This has been true since its founding in 1951. In fact, most of the structures and facilities around camp have been built up not only under the direction of the Erdmann family, but with the combined foresight and initiative from our counselors. Without them, few of our favorite in-camp facilities would be around, and even fewer traditions that generations of campers have enjoyed would exist.
In recent years however, we’ve had to focus more on maintenance than lofty projects. Many an alumni can testify after a quick tour of the facilities that camp seems to never change, remaining as timeless as its natural landscapes. For better or worse, this has been the general course of camp development for practically decades…
But no more. This year, much of our staff headed up to the great Northwoods ahead of schedule and got to work immediately.
sketching up new designs for a paddle ball court, a bouldering wall, a volley ball court with sand, and an expansive vegetable and herb garden. Beyond this, some of the decades-old problems that have afflicted our Mess Hall, Rec Hall and other buildings are finally being addressed. We’re even bringing back War Canoe tripping in a big way. These are but some of the improvements we’ll be making this year and in years to come.
“Hmmm…” you think to yourself, “these are interesting changes but… Will it really happen? And why now all of a sudden?”
I would have had the same skepticism, had I not personally seen how motivated our staff are about this. In fact, as I sit in the Mess Hall writing this at six in the morning, gazing across the camp bay as it gently mists outside, sipping my coffee next to a warm fire, I’m starting to realize how absurdly sore I am. We’ve been digging, hauling, and building from sunrise to sundown before pre-camp has even officially started.
While it’s true that this year all but one of our staff are veterans, I don’t think it’s a matter of staff. It’s that camp is finally growing again. This year, we’ve gone back to the traditional two session format. We’ve invested more in our online presence and reach than ever before. We’ve built an online registration system and continue to further optimize the website. We’ve created a beautiful photo gallery that everyone can access.
But perhaps most of all, we’ve seen engagement from our alumni base that we haven’t seen in many years. People really are coming out of the woodworks to get in touch. An alumni Facebook group was started in April of 2016 by Doug Merriman. Photos, stories, and memories are shared there on almost a daily basis. What’s more, a growing number of alumni seem to be planning trips for themselves this season.
This season, we’re ecstatic about the influx of campers we’ll have this summer. While the overnight summer camp industry as a whole suffered setbacks after the financial crisis of 2007-08, it seems to finally be on the rebound. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon to have less than 20 campers per session, a far cry from the 90+ campers of the late 70s. Now, we’ll be well into the 30s with room to grow throughout the summer.
Beyond economics, camping and more specifically wilderness adventure is on the minds of more people. As discussed in a previous WELK Radio Podcast, there’s a very real and growing demand among adults to “get away from it all,” including technology. With a desire to get unplugged, many are planning their own camping trips into the great wilderness areas of the United States. So naturally, for those with kids, an overnight summer camp that specializes in wilderness tripping has some great appeal!
Moving forward, we’re looking to keep improving, growing, and hearing from (and hopefully seeing in person!) more of our alumni this season. As we like to say, word of mouth has been and continues to be the best way for camp to grow. We’ve still got cabins to fill and plenty of fuel for the wood burning sauna, so spread the word!