Boys learn life skills, have fun being boys at this traditional sleep away camp.
BRIDGTON, Maine – Every summer for the past century, boys ages 7 to 17 have been traveling past the same New England farmhouse gate, down a tree-lined dirt road to a rustic tented encampment along the shores of Moose Pond. They leave with friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.
Winona Camps for boys, one of the longest operating summer camps in America, is celebrating its 100th anniversary in summer 2007. At Winona, television sets don’t vie with sunsets. Beautiful mountain vistas, pristine water and fresh air take the place of iPods, cell phones and the Web. Boys live in platform tents along the lakeshore of the 400-acre camp for seven weeks, engaging in friendly competitions, learning to be part of a team, and discovering their own inner strengths.
Alan Ordway and his wife Michelle have owned and operated the traditional camp for more than 30 years. “Some don’t think they’ll survive the first night it rains,” says Ordway. “By the end of the summer, they have come to love Winona.”
Winona boys have a chance to build relationships with people from all over the world. Its campers and staff represent more than 30 states and 25 countries, many different races, cultures, and religious backgrounds.
“Labels are not important here,” says Ordway. “Everyone is treated the same. In this environment, boys grow more aware of the world at large. No matter what their background happens to be, they come to Winona and find success.”
The key to that success is allowing boys to be boys. “Today’s children lead highly structured lives,” says Ordway. “Between school, sports teams, clubs and other enrichment activities, they don’t have much free time to dream and discover. At Winona, boys have time to get to know themselves.”
Every day at camp, boys are able to choose from more than 15 different activities, ranging from windsurfing and horseback riding to baseball and lacrosse. Drama, woodworking and ecology are also offered. Boys can try something different each day, or they could discover a new passion and pursue it for the duration of their time at camp.
“No one plans their day for them,” says Ordway. “They have the freedom to decide for themselves. For the younger campers, this may be the first time they have had a chance to make their own choices. We empower the boys, and this builds self confidence.”
Campers are grouped into one of three units according to their age. The units overlap by one year to accommodate for camping experience, grade in school or a camper’s own preference. Each has separate athletic fields, tennis courts, swimming docks, and target ranges. Winona’s oldest boys, ages 16 and 17, are counselors in training. The entire camp gets together for movie night, special cookouts, and in the dining hall, where the day’s achievements are announced and rewarded. Campers get to sleep in on Sundays.
As part of life at Winona, the boys learn to develop their individuality. They challenge themselves on wilderness excursions along the remote Allagash Wilderness Waterway, rock climbing adventures in Acadia National Park, and overnight paddling trips on Mooselookmeguntic Lake.
They also learn to work as a team. In addition to engaging in team sports, the boys must work as a team to keep their tent clean. For some, it is the first time they have ever swept a floor or made a bed. Everyone is responsible for an individual chore, but if one boy slacks on his responsibility, the whole unit is held accountable. Everyone is rewarded for a job well done.
“The camp is large enough to experience a lot, and small enough that you can’t hide,” says Ordway. “Everyone actively participates. This is very important because so much of entertainment these days is passive, catering to short attention spans. We encourage our boys to really listen and look.”
Winona’s rich history has been well preserved thanks to its veteran staff and many return campers. More than 90 percent of its employees and more than 75 percent of its campers come back every summer. Some families have been sending their children to Winona for four and five generations. Parents, grandparents and sometimes great-grandparents are able to reminisce with young campers about the Red-Gray competitions, the mystery of the “Bat”, and other traditions that stretch back nearly a century.
“Our retention rate is one of our greatest strengths,” says Ordway. “The entire Winona family has been around for a long time – all the way from our junior campers to management. We enjoy a very special rapport.”
And no matter what campers go on to achieve as adults, they will always share a special bond with their Winona brothers. A group of former campers from San Francisco, for example, met at an alumni gathering and instantly hit it off. They now make regular trips together throughout Northern California, continuing the spirit of adventure first ignited on the shores of Moose Pond.
Founded in 1908, Winona Camps is approximately an hour northwest of Portland, Maine. The camp preserves a sense of earned accomplishment and perseverance while celebrating milestones of success to help boys nurture their sense of self and self-esteem. Winona’s sister camp is Wyonegonic, the oldest organized girls’ camp in the country.