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Take The Next Step With An Adventure Camp


Royce Armstrong


Campfires on starry nights. The quiet splash of a canoe paddle dipping into a placid lake. Peels of laughter echoing off the water as swimmers splash around and dare one another to cannonball off the diving boards. These are scenes most people think of when they think of “summer camp.”

There are a lot more choices in summer camp experiences these days. Adventure Camps provide a more active and, perhaps, more enriching experience.

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What is an adventure camp?
An adventure camp is a specialty summer camp. Traditional summer camps include a variety of activities ranging from baseball to swimming, arts and crafts to archery and canoeing. Adventure camps can include activities far from the routine of everyday life such as rock climbing, rappelling, white water rafting, sea kayaking, hiking, sailing and caving.

The adventures offered by these camps vary somewhat, depending upon the area in which they are operated. Most of the adventure camps offer programs of rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, sailing and white water rafting.

For most adventure camps, adventure is best defined as activities, in a wilderness or semi-wilderness setting, that require proper instruction and execution. Usually, these are activities the camper has never previously experienced. There is a certain level of nervousness and anxiety that must be overcome as well as new skills to learn in order to perform the activities successfully.

“We see ourselves as the next step beyond summer camp,” says John Dockendorf, of Adventure Treks in western North Carolina. “If you are 10 or 11, summer camp is where you should be. But, there is a point where you want to get out and explore more. When I was at camp, I found the best learning and growth took place on the out-of camp-trips.” Adventure Treks runs programs in both western North Carolina and in the mountains of northern California and southern Oregon. “At summer camps you do get some good, basic outdoor skills and you go on an overnight or two. We set a faster pace than summer camp. We do a lot in a short period of time. In a camp that is wilderness based, you really get to spend a lot of time in the outdoors. Things are a lot more rigorous than in a normal summer camp.”

Adventure camps have two primary objectives. The first is to give the child a wilderness experience. Depending upon the camp, this might be anything from the seashores of Maine to the wilderness coastlines of northern California. It might be focused on the ocean or in the mountains. It might be in the hardwood forests of Pennsylvania or the pine woods of Georgia. Regardless where the adventure camps are located, one of its key objectives is to put the child in a new environment. This objective includes teaching the child wilderness skills and challenging him or her with activities they have never done or only rarely do. The second objective is to help the child grow emotionally. This is done by building self-confidence through the accomplishment of challenging activities. It is also done through building a sense of community with fellow campers.

“Our focus, besides the great activities,” says Dockendorf, “is that we want the students to build a really strong, powerful and caring community and set up a culture of kindness. Some of the students pretty much feel that they are in the most welcoming, most fun group of people that they have ever been with.” Judson Millar, of Stone Mountain Adventures in Pennsylvania, agrees. “It is important for a youngster to have the other kids cheering him on and encouraging him to accomplish tough tasks. We encourage all of the youngsters to be very supportive of one another. A kid can come here and just be himself. He doesn’t have to worry about being cool or stupid.”

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