The iconic summer camp lives on
In 2015, there are a lot of ways to go to camp. There is sports camp, math camp, drama camp, chess camp, cooking camp, farm camp, photography camp, space camp, yoga camp, engineering camp, hip-hop camp, circus camp, cartooning camp and SAT prep camp.In short, if it interests your kid, there’s probably a camp for it.
But long before before all that, there was: camp.
You know this camp, even if you’ve never attended one. It is Norman Rockwell iconic. It is archery and arts and crafts. Campfire circles and sing-alongs. Canoeing and cold-water swimming. Sleeping eight, 10, 15 to a one-room cabin with screens for windows and a single lantern or bare bulb casting crazy shadows overhead. Letters home dutifully scribed on rainy afternoons, flopped belly-down on a wooden bunk.
And in the 21st century, this camp is still surprisingly alive and well. Despite the seductive attractions and comforts of the Xbox and air conditioning, Snapchat and Chipotle, nevertheless a cohort of the instant-everything Internet generation still willingly—indeed enthusiastically—trades all that for two, three, six weeks in the woods: modern-day Thoreaus with orthodontia and ponytails, embracing rustic living, archaic entertainments and a litany of traditions so long-established and revered that the most modern, selfie-snapping teenager can recite them with shining eyes, a catch in the voice and not so much as a whisper of irony.
At Camp Mont Shenandoah on a brightly lit early spring day, it’s decidedly the off-season. A thick, crusted-over layer of snow crunches underfoot as Ann Warner, the camp’s director and co-owner, strides the Bath County camp’s property. Her dogs, Rollins and Otis, gambol happily around her, the sun shines through trees still bare of leaves and the Cowpasture River murmurs past, swollen with snowmelt. Since 1927, Camp Mont Shenandoah has occupied this property on a gentle bend of the river; generations of girls have plunged shrieking into the swimming hole (“No one’s allowed to say it’s cold: it’s ‘brisk,’” says Warner), performed musicals on the rough stage of West Lodge, chattered over family-style meals in the Feed Bag, gathered around the fire circle, and hunkered down in cabin bunk beds to giggle with friends before drifting to sleep to the night sounds just beyond their screen windows.