It’s August in Baltimore; it’s hot and humid with cicada song filling the evening air and as I write this, there are over 5 weeks remaining of my son’s summer vacation.
It’s camp time if ever there was one.
Adult sensibilities conjure images of hot days followed by buggy nights and less-than-ideal living conditions, but childhood recollections provide fuzzy memories of exploration, sticky marshmallows, and falling happily exhausted into a cot smelling of camp fire.
I admit, I was an active Girl Scout for over 10 years of my childhood. It came honestly as the women in my family were very involved in scouting (recently when packing up my grandparents home we found a treasure trove of historic Girl Scout uniforms and memorabilia in their attic). My grandmother and mother were directors of an annual weekend session called Family Camp at Camp Echo Trail in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. It was a three-night camp held over Labor Day weekend for…wait for it…families! They ran this camp for 17 years and transformed a struggling side event for the Penn Laurel District (now Heart of Pennsylvania) into an end-of-the-year highlight, with an ever-increasing wait list.
Accolades aside, what I REALLY remember from camp, was freedom. My family was 100% involved in running activities, preparing food for 300+ people, staging camp fires, lighting lanterns and a million other tasks I failed to grasp. Eventually my mother gave up keeping track of me and as long as I showed up for meals, I was allowed the freedom to roam the camp at will.
Each year I was quickly absorbed by a pack of kids and together we filled the late-summer days with hiking, swimming, stilt walking, practicing our campfire skit (which normally we were too embarrassed to preform) and searching for an elusive (and fictitious) buried treasure. Evenings were punctuated by camp fires, s’mores and eventually finding my way back to my mother and grandmother.
Echo Trail wasn’t my only experience with camp. I have great memories of time spent at day camp, week-long sailing camps and camping with friends as I grew older. But ultimately what makes summer camp memorable is the freedom to explore and experience. As a landscape architect I’d like to think the natural environment is fundamental, but certainly the independence of ‘being away’ is pivotal to this memorable experience. It’s like a real life choose your own adventure book.
I’m familiar with the adage “time makes the heart grow fonder”. My family retired from the camp-running business shortly after I entered college and I haven’t been back to Echo Trail since. I’ve reminisced with my mother about going back; I’m not sure I want to.
The opportunity to re-imagine camping in an urban environment for this year’s PARK(ing) Day installation has provided a nostalgic reflection of what ‘going to camp’ has meant to me. The magic and independence of Camp Echo Trail is my personal design inspiration; a landscape lost to time but vivid in memory. I hope we can influence the next generation of campers…that still go to bed sticky and smelling of camp fire!