Incremental Improvement, Part 2

The same kind of positive expectations and word-of-mouth buzz outlined in Part 1 (see Camp Business, March/April) works for program activities and other facilities as well. Here’s a partial list of the yearly improvement projects implemented at Camp Jewell…

Related Article: Incremental Improvement, Part 1

New view: Visual memories are some of the strongest, but many of our camps don’t have any “trademark views” that really burn into their campers memories.

Jewell was like that, with so many trees you couldn’t even get an overall view of the lake unless you were actually on the beach. At check-in parents would ask, “Do you have a lake here?” So my first winter we cleared a view from the dining hall to the lake. It was a new breathtaking scene, made more exciting by the sledding we’d do on this newly opened hill in the winter.

Now dirt poor but log rich, we had the trees cut into heavy log benches for seating at the top of this new view, in the chapel, and the next project, the council ring. (We traded half the wood to the sawmill in return for their services.)

Council ring: A campfire program is a highlight of not only summer camp, but most school groups and weekend groups too. But if the guests are uncomfortable and can’t see, it can be miserable.

So we bulldozed our old area into a bowl shape and brought in extra dirt to give it a nice rise from front to back. Using volunteers we built a stage and installed benches. We built a raised campfire area out of stones off to one side so the benches could be closer to the stage and the fire wouldn’t get in the way of the activities.

Finally, we created a huge routed sign with the camp name and hung it over the stage. Almost every guest takes at least one picture here, and we wanted our name on every one of them!

Mt. Wood: In 1981 I built what I believe was the very first free-standing tower for climbing. Up until that walls were built for rappelling in a few places copied after the Army, and Project Adventure was promoting climbing walls in school gyms.

Our tower at Tecumseh was unique, too, in that it was an interesting and attractive element in and of itself. It had a hipped cedar shake roof and looked like a western fort tower.

Kids couldn’t wait to try and climb it, because we placed it right out in the open where it acted as a magnet for kids all over camp. Activity does that; it draws inactive kids in.

But only if they can see it, wander over, and get involved slowly by first watching. So building a tower at Jewell was a high priority, and doing it at the top of a hill (to make it seem tall, even if it wasn’t), and highly visible (to invite kids to watch and join in, and to create great visual memories), made it work on so many levels.

Covered bridge: People like to hike, but they need destinations to get them out, and a satisfying place to have “reached” before returning.

If you can see an intriguing destination from afar, like a mountain top, a waterfall, or a bridge, it makes a magnet that’s hard to resist.

As a volunteer project we built an authentic covered bridge that could be seen across the lake from many places in camp. Once you get there you find a self-discovery learning display on the purposes, history and engineering of covered bridges, and you’re invited to hike back in time to an old mill site down the stream.

Rope swing: Camp Tecumseh built a tri-pod tower to support a rope swing into their lake for what I call the “Mountain Dew” experience. It’s at the same time retro (your grandparents did it) and extreme (ya-hoo!).

At Jewell we used new utility poles anchored to concrete footings poured when the lake was lowered to create a structure that looks vaguely Native American. The insurance company loves it for its high control and low entry (compared to diving boards).

Mini farm (petting zoo): Kids love animals; it’s another magnet. The real benefit here is that there’s so much to learn once you’ve attracted kids and parents to the animals, and with the proper interactive, low-tech displays, they can learn even when there’s not a staff person in sight.

Chapel: We’d always had a chapel, but for years it had only been used four times a summer on “middle Sundays”. It had received the attention commensurate with four-times-a-year use.

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Related posts:

  1. Incremental Improvement, Part 1
  2. Adventures in Oz
  3. Offsides
  4. Reevaluating the Camp, Part 2
  5. Staff Recruitment – Beyond the Resume
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