strongly in the power of the outdoors to enhance the physical, mental and behavioral health of children and teens. The camp is set in a beautiful and ecologically important area of Clear Creek Valley in the Hocking Hills area of Ohio.
My first year as a camper at Camp Wyandot was when I was 13. Some of my Camp Fire friends had been going for years, but I was afraid to ask my parents because I worried they could not afford the $115 camp cost at the time. Once I had saved up enough from my paper route, I asked if I could go. I was quickly ushered into a new and different world -- a community that would sustain me through difficult teen years and beyond.
Some of my closest friends to this day are camp counselors I had as a camper at Wyandot. All the counselors take "camp names" to make it easy for the campers to remember. So Moo, Pretzel, Hypee and Mossy are still in my life, through 16 years and several interstate moves. Counselors like me return each year from California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and the East Coast. A camper of mine in 1998 from a small town in Ohio has gone from being one of the girls in the treehouse cabins to a graduate of Notre Dame University, and we still keep in touch. As the song goes, "Memories of Wyandot, they will live forever; Deep within the hearts of all. And although our paths are parted, there's no need to cry, for memories of Wyandot ne'er can die." A couple years ago, as I walked out the swinging screen door of my cabin with all my gear on Saturday night, I began to sob. I didn't want to leave. This is me, a grown woman who covered crime for a daily newspaper, rode a motorcycle and competed in triathlons! That's why I can't say enough about Wyandot. It isn't just me; many of the returning staff feel the same way. And most of the children who are homesick on Sunday are begging their parents to stay another week when Saturday comes around.
The deep sense of Camp Fire tradition and love of the outdoor environment is embracing and overwhelming. Children who have never been to the woods are identifying endangered plant species by the end of the week and attending their first, full-blown Council Fire around our huge ceremonial fire ring. I don't want to talk about myself too much, but as I faced the challenges of awkward teen years, peer pressure and competition for college, I was always sustained by the peace and loyal friendships I found at Wyandot. I daydreamed about camp 51 weeks out of the year. As an adult, I now reap great joy watching young people experience these same moments, and I can't wait until my two little ones are old enough to be campers. (Campers must have completed first grade.)
One year I had a little girl in my cabin who was terrified of getting dirty and was constantly asking for the antibacterial wipes from the First Aid kit to clean her hands. By the end of the week, she had streaks of natural clay from the creek on her face, as she and the other campers gave themselves "mud facials." I've seen quiet girls and boys take leadership roles when they discover a talent for outdoor skills. I've seen young men learn to take responsibility for mistakes or harsh words and apologize sincerely to their peers. I've seen children of all abilities, some with attention disorders and some with physical disabilities, marching in silent lockstep to raise the flag on a dewy morning.
Camp sessions run from Sunday afternoon to the following Saturday morning. Campers who have completed first grade can sign up for a one-week session, or multiple sessions. Sessions are available in late June and each week in July. During some sessions, campers can sign up for extras, such as off-site horseback riding. These require an additional fee. Camp Wyandot also has a grief camp for children who have suffered the death of someone close to them. It is called Camp Atagahi at Wyandot: A Place of Healing and Hope.
The camp is set on Lake Ataghahi, a small lake use for canoing and fishing. The lake is in a valley, and the camp's buildings are on two hills on each side of the lake.
Campers who have completed grades 1 through 7 generally stay on Cabin Row, which is a dirt lane lined with wood cabins on the west side of the lake. The cabins have wood bunks and most have a back room with shelves for luggage and space to change clothes. The cabins have screened windows and doors, with shutters to close in case of rain. Campers on Cabin Row use a central bathhouse called Egypt, which has hot showers, flush toilets and sinks and electricity. This bathhouse is scheduled to be replaced for the 2009 camp season. The youngest campers live in cabins closest to the bathhouse and Hoskins Lodge, where the nurse resides. Counselors stay in the cabins with the campers. Cabins can accommodate up to eight campers. Campers identify themselves by cabin group, such as "Bear Cabin" and "Fawn Cabin." Cabins are not accessible to those using wheelchairs.
Older campers live on the hill east of the lake in groups called "units," which comprise several small sleeping tebins and a covered gathering place. The oldest girls live in treehouse cabins, which are made of wood with wood ladders and windows. Other campers live in "tebins" which are wood cabins with open windows that can be closed using roll-down tarps in case of rain. These campers use a bathhouse called Alps, which has hot showers and flush toilets and sinks and electricity. Campers who are 16 and 17 can enroll in the Counselor in Training program. These campers also live in tebins, and they learn teaching and leadership skills as they assist with camp activities and train to become a counselor.
All campers have access to a large swimming pool, which is staffed by trained and certified lifeguards. The younger campers receive daily swimming lessons as part of their activities.
Hazards: Campers are taught to identify poison ivy. The camp also is home to the usual insects, such as spiders, ants, mosquitoes, ticks, etc. We have not had a camper come down with any insect-born illness. We also have bats at camp, and campers learn about how the bats feed on mosquitoes. Cabins are kept clean, and camp mattresses are covered in waterproof covers and sanitized weekly.
Campers assist with some camp chores, such as setting the tables and cleaning the bathhouse, to learn group responsibility.
A typical day consists of waking up, taking part in Morning Mile or Polar Bear swim if desired, getting dressed, cleaning up the cabin, attending flag raising, and heading to the Dining Hall (Hislop Lodge) for breakfast. Hot food is prepared fresh onsite by the cooking staff. There is good variety and quantity of food, and often a fresh salad bar accompanies lunch and dinner, and a cereal bar is available at breakfast. Campers then take part in activities with their cabin group, such as hiking, creeking (wading in the creek looking for salamanders, etc.), learning about nature, or working on a craft or skill. Campers may have lunch in the dining hall, or pack a sack lunch for a hike. Afternoons are for rest hour, free swim at the pool, and other fun activities. Dinner is at the dining hall or cooked out over an open fire. (Older campers usually pack out or cook out one meal per day.) At 8 p.m., Taps is played on the bugle and younger campers must be in their bunks with lights out. Older campers may go with their counselor to call owls or study the stars until bedtime.
The camp's main focus is nature and outdoor skills. We have some endangered plant species at camp, as well as interesting plants brought here with the glaciers during the Ice Age, including the hemlocks and the sassafras. Counselors are trained to bring positive reinforcement to campers of all skill levels, and to help campers mediate conflicts, get along, make friends, and accept others. Diversity is prized in all Camp Fire events and camps. Campers have opportunities to earn awards individually and as a cabin group. These are presented at Council Fire on Friday Night, a longstanding and hallowed tradition at Wyandot.
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Amount Paid (US$): 350
Type of Camp: Outdoor
Best Suited For: Other
Camper to Counselor Ratio: Fine mix of campers and counselors