Photo by Salt Water New England

Monday, May 7, 2018

Maine Coast Summer Camp Experiences in the 70s and 80s

Scratchy Photos by Salt Water New England
Phrases associated with many years at a Maine coast summer camp in the 70s and 80s:
  • Long walks to the bathroom.  At night.  Through the woods;
  • Getting ALS in Maine waters in May. (Assignment of swimming in full clothes turned from punishment to reward.);
  • Wormers in the woods before daylight;
  • Early sailboats and learning to bail;
  • Big wood shingled barns with nesting swallows, who would miraculously catch bugs in flight;
  • Nostalgic for electricity;
  • Going to the bathroom on a 5 day trip aboard a sailboat with no bathrooms;
  • Spending a few nights birding on Matinicus Rock;
  • Only knowing some famous songs as they were sung around a campfire.  Unnerved later when they came on the radio;
  • Calling home while wearing wool sweater to parents wearing shorts and short sleeves;
  • Reading dozens of books, but none from summer reading list;
  • Flashlight tag and Frisbee golf;
  • Composting toilets (aka solar one-holers);
  • Recalling the words of wisdom passed on by a colorful cook, "Wheatena is f*****g raunchy," as she served Wheatena; 
  • Decisions around swimming: the tide coming in was colder but clearer; the tide going out - after baking in the salt marsh - was warmer but... more interesting.
  • The sight of an elaborate spider's web, sparkling in the morning dew, created in just one night, across the only trail from cabins to the dining hall;
  • One of the midnight Beans runs the night before leading a big trip, and only enough cash for either a wool sweater or a raincoat.  Warm or dry, warm or dry?
  • Ospreys diving for fish;
  • Disproving breathability claims of early versions of Gortex;
  • Immature eagles;
  • Porcupines, skunks, and porcupines and skunks;
  • 7am swims when the ocean was warmer than the air;
  • Three wool blanket sleeping nights;
  • Becoming enamored with polyester fleece; Becoming unenamoured with polyester fleece;
  • Valuing people who were prepared over people who were fun and spontaneous; valuing clothes that were durable over any clothes that were not;
  • Old farmhouses with infinitely explorable attics;
  • Hiking while wet;
  • Cooking while wet;
  • Sleeping while wet;
  • Not sleeping while wet.


  1. Beautiful. Sumer is icumen in.

  2. My closest experience was Boy Scout (Webelos) camp as an adult leader. Some very cool kids there; fun activities. All the boys wanted a knife from the store. Highlight of the days were the evening meals, usually with entertainment. Peanut butter and jelly on the table for the hard-to-please. Noisy bus trip to camp; quiet bus trip home after a week. My proudest moment was getting my swimming badge (everyone had to pass a swimming test). Other memorable moments included campfire cooking for one night; discovering a rattlesnake on our all-day hike; outdoor showers; collapsing wall tents and tent inspection. First week of the season is best, even better with no rain.

  3. How I loved reading these reminiscences of summer camp! I wasn't in Maine (wanted to be!!) but was in the mountains of North Carolina for my summer camps in the 1960-70s, and I am still nostalgic about them.

  4. Yep, much of this sounds very similar to my YMCA summer camp experiences at Camp Conrad Weiser in SE Pennsylvania (1975-1980) when it was still just boys and well before digital gadgetry and being terminally wired to nervous parents was an issue with which camp staff had to contend.

    Best Regards,


  5. I remember "bug juice," which was something like Kool-Aid and served in tin pitchers at lunch and dinner, and being required to take salt tablets.

    1. Ah, yes. Bug juice. Even tangier than Kool-aid. Haven't thought of that in a long time.

      Best Regards,


  6. Sailing on the Eggemogin Reach in Manchester 17’s
    “On the Lake and By the Sea, Robin Hood Dear Robin Hood”

  7. Brings back fondest memories of summer & youth. Froze in the lake, baked in the sun, camped in the rain, plotted after lights out, eavesdropped our counselors (college age, so old!), jockeyed for hot water showers; popcorn around the camp fire & spooky stories. Never realized how much my parents missed us until it was my turn to send my kids off!

  8. One member of our extended family operates a girl's camp near Lewisburg, West Virginia. It seems like there is almost a requirement that a boy's camp is located nearby and in this case, there is.

  9. I was in Fenway cabin at Chewonki (shown in the photos) in the 60s. Loved the all-day Sunday scouting games on the lower peninsula, building lean-tos, climbing trees and scouring the shore lines... utterly uninterested in the day-long competition. One evening when the whole camp met around the flagpole for Taps, the counselor who was the bugler started playing an unfamiliar tune. He was from the south and was playing the Confederate version.

  10. I was able to attend a week of Boy Scout camp the summer of my twelfth birthday. I envied the kids who spent a healthy portion of almost every summer at camp. A steady diet of summer camp - in whatever form - scout camp, Outward Bound, NOLS, a trail crew - is one of the most valuable gifts a family can provide their children. They learn so many valuable life and leadership skills for “adulting”, a time that comes all too soon.

    1. I did Outward Bound as an adult and I kept thinking they were trying to kill us! Not so great pushing myself through self-imposed limits but, in the end, it was so rewarding and I was happy I had done it (and happy that it was OVER!)

  11. Summer camp on one of the lakes in Connecticut was something I looked forward to every year. Until, that is, I got a heckuva case of poison ivy. It was bad, very bad. Almost everyone got poison ivy. Some kids got it on their hands, went to the outhouse, and you can figure out the rest. It was a complete camp crisis.

    There were good experiences, too, like swimming a mile, canoeing, crafts, smoking behind an unused building with friends, group games, campfires, and just a lot of fun with other kids. But no matter how many lanyards I made, that poison ivy was still traumatizing. It was the last summer camp I attended.


  12. Nothing was more thrilling than being dropped off at summer camp with what amounted to limited supervision and plans that you'd been making all school year for mischief and more. Steamer trunks, nametags sewn on clothing labels, illicit cigarettes, and a stack of summer reading books that you never actually picked up because you were busy reading the coming-of-age stuff that the librarians kept under lock and key. I'd give just about anything to have one more teenage summer back - all the fun, none of the responsibility, and friendships that seemed so intense you couldn't imagine losing touch with these people. Yet, come September, you did...

  13. This rings so true, and reminds me of some of the best, and most meaningful summers of my life. In praise of old Kieve my boys hurrah hurrah hurrah!

  14. Not on the coast but loved my summers at Wyonegonic in Denmark, ME

  15. Camp Ganderbrook, Poland, Maine.

    At the start of the week I would be so lonely and homesick I thought I was serving a life sentence at MCI Walpole. Cry myself to sleep surrounded by strangers in a musty wet cabin. The time there would be seemingly stretched to an endless eternity.

    A week of games, crafts (plastic gymp!), tether ball, canoeing, s'mores, singing, and books, books, books and the days would fly by. Before you knew it, it was over and you had to go, you hated to leave, wondering where did the time go?"

    Kinda like life.

    The Concord Diaspora

  16. I remember a docu-series in the early 90s aimed at teenagers called "Bug Juice". It followed the children and staff for one summer at a camp (no recollection as to where).

    Being English I'd never heard of such a thing and begged my parents every year to send me. Suffice to say I never made it across the pond as an adventuring 10 year old. I shall never forgive them for not willingly handing me over at Heathrow.

    Instead I had to make do with a tatty 1980s paperback that saw a set of twin girls off to summer camp. I wish I could remember the title - I read it until it fell to pieces.

    To have these memories and opportunities - oh you truly are a lucky bunch!

  17. Summer camp in the mountains of Virginia - I wouldn't be who I am today without it. Some of my lifelong friendships were made there. Warm days, cold nights, even colder swimming in the springs, hiking, canoeing, bugs AND bug juice, care packages from home. There was really nothing better.