Digital and Dirt: Camp Recollections and Realizations

It has been many years since I attended summer camp. My memories are of towering East Texas pines surrounding lakes, care packages full of cookies from my parents and friends I thought would last a lifetime.

Our annual camp issue caused me to reminisce about the summers of my youth. It brought back memories of horseback riding, silly camp skits, fireside devotionals (I attended Christian camps), cool counselors and first crushes. I wondered if things had changed much at Camp Pine Cove since the last time I visited the camp. So I decided to do a little research.

With broadband speed and camper determination, I grabbed my mouse and started “Googling.” Within a few seconds I quickly found the camp’s Web site. And boy, have things changed. The only remnant of the camp I knew and loved? There it sat on the bottom of the home page – a small pinecone logo – everything else clearly speaking to a new generation.

Camp Pine Cove has gone high-tech. The Web site boasts colorful animated graphics where counselors can sign up for leadership-training seminars and visitors can purchase a hip-looking CD recorded by the counselors. The once rustic camp, where a phone call was hard to come by, now offers an online photo gallery (updated weekly), an iPod video of expansion plans and mp3 samples of the counselors’ latest recording.

My beloved Pine Cove, now celebrating a 40-year anniversary, has advanced far beyond my days as a camper, when playing Capture the Flag and having Luau nights were all the rage. It has entered the cyber age. And I find it hard to visualize today’s kids sitting on those old wooden benches in the dining hall singing Kumbaya.

The world of technology has impacted the camp industry in many ways. And that doesn’t mean Wii in every cabin, but it does mean improved marketing channels, streamlined communications (e-mail call instead of traditional camper mail call) and convenient online registration. And though I may still think of camp as a back-to-basics, nature experience, the real truth is that camps are businesses. They are in the business of teaching life experiences to our children, and as such, need all the technological help they can get.

As an admitted techno-geek, I love the fact that camps these days mix digital and dirt – technology and trees. But when that technology goes to far, the experience can go from fun to failure.

The story, “Camp Unplugged” explores the balanced use of technology to keep campers and parents connected, and the wisdom of knowing when to disconnect so that kids can enjoy their camp experience as it’s meant to be – fun and free of parent supervision.

With the emerging technology of camps, come the rising costs to support it. These days a few weeks at camp for your child (or children) may be more expensive than your honeymoon. It may be time to consider whether or not you want to protect that investment by purchasing insurance. Cathy Ashby, camp expert and editor of Carolina Parent, our sister publication, offers the low-down on camp insurance. This is another new development for old-timers like me, but in the case where refunds are not an option, I certainly see the merit.

Even rising costs and cyber technology can’t overshadow the true value of camp – the relationship building. That is one thing that may never change. The time spent away from Mom and Dad, learning to co-exist in a 6-bunk cabin with 5 complete strangers who became my best girlfriends by the end of the week, were some of the most powerful times of my young life. When my parents arrived to pick me up, I clearly remember the joy of seeing them again and the sadness of knowing I would be leaving my new friends.

Camp teaches togetherness and separation, builds teamwork and individuality and instills a sense of caring. Something about the experience forges bonds between cabin mates and counselors that are truly special. The Pine Cove I recall of my childhood days may be long gone, but the memories live on.

Let our annual Residential Camp Directory be your guide to finding the right fit for you and your family this summer. With so many options in North Carolina and across the state, your biggest challenge will be narrowing it down to one.

Good luck and have fun!