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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Camp Birchwood

Many people the past few years have said to Leslie and I, "Why are you sending your girls to Minnesota to go to camp?" once they have gotten past that we are sending our girls away for two weeks at all.

The reason we are sending our girls away to Minnesota is because that is where Camp Birchwood is located. Why Camp Birchwood? Two reasons.

Reason one is because of our family connection to the camp. My Dad was a camper in the 1940's and 1950's at Camp Lincoln (still in existence) in Minnesota and he had as a counselor one Jim Bredemus. Dad and Jim became great friends, Dad was in Jim's wedding when he married Nancy, Camp Lincoln's owners' daughter. In the 1960's Jim and Nancy acquired some land on Steamboat Lake and started Camp Birchwood for girls. My Dad and Mom were part of getting the camp opened and spent some summers helping run the camp as counselors.

In the late 1960's my sister became a counselor at Birchwood and Jim and Nancy's daughter Sandy was one of her counselors, we now had two generations of campers and counselors between the Smith and the Bredemus families. In 1970 my brother and I went to the new boys camp, Camp Gunflint, that Jim and Nancy opened at the end of the Gunflint Trail, on the very edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and a short paddle from the Quetico Provincial Park in Canada. We had as a counselor Terry Bredemus, Jim and Nancy's son.

A few years ago my nephew Jack went to Gunflint and his counselor was Danny Bredemus, son of Terry and grandson of Jim. The Smiths now had their third generation of campers being taught by a Bredemus. Last year our daughters, Blaire and Jenna, became first time campers at Camp Birchwood where Terry and his wife Rachael run the camp.

So reason one for why we send our daughters to camp in Minnesota is legacy. Our daughters are part of our family legacy with the Bredemus family, and I look forward to the day when my first grandchild goes to Camp Birchwood for girls or boys.

Reason two for sending our girls to Camp Birchwood is life. The life they lead at camp is so much different than the one they lead at home. No hectic schedule of ballet, karate, music lessons, running here and there. No screens. No television, no video games, no computers, no Nintendos. No parents. That is the big one, no parents.

Our girls are being led by some fantastic young women who are carefully interviewed and selected by Terry and Rachel before they are brought onto the Birchwood staff. They hale from all parts of the country and abroad. The staff go through weeks of training and constant support to help them help their campers, from eight years old to high school. Our girls are encouraged to challenge themselves, to step outside of their comfort zones, to be part of the community and engage with the other campers. They rotate chores of cleaning the cabin, hopping food and dishes at meal time.

Camp Birchwood is not just a place to dump your kids for a few weeks and then their time is filled with time filling activities. At Birchwood each activity has a series of badges and awards the girls are encouraged to work towards giving them goals and markers for their achievements. At meal times when awards are given the entire camp cheers them on and shows their appreciation for what they have accomplished as they have once done it as well.

Since we showed up late Thursday evening Leslie and I have seen a horse show, an art show and a very good scaled down presentation of "The Wizard of Oz." Each of these exhibiting the skills of the campers involved.

Each day girls chose their activities for the following day choosing from dance, drama, arts and crafts, riflery, archery, horse back riding, sailing, water skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, photography, rock wall climbing, or perhaps they are off on a wilderness trip to the boys camps several hundred miles away to canoe and pack through the wilderness. Or an over night bike trip that my girls took.

Each activity is not just about getting through the activity but involves training, learning and getting better.

That is why we send our daughters to camp in Minnesota. If you want to change the life of your daughter, or son, or grandchild, or niece, nephew, send them to Camp Birchwood.

One more day of fun for Leslie and I before we start Part II: The Return of the Great American Roadtrip. Yesterday we went sailing and Leslie skippered a sailboat for the first time, so learning new skills is not just for young girls at Birchwood! In the late afternoon the weather turned from sunny to dark, cool and big gusts of wind. Satellite imagery showed a huge thunderstorm cell headed our way. Camp was quickly buckled down and everyone collected in the dining hall as the storm with 60 mile and hour gusts, lightening and hail the size of quarters just missing us.

Today the girls have normal activities while packing to leave tomorrow. The logistics of getting over two hundred kids to Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for their various flights is something to behold. But they do it every session, every year and do it well.

Tomorrow is an early start for us as we hit the road for about seven hundred miles to Mount Rushmore. I'm off to the dining hall for some breakfast.

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