If you follow along with the latest health and fitness trends, you’re likely to encounter some unique and unfamiliar concepts: Wearable Technology, Cryotherapy, Foam Rolling…Control Pause Breathing. That’s not to say that there are not benefits to each of those; it’s certainly important to always keep in mind that health and wellness practices are always evolving.
But a surprisingly familiar concept to many summer camp alumni has been getting a lot of attention from the mainstream lately. Within the past year alone, the practice of taking a sauna has been purported to have benefits ranging from lowering the risk of chronic health problems, to lowering the odds of risk of dying from heart disease.
Many of the studies espousing the health values of saunas are coming out of Finland, a country that is famous for having more than two million saunas. The word “sauna,” itself, is Finnish, and likely comes from the word “savuna,” which indicates that saunas in long-ago Finland were warmed by a combination of fire and smoke. Historians trace the first American saunas to Finnish settlers along the East Coast approximately one decade after the Pilgrims settled the Plymouth Colony.
On the camp peninsula, the sauna has its own unique history. It was part of the initial camp property that Charlie Erdmann purchased in 1950. It burned down in 1962 as campers were enjoying a Saturday night spaghetti dinner, and it was rebuilt by Dave Cserep the following summer.* In more modern times, the sauna’s stove was replaced in the late 1990s. And the whole sauna interior was also given a major facelift (which included fixing a sagging roof) by Jeff Kemmer and Mark Sherman in the early 2000s.
Amid all the changes, the Camp Voyageur sauna has remained an integral part of every Free Swim period. When campers say they are going “to the dock” or going for a dip in the lake, it also means they’ll probably make a pit stop at the sauna. And when campers and counselors come back to camp from a canoeing or hiking trip, the soothing and cleansing heat of the sauna is about as enjoyable as a hot Mess Hall dinner.
At camp, we’ve known a hot sauna to be great for decades. But to the rest of the world, it seems that saunas are suddenly…hot.
*NOTE: Camp record keeping has the original sauna meeting its untimely demise in 1962, but it is possible that this is inaccurate by a year. Were you present at camp when the original sauna burned down? Help us out with our fact-checking and let us know any details in the comments section below.