Since 1913, kids have been hiking, canoeing and gathering around campfires at YMCA Camp Chingachgook on Lake George, and camp leaders are gearing up for another 100 years of the same.
“It’s all about grounding children in the outdoors and in nature and there’s never been a more important time to do that, just because of how our world is rocketing forward,” said George Painter, the camp’s executive director. “What kids need is to play outside and we are the experts at that.”
One hundred Camp Chingachgook alumni will gather Friday for a reception at the Hearst Tower in New York City to kick off the camp’s upcoming centennial campaign, “Our Next Century of Service.” The event will include dinner and a program.
A wilderness camp’s celebration seems out of place in the big city, but Painter said they positioned it there for a reason.
“We have a lot of alumni in New York and all over the world. ... And we wanted to make it kind of regional and worldwide,” he said, noting that kids from about 30 states converge on the camp in the summer.
Over the years, the camp has hosted children and staff members from about 40 different countries, though most hail from the Capital Region,
Since the 200-acre camp opened, it has served about 350,000 children. It was initially a summer camp, hosting between 700 and 800 boys annually. Now it’s co-ed, runs year-round and in addition to traditional summer activities, it also hosts school programs, weekend retreats and programs for groups.
Today, the camp’s schedule is much the same as it was back in the early 20th century. Kids wake to the sound of a bugle, help out with meals, go on wilderness adventures and spend evenings in front of a campfire. Painter envisions the next 100 years to be much the same.
Upcoming improvements at Camp Chingachgook include a new waterfront dock and pavilion and outdoor amphitheater and the restoration of some structures. Adding WiFi is not on the to-do list, however.
“Kids don’t even have access to computers. Kids have to write a letter home to Mom and Dad. Can you imagine that?” Painter asked.
Even without access to the Internet, children are able to learn a tremendous amount at camp.
“You get to practice leadership and living together. ... You’re away from Mom and Dad, you’re on your own, in a lot of cases for the first time, and you have to figure it out on your own. You get to grow in responsibility and confidence and self-esteem, and you get to accomplish things in a very, very safe environment with great role models, great leaders,” Painter said. “We show kids right from the beginning that it’s not about you, it’s about the community, and it’s really about relationships and it’s about friends.”