Summer Camps 2014

Closing the generation gap

Sharing the family tradition of camp

By Eden Foster

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Think back.

Try to remember what childhood experiences had the most influence on you as an adult. Was it your religious community? Holidays with your extended family? Participation in a sport? Or was it a club or teacher or coach at school that had a lasting, positive impact on you?

For generations of the Teel family, that childhood experience has always been participation in summer camp. “No doubt about it, we’re a camping family,” chuckles Bob Teel, who, with his wife, Shirley, has lived in Flat Rock, North Carolina, since 1988.

Bob discovered summer camp when he was nine, and he tagged along with friends to visit their cousins at a YMCA camp near Joplin, Missouri. “As soon as I saw it I was sold. I could hardly wait to go the next summer.” His parents agreed to pay the $1-a- day fee, and Bob learned to ride a horse, paddle a canoe, shoot a rifle, play softball, and to live in close proximity with children he’d never met before. He later translated his newfound skills into a summer job as a counselor at a camp in Connecticut.

“The camaraderie at camp became very, very important to me, and the leaders had a tremendous influence on my life. My camp experience in the Ozark Mountains in the late 1930s was one of the highlights of my life, so it was no problem for me and my wife to make sure our children had the same opportunity,” Bob recalls.

Sending five children to camp each summer was no small commitment, but the Teels made it a priority. After a few summers of YMCA programs, the two boys attended camp at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, and the girls headed east to Camp Greystone in Tuxedo, North Carolina.

“Looking back on my childhood, I realize that attending camp was certainly one of the most meaningful experiences of my life,” says Stephanie Robinson of Birmingham, Alabama, the Teel’s second daughter. “Getting out of the school setting meant there was no academic pressure, no cliques or worries about clothes, but rather the emphasis was what was going on inside us, trying new things, and having fun,” she says. “And the counselors, all great college kids, emphasized the things my parents had tried to teach me, but it was easier hearing it from them,” she laughs.

Stephanie attended Camp Greystone for two years and Camp Kanakomo in Branson, Missouri, for one summer. She returned to Greystone as a counselor where she worked for five summers in a row. “Some of my very best friends even today are from camp. It’s meant the world to me.”

Attending summer camp meant so much to Stephanie that she and her husband, Gordie, committed to sending their four daughters, ages nine to eighteen, to camp as soon as each one was ready. “As a mother, learning to live with and be kind to people who are different and to make new friends at summer camp are important life skills, so we make it a priority for our children,” she relates. “And as a former school teacher, I know that the children get so tired because of all the extra activities they do after school that they have a hard time appreciating any of it. At camp, you can slow down and take your time.”

Stephanie’s brother, Starr Teel, had a different camp experience than his sisters. He attended Culver Military Academy for three summers; summers he describes as defining moments in his life. “I was a young guy in a very competitive environment, and I learned to make and live with decisions that impacted me and my team (Company) in positive ways,” Starr says. “Culver gave me the time and opportunity to acquire new skills and the confidence that comes with mastering each level of competence. I also learned about leadership and teamwork and gained an appreciation for how my actions can affect a larger community.”

We’re a camping family. At camp children learn responsibility without even realizing it

“Thanks to my father’s love for camping, Culver, and my other camp and counselor experiences, I now have a wonderful sense of adventure. I have always felt confident that I can make a positive difference in the world regardless of the circumstance. I firmly believe that a great camp experience uniquely equips all children to think this way.”

Starr’s childhood camp experiences ultimately led him to move to Hendersonville, North Carolina, in order to be near one of the largest concentrations of summer camps in the country. In addition to being a director for Camp Arrowhead for Boys, Starr is an active community volunteer and was instrumental in implementing the first regional “Art Matters” program. This initiative partnered dozens of summer camps with the local art gallery to educate the community about the values of summer camping and the role that fine art and crafts play in creative child development.

Starr and his wife Virginia’s two daughters, Annie Starr, nine, and Virginia Frances, four, are already carrying on the Teel family tradition. “I believe that there is a perfect summer camp for every child,” says Starr. “It’s a lot like picking out a college — you match your child’s needs and interests to what a particular camp has to offer.”

Annie Starr began attending day camps when she was six, and this past summer spent several weeks at both Camp Greystone and at Camp Wayfarer. “I love summer camp. My favorite thing was my cabin mates and my counselors,” offers Annie Starr happily.

“The self-confidence achieved through camp has been critically important in all of my life’s work,” says her father, Starr.

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Eden Foster is a freelance writer who lives and works in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Originally printed in CAMP Magazine, reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association © 2005 American Camping Association, Inc.

Camp gourmet

Sharing the message about healthy eating

A talk with Viki Kappel Spain

Q: What do you consider the biggest trend in camp meal preparation and nutrition in recent years?

A: Choice is the biggest news for camp. Family or buffet-style serving has replaced the cafeteria trays of yesteryear, though line serving still takes place. The “lunch lady,” line-served food is basically out the door. Food served in a family setting, with a bowl of salad, a pan of lasagna and loaf of garlic bread for each table, offers the opportunity for children to sit, relax, enjoy each other’s company, learn table manners (“please pass the butter”) and to think of others (taking one or two pieces and passing the bowl around instead of taking half the bowl and thinking of no one else). In this fast food era and age of both parents working, many children do not experience the family table as often as parents would like. If camps offer this serving style, it affords a great opportunity to support family values.

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Q: What are the top concerns expressed by parents about children and eating at camp?

A: Parents know their children best. Most parents are concerned about their children getting the healthy foods they need, and they want to make sure they will get their favorite foods, as well. The major topic of concern from most parents is about meat and the assurance that the meat will be thoroughly cooked. Parents worry about their children who have special dietary concerns (dairy-sensitive, vegetarian, food allergies) and contact the food service director regarding the menu, asking how the camp can support this need. Many parents also express concern about sugar and caffeine, and some even ask about the availability of a low-carb program. Since the nature of most camps is activity-oriented, low-carb-conscious parents are usually told that carbs are necessary for energy at camp.

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Q: Practically speaking, how do health and nutrition translate into menu planning?

A: I have five principles for delivering the highest nutrition to campers:

1) Serve food items separately

To accommodate most dietary requests, it’s best to serve food items separately, for example, pasta and two sauces, one with meat and one without. The second sauce should be a cream or pesto sauce such as Alfredo to please those who don’t want the traditional tomato-based spaghetti sauce. The meat (such as meatballs) can be served separately from the marinara sauce, as well. Those who don’t want sauce at all can always just eat the noodles with Parmesan cheese. Offering several options separately allows campers to make healthy choices on their own.

2) Choice and more choice

If every camp could and would adopt the “bar” mentality at camp, great strides could be taken in the healthy choice effort. The concept of having many items to choose from (such as a salad bar, taco bar, baked potato bar, dessert bar, sandwich bar, etc.) offers a key element of teaching children to make good choices from a selection of good choices. Every time a child has the ability and opportunity to make good choices, healthy eating patterns are reinforced. Children remember and have fond memories of being able to pick and choose all on their own, and it only enhances the opportunity camps have of helping children gain independence.

3) Serve a wide variety

A major health and nutrition challenge is to offer balanced nutrition in an appealing format, and the best way to offer healthy choices is in a salad bar array. With the availability of proteins, nuts, grains, and low-fat dressing choices, campers can eat healthy without feeling hungry.

4) Substitute or eliminate non-dairy items in cooked foods

One of the ways to address healthy eating and still maintain food quality is to substitute high-fat, high-cholesterol items like butter or cheddar cheese with margarine or a cheddar/mozzarella blend cheese. When cooking rice, substitute margarine for the butter, or leave it out altogether. Use flavor substitutes like seasonings or other flavor enhancers, and campers can enjoy a great taste that satisfies most children.

5) On the side

The most important feature to offer at all meals is salad dressings, sauces, and gravies on the side to allow each individual to select the amount they desire.

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Q: How are camps addressing special diets and food allergies?

A: The days of serving everyone in the dining hall exactly the same food is definitely a thing of the past. Each and every camper may have slightly different dietary needs that camps consider when planning a menu. Allergies and sensitivities have taken center stage for food service directors and their focus on foods served at camp. With peanut allergies so rampant and extremely dangerous, even having peanut butter on the shelves can cause problems, let alone serving peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter cookies to the whole room.

For those who are dairy sensitive or lactose intolerant, having dairy-free options are a must, from soy milk to cheese-less pizza, and even butter-free desserts. Cooks are encouraged to make Rice Krispy treats with margarine, not butter, to ensure a safe environment for all.

Some parents make a great effort to contact the food service director when their child has serious food issues (wheat allergies, preservative allergies, etc.), and every effort needs to be made from the camp kitchen to support any food plans or arrangements the parents are willing to make. Some parents can look at the tentative menu planned for the week and send a supply of acceptable food items that match the menu (corn tortillas for the burrito lunch, wheat-free waffles for breakfast, sugar-free maple syrup for the diabetic child, etc.) so the child can still have a positive camp experience without being ostracized for their food differences.

It is important for the camp food service operation to understand its role in supporting special diets, stocking as many unusual food items for special requests or emergencies as the budget and reality can accommodate.

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Q: Anything families can or should do to prepare children for meals away from home?

A: One of the best things parents can teach their children is to “just try a little.” Some families serve favorite, home-made foods and family recipes, and others eat a small variety of fast or prepared foods. In either case, the children will be exposed to many new items and need to take the opportunity to learn new tastes and experience the entire food array at camp. No parent wants to think of their child as finicky, but most children actually are finicky and reluctant to try new things. The age of potlucks is almost gone, and with that the opportunities for children to try new things is fading, as well. As hard as camp cooks try to duplicate home-made food items, children can tell that camp macaroni and cheese looks and tastes different from home food, whether it be different from the “Easy Mac” they are used to making or the scratch cheese sauce mom or grandma makes.

If parents can prepare their child for the camp experience, not only with packing and building anticipation for the fun, activities, and new friendships, but also with food, the camper may feel more settled and secure with the changes about to take place. Parents can present it as a new food adventure, with the challenge to experiment and try one new thing each day and then “report” their analysis and opinion in a letter home. If a child is extremely finicky and may need more than the average incentive program to give camp food a try, a reward may need to be implemented. Parents know their children best and what will work, and almost any approach can be successful if there is communication and attention given to the child prior to the camp visit.

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Q: What are children’s favorite foods at camp?

A: Traditionally, children’s favorite foods vary from region to region, but there are several menu items that can guarantee success: pizza, hamburgers, barbecue hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, ravioli, spaghetti, submarine sandwiches, tacos and burritos, chicken dinner, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and cereal. When the camp kitchen takes the food preparation level up a notch, children are delighted with fresh-baked breads, hot dog rollups (dough wrapped around the hot dog in a spiral and baked), and other fun foods. Children also love and appreciate fresh-cut French fries, real turkey dinners, real pizza dough (instead of cardboard crusts), special meals like cookouts, barbecues, breakfast-in-cabins, and even hike lunches.

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Viki Kappel Spain, author of “The Camp Kitchen Guidebook,” has been cooking in the camp industry since 1985. She is a frequent contributor to camp publications and coordinates regional and national kitchen staff training for the American Camp Association.

Originally printed in CAMP Magazine, reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association © 2005 American Camping Association, Inc.

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Get ready for camping season

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Camping is a popular outdoor activity that attracts many enthusiasts year after year. Some people camp every month while others only have time for one great excursion into the wilderness each year. This year, millions of camping trips will take place across the country.

Preparation is key to a successful camping trip. Whether campers plan to spend one night or several in the great outdoors, there are certain tips to follow to ensure your trip is as fun and safe as possible.

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Gear

In order to be comfortable, stock up on camping gear. Tents, sleeping bags and other gear need not be the most expensive. Quality, moderately priced gear works well, too. With care and maintenance, camping gear can last for several years.

A tent will be your first line of defense against the outdoors. Although plenty of people prefer to sleep out under the stars, a tent is a place to avoid inclement weather and insects and have a little privacy. Your tent need not be too big, unless you plan to share it with many of your fellow campers. Since you will be spending the majority of your time outdoors, don’t feel pressured to buy the tent equivalent of a three-room suite. A good tent should be sturdy, weather-resistant and large enough to fit the people who will be sleeping in it during your trip.

Invest in a pad to place on the floor of the tent to shield you from the hard ground. The pad will make sleeping more comfortable. If you will be sleeping during warm-weather months, you don’t have to worry about an expensive sleeping bag. An average-weight one will be just fine. Don’t forget to pack a pillow.

A cooler filled with foods and drinks will tide you over for the trip. If you plan to cook, you will need to bring the ingredients for meals. Otherwise sandwiches should suffice. Some campgrounds have grills and picnic tables available. Otherwise, you can cook hot dogs right over your open campfire.

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Where to camp

Campsites may be public or private. Public campgrounds are generally funded by tax dollars and maintained by parks departments or government offices. They may be free to enter or charge a nominal fee for use. Because of the low cost involved, they may be quite popular and crowded during peak camping season.

Private campsites are run by private companies or individuals and may also feature RV hookups. In many instances, private campsites sell memberships to interested parties, which gives access to certain private areas. They may have more amenities than public campsites. Private sites also may employ security personnel and maintenance crews to ensure the areas are clean and safe and to enforce campground rules. This may not be the case at public campsites, where conditions may be inconsistent from site to site.

An online search of both public and private campsites nearby can help you determine which option best suits you. Consider national parks, national forests and even the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages many recreational areas.

Avoid critters

Animals and insects are part of the camping experience. While they are unavoidable, there are some measures you can take to reduce the propensity for bothersome bug bites or clever critters raiding the cooler.

Keeping a clean campsite is perhaps the most effective animal and insect deterrent. Ants and animals are attracted to food bits scattered around the site, so be sure to gather trash and dispose of it properly each day. Try not to store food on the ground. Whenever possible, keep food locked away in an airtight cooler or other container. Dry foods can be stored under lock and key in the car. Racoons, squirrels, birds, and skunks all have been known to patrol campgrounds for an easy meal. Also, you don’t want to lure in larger predators, such as bears or wild cats.

To avoid insects, steer clear of perfumed products. Keep lights dim at night, as bright lights attract mosquitoes and other biting bugs. Use appropriate insect repellents to help further repel bugs.

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Closer isn’t always better

Many new campers make the mistake of choosing campsites that are in close proximity to bathrooms and clubhouses and other reminders of civilization. But these areas tend to feature heavy foot and car traffic and can make for a noisy experience. To avoid the lights, sounds and bustle of too many people, stick with campsites farther off the beaten path. You may need to walk a little farther, but you will likely enjoy a more peaceful camping experience.

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Plan for the wetness

Even if it doesn’t rain, dew is an inevitable part of camping outdoors. Warm weather with high humidity can make dew even more plentiful. Use a shower curtain or another plastic impenetrable liner beneath your tent to reduce wetness and chilliness while you sleep. Be sure to bring in clothes and remove items from your clotheslines before you retire for the night if you don’t want them damp the next morning. Use tarps to cover anything that should not get wet. Be sure to pack plenty of dry socks and changes of clothes and store them in zipper-top bags in the event clothing does get wet. Wet clothes can be uncomfortable and increase your risk for hypothermia.

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Carry in and carry out

Part of the magic of camping is being able to enjoy nature and experience the great outdoors. It is crucial to protect natural landscapes as much as possible and to exercise caution around plant life. In addition, be mindful of animal habitats. What you bring to the campsite, including trash, should be removed when you are done. Do not leave a mess behind.

Camping can be an enjoyable and inexpensive vacation option. Learning the ropes and heeding some advice can make camping an enjoyable getaway year after year.