The Family Camp Experience
Jeff Roerden of Raleigh was not certain how his three daughters would react to a family vacation at Camp Seafarer in Arapahoe. "I knew I'd made the right decision when, less than 24 hours in, they asked if we could come back next year," he says. Roerden obliged and has returned to Camp Seafarer with his family during the past five summers.
The Roerdens have discovered what many families in North Carolina have learned: Camping is a great opportunity to share special experiences and create lasting memories.
Camp Seafarer has been offering family camp programs for more than 20 years. "Families come to us from across the country to play together, learn and share new experiences. We also have a high rate of folks who return year after year," says Becky Schmidt, the director of administrative services.
In an increasingly fast-paced, high-tech society, camping offers a much-needed break from the "real world," and a chance to slow down and savor nature and the outdoors.
"The reality is 'blackberry' is no longer a summer fruit," says Elizabeth Osborne of Graham. Osborne has attended family camp at Quaker Lake Camp in Climax with her husband and three children for the past five years. "Today, we can't seem to function without electronic devices. Family camp is an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with your family," she says.
Missy Schenck, the executive director of Green River Preserve in Cedar Mountain, agrees. "Family camp is a generational opportunity to share something unique," Schenck says. "From infants to grandparents, single parent and dual-parent — as well as family reunions — it's a fun, wonderful way to interact with each other, and with nature."
Green River Preserve has been offering a family camp during Labor Day weekend for more than eight years. The concept was suggested by parents who wanted to revisit their own childhood camp experiences by camping with their children.
In August 2010, similar feedback from parents prompted Camp Tekoa in Hendersonville to launch its family camp. "While registering their children for camp, parents often asked, 'When can we come to camp?' " says Program Director Mike Pruett. About 30 people attended the three-and-a-half day program last year, and Pruett estimates that number may double in 2011.
Pruett says family camp is ideal for families who are "intentional about spending time together." In addition, it is an opportunity to meet and bond with other families.
"It is great to watch the camp experience unite these families and spark new friendships for kids and adults alike," Pruett says. "There is a genuine camaraderie that springs from the fellowship that occurs in this setting, and I think that is the unexpected bonus of family camp."
Schmidt has seen a similar phenomenon at Camp Seafarer. "Camp lays the foundation for community relationships," she says. "We know of many instances where families meet at camp, stay in touch outside of camp and look forward to seeing each other again the following year."
Family camp is an affordable vacation option for families of all types and sizes. Lodging, meals and a plethora of activities are included for less than the cost of a one-week beach rental. Many family camps are offered during the summer, although some, such as Camp Seafarer, also offer weekend getaways at other times during the year.
What to do
Depending on the camp and its location, structured activities may include archery, volleyball, mountain biking, canoeing, swimming, arts and crafts, scrapbooking, fishing, disc golf, and more. Camp Seafarer's proximity to the coast enables it to include deep-sea fishing, shark-tooth hunts and a seamanship program among its list of activities. Family members can choose to participate together, or pursue individual interests.
Eat, sleep, bathe
Sleeping accommodations at most camps are bunk-style in communal cabins. One exception is Camp Tekoa, where each family is assigned its own cabin, equipped with a shower and two toilets. Heat and air conditioning are not universally available at all camps, so it is best to ask beforehand. Bathroom facilities vary from camp to camp, but most have toilets inside the cabins and shower stalls in a separate building. Meals are generally served in a dining hall where campers eat together, family-style.
For safety's sake
Safety should be a primary consideration when researching family camps. In addition to accreditation by the American Camp Association, camps that offer high ropes elements like zip-lines should also be accredited by the Association for Challenge Course in Technology. Camp equipment and facilities should be inspected by these organizations and/or an independent inspector, as well as the local health department, at least annually.
In case of accident or other health concerns, medical care and first aid should be readily accessible. Additionally, Lydia Warren, the senior program director at Camp Seafarer, urges parents to inquire about staff training and certification. "Lifeguards should be Red Cross- or YMCA-certified, and camp staff should undergo a rigorous screening process that includes background and reference checks, as well as extensive training in emergency procedures," Warren says. Due to its coastal location, Camp Seafarer also requires that its boat operators are licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Overall, family camp is about having fun. "When you rent a beach house, someone [usually mom] still needs to cook and clean and make sure everyone is entertained, but at camp, all of that is taken care of, so all you need to do is relax and enjoy being together," Schenck says.
Maria J. Mauriello is a Raleigh-based freelance writer, communications professional and mother of two.