Tag Archives: summer camp

Campfire Tales | 8/13/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

Fifty days ago, over 500 kids began to arrive in this special place in Beach Lake, PA. About 20 days before that, the first of over 200 staff members began their orientation and training for their roles as leaders and role models for those campers. Approximately 290 days before that, our year-round directors wrapped up the 2021 season and began preparing for a program meant to instill meaningful values, started building an inimitable community and culture to reflect our camp’s past and future, and kicked-off developing the fun that children truly deserve while they spend time with their friends in this awesome place. Here, in this uniquely familial and intentional environment; here, among the trees that surround Chestnut Lake and nestled in the Poconos Mountains; here, with the endless flow of smiles and the sounds of voices filled with spirit and laughter echoing through each and every day of vibrant activity. The evidence of what works about camp is right here, and it’s as clear today as it ever was before.

This summer has been inspiring. With only one day left together (and tonight’s extra-special Campfire), this group of campers and staff will finish packing and will depart from our home here at Chestnut Lake Camp. Of course, there will be joy in returning to our home lives; we’ll have our favorite meals, will reconnect with family and friends, and will share stories and special moments with others to try to describe what went on over these weeks. But the events of this summer – for me and for so many other Chestnut Lakers – will make the transition back into the “Real World” tough. There are some things that we have seen and been a part of while here at camp that simply cannot be duplicated or even understood at home.

At home, we seldom get to witness the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of a young adult caring for someone else’s child in the way that it happens here. Many of our counselors – those that may have grown up here and those that have made Chestnut their new home this summer – have extended and challenged themselves to make sure their campers are safe and able to develop their own identities and independence here. There are the regular embraces, pats on the back, high-fives, fist-bumps, and kids and staff arm-in-arm that show the essence of what happens here every day that may never be possible at home. The relationship between the young adults and children at camp is one of the things that we leverage to teach and affect in a totally immersive environment, and that cannot be imitated in someone’s home or school, or most other settings. Camp is a place where we can make fun of ourselves, where we can compete with compassion, and where we can let ourselves make an incredible mess and then clean up afterward because we care about how we take care of this place and each other.

When I return home, I will miss the opportunity to work with so many amazing leaders. It’s been so gratifying to see our staff accept challenges to further their skills and develop themselves into people that are sure to make a difference in the world. Counselors at camp work hard and are pushed to maintain such high standards that might be unheard of at home. Ask a counselor after the summer is over if they learned anything working at camp and be prepared for a long list of insights that will make them more capable and confident students, employees, and even parents (someday) in the lives that they live away from Chestnut Lake. Those that have led them – the “Blue Team” and “Upper Leadership Team” members that have dedicated themselves to round-the-clock oversight and commitment to camp and the campers’ needs – have done mostly thankless work, and without them, our directors would never be able to successfully steer this ship nor would our camp parents at home be able to hear about all the successes their children will have had while at camp. And of course, there have been all the staff members that care for health and wellness, feed us, keep camp clean and working, and so many others that are part of this community and contributed each day to everything coming together.

At the end of the summer, I’m always reminded of the core principles of camp that go beyond what type of camp this might be: we are an immersive experience that is without a child’s parents for an extended period of time. We create a virtual city for a couple of months that attends to every need of its residents, including every aspect of their experience. We have parents choosing to send their sons and daughters to us to be taken care of by – essentially – strangers, and the only contact that they have directly with their children tends to be through slow-paced and often too-brief letters, the viewing of a handful of photos, and maybe one or two phone calls. And we do all of this for weeks at a time. It’s kind of nutty when you really think about it. But that’s also what makes it awesome and so different from anything else.

Like all of us here, I will leave in the coming weeks to restart my life at home with Ann. Our family will reconnect briefly before saying goodbye again to our daughter as she returns to college. I’ll lose track of the amazing routine created here at Chestnut Lake, and I’ll miss the people here more and more each day. I will go from a world where everyone says, “Hi” to one where people tend to look at the ground or at their ubiquitous screens as they pass you. I won’t putter around in a golf cart from place to place to engage with young people when I leave here. And I won’t get to see children growing up right before my eyes. I’ll have to wait – just like them – for the countdown to camp to slowly reach zero when we come back for the summer of 2023.

It’s been a summer of new experiences and development at Chestnut Lake. After the summer of 2021– a difficult restart after almost two years apart from each other, coinciding with the start of our tenure as directors – we have helped to celebrate what camp is really about. We’ve protected the foundation that was started here before us, and have started to build around and on top of it to be sure that our camp will be strong forever.

I will continue to relish the opportunity to share my passion for camp, whether sitting at the Campfire each week with campers and staff or dreaming of the next time I’m together with them in this extraordinary spot in Beach Lake, PA. I have cherished the moments that we have enjoyed together in 2022, and I hope that every child and adult that has been here does, too.

Thank you for this incredible summer.

Campfire Tales | 7/29/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

The Tribal Campfire is fantastic. We gather the campers in our usual spot near the woods on the way to the lake, and we use storytelling and ritual to inspire excitement and camp spirit. The two Tribal War teams (Unami Turtles and Minsi Wolves, dressed in their white and green outfits and belting out cheers and songs) sit in two sections of the site, while our first-time campers are wearing their red Chestnut Lake Tribal t-shirts awaiting the official news of which team they will forever join. Tonight, without the threat of rain, we were able to incorporate all the rituals we cherish at Chestnut for this special night.

To begin, I read the Tribal Story (you can click here and see the same words we shared tonight). The story connects the dots between Chestnut Lake Camp’s history and the sustenance of the Tribal tradition. Following the recitation of this tale, our campers on the Minsi Wolves and Unami Turtles move to line the bridge to the lake, each team standing across from each in the Tribal colors. The first-time campers in red make their way through this gauntlet and arrive at the lake to perform the Tribal Oath (also available to read here).

When the campers return to the Campfire Site, they learn of their team by virtue of the white or green pain that is added to their cheeks by our camp leadership team. They turn to face their friends, and they react to the responses those new teammates have to the paint seen on their faces. Now, they are part of a new community. Forevermore, they will be either Minsi or Unami.

The ceremony tonight is analogous to our first week at camp. Our Full Summer and Second Session campers that have either been here all summer or are back after a previous season here are our leaders. Their job – while they are enjoying themselves and able to just be kids in such a remarkable place – is to help our new campers settle in and discover the joy that we have here in Beach Lake. During the first 5 days, they did so with 50 additional campers here to experience Discovery Camp. And now, as they continue through a sprint through our remaining two weeks of the summer, they have indoctrinated their peers into the Tribal experience. All that remains now is to wait and see when Tribal will be “broken” in a creative way, and then the actual games will begin.

We keep track of the Tribal winners each session and from summer to summer. But there is no doubt that we all win when we can dive into such a meaningful activity and connect each camper to one another and to the rich history – and future – that we have at Chestnut Lake.

Campfire Tales | 7/16/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

I started as a camp director in 1994. It was a camp that had been open for 75 years by that point and had a rich history. Later in my career, I ran a camp that was 60 years old, similarly established, and entrenched in traditions that had withstood the test of time. I’ve worked as a consultant with many camps that were even older. But I also have opened camps, supported newer camps, and now – with such honor – I relish the chance to work with Ann here, at Chestnut, where we are still at the earlier stages of our development into a camp that will be around forever.

What makes a “forever” camp? How do you know that a camp is even beginning to reach that stage when what you’re seeing throughout the summer is something that’s going to be truly sustainable? Lots of ways. Too many to share in a short post that is about our weekly Campfire. But there were two things that happened at (and before) the Campfire this week that represent a special element of Chestnut that has already been built and is anchored in our identity, and another that is evidence of new growth.

Our sister camp, Trail’s End, started Chestnut 15 years ago. In doing so, they allowed Chestnut to borrow from many decades of proven success to give our new camp a head start. Many of the elements of Chestnut that our campers have come to enjoy were derivative of something at Trail’s End. One such program was the “Community Service Award.” It continues to be representative of what Chestnut is all about, and last night was an example of why.

Throughout the week, Head Counselors make “nominations” available for campers and staff members to present a case for someone they know to be selected for a Community Service Award. A special 4″x4″ round patch that has the recognition stitched into it is handed to the recipients after the nomination is read by the person or persons that selected them. Last night, a stream of campers from many Divisions stood before our camp family and shared beautiful perspectives on how others had helped them, befriended them, listened to them, celebrated them, comforted them, and cared for them. The words were honest and powerful; the Head Counselors shared that they had many more nominations than they could choose for the Campfire, so we will have more recognition to tackle throughout the rest of our Session. When campers applaud and yell to support their friends that are being distinguished for doing great things, your camp is on its way towards forever status.

The next measurable example of growth started the night before the Campfire. As you all know, we are approaching the start of our Tribal War (Color War) between the Unami Turtles and Minsi Wolves. In the last few days – with only about one week left in the Session – the campers have started to ask when our Tribal Break will come. It is an eternal question. So, too, are, “Who will the Chiefs be?” and “When will you be announcing the Chiefs?” (Note: “Chiefs” are the male/female staff members that are chosen to lead each team – it is considered a coveted honor). Our camp leaders come up with countless ways to answer without divulging anything. But in the past, there does come an inevitable point at Chestnut Lake when the community (or at least some of its sharp members) realize that the Break of Tribal must be happening tonight. They notice that we might be at an all-camp program, they pick up signals that something off-beat or surprising will be happening, and although there is still a great deal of excitement when we announce the start of our favorite program and read the names of each Chief, once the Break begins, everyone knows what’s next. That is where a “Fake Break” comes in.

We do not like to lie to children. And we are all about kindness at Chestnut. But a bit of trickery and fanfare can go a long way to building suspense and excitement about an already-special event. That is what we did on Thursday night. And then we did it again on Friday (at the Campfire).

As we ended an awesome all-camp Lip Sync Battle, we turned off the lights in the Basketball Stadium and fireworks started to stream from behind in the woods. Music started blaring, and I walked with a bright orange bag in my hands to center court. Anyone at camp before knew that this was the Tribal Break and in my hands was the list of Chiefs, and any new camper jumped right in so that they, too, could claim to know what was going on. I calmed everyone down, removed the envelope from the bag, and with a bit of flair, announced a Fake Break. A moment of devastation was followed by minutes of joy. A surprise. More suspense. A bigger deal. It’s what we needed. And it is the mark of a forever camp.

At our Friday night Campfire, we did it again. A bit more subtly (which made it so much more believable as a real Break) but no less effective. The only thing better than one Fake Break is two Fake Breaks. That’s what forever camps do.  And that is what we can do at Chestnut Lake.

Campfire Tales | 7/8/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

Preparing for this week’s special Campfire (called the “Varsity Campfire” because it allows our Varsity teens the chance to facilitate the weekly camp-wide gathering) came with great anticipation. I listened in a bit (kind of secretly!) to the plans and heard some of the cool things they were planning, and I looked forward to sitting in the Basketball Stadium to watch our weekly highlight video with the whole camp and then head to the Campfire Site to watch the Varsity teens take over. That part alone makes it awesome, as I was to have no role tonight other than to enjoy listening and joining their first chance to lead something as meaningful as our weekly Campfire gathering.

The community was treated to an amazing Varsity Campfire. They performed so well and brought the spirit out of our campers and staff to mark the end of our second week of camp. Since the program ended, so many people are talking about how well they did, and they should be feeling really proud.

But I missed it.

Being unable to sit and witness our young leaders and their staff do something great is one of the most important things that I could have been doing tonight, and really at just about any time. It is also one of the gifts of being in charge of a camp. Unlike parents or others that can only hear about or see still images of some of those great moments, I get to watch in real-time and be fully a part of it. But I’m also running a summer camp. And today was a day with lots of moving parts and one particular project (the decision, communication, and ongoing planning of some changes to 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th-grade trips this session) needed my attention until now (you can read an update about this in a separate email sent to all families). This kept me away from a great moment, but I accept that sometimes I will have to do something that I would rather not do, and sometimes I am dealt a hand that feels a bit unfair and I know that I have to just press on.

Ironically, that is also what our Varsity teens had to deal with today. Just hours before needing to get up in front of the whole camp and show everyone how much they love this place and model leadership for others, they learned that some of the trips that many of them had been looking forward to all year (some Varsity participants have waited for many years to experience these trips, really) would be changed. Another summer dealing with unique protocols and the concerns of our community’s health and the “greater good” informed my decision to pivot from these long-anticipated trips with multiple days spent many miles away to day trips that would not extend beyond the types of experiences that we have already executed for campers this summer. They would still have so much opportunity for fun, but it is a change. Change can be hard. And then a short time later they needed to stand before the campers that look up to them and lead a Campfire that people really care a lot about. And they nailed it.

Next week will bring another Campfire, and I am hopeful that I will have the ability to be there. But today I can only give my apologies and offer my deep respect and congratulations to the Varsity teens and their staff that set aside any feelings of uneasiness for being great examples of what Chestnut Lake is all about. And I guess I can join all the parents that will be hitting “refresh” tomorrow on the Campanion app to see the pictures.

Campfire Tales | 7/1/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

We often say that a day at camp is like a week, a week at camp is like a month, and a month at camp is like a year. If that’s true – and it does feel that way thus far in our 2022 camp season at Chestnut Lake – we’ve had one amazing month in the last week here in Beach Lake.

There has been so much activity, so much that our campers have had a chance to already try for the first time, and so many things that our returning campers may be returning to from previous years. There are relationships that are growing deeper, and countless new ones are taking shape. Counselors and leaders of programs are working so hard and the impact of that is being seen visibly on the faces of kids, and it’s being felt by the vibe around camp. The vibe is…pretty amazing.

That was evident last night.

The Tribal Campfire is one of the truly special moments of the summer, as it represents the intersection of camp tradition, ritual, community, history, and the welcoming of new members into our family. Coming together last night at the Campfire site was the pinnacle of a week’s worth of activities. But the anticipation of kicking off our Tribal War (color war) experience brought even more energy. Campers were seated wearing their Green Unami Turtles or White Minso Wolves spirit gear unless they were a new camper or staff member wearing red. The campers at Chestnut for their first summer had the chance to don their red Tribal t-shirt that was sent to them during the year after they enrolled in camp. The cheers from the Unami and Minsi teams – I continue to be amazed that campers away from Chestnut for 10 or 11 months can remember the many ridiculous and intense cheers that they learned in the previous summer! – were loud and passionate. I quieted the crowd, stepped to the podium in front of our entire community, and began…

“Long ago on this very land…”

You can read the rest of the tale (click here to access the Tribal Campfire Story) to get a sense of the context of Tribal’s beginnings and the essence of the program for our campers and staff that begins soon.

Ann and I are really proud of the staff here at Chestnut that has contributed to each and every aspect of our first week’s strong beginning. The team of people that leads Chestnut, supports Chestnut in every area, and is on the ground with campers being Chestnut is outstanding. As we move from the first week – or the first month! – to the next, we know that the new fun that campers will have can be layered onto a strong foundation.

We can’t wait to share more insight into what your children are up to here at Chestnut Lake, and we hope that our camp parents at home are starting to settle in as well. Thank you for letting your kids be here with us, and stay tuned for much more to come…

 

Introducing CLC’s New Assistant Director

We are excited to announce that Ali Koenig will be our new full-time Assistant Director. Ali joined CLC last summer as the Kaya Division Leader and quickly became one of the leaders of camp. Whether in the bunks, on the fields or at line-up, Ali’s positive energy and welcoming smile has an impact on everyone she comes in contact with. She has a passion for camp and we look forward to her working with us all year long.

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For as long as I can remember, I have always loved summer camp.     I had the privilege of attending camp as I grew up and the memories, friendships, and opportunities that camp provided me are still with me today. I am now lucky enough to go to summer camp each and every day! I am very excited for the opportunity to work full time with the Chestnut Lake and Trail’s End Camp families. I had an amazing first summer at Chestnut Lake as the Kaya Division Leader and through my campers, staff and the rest of the CLC Family, I was able to learn the meaning of “our summer home.”

I grew up in Colleyville, Texas; a suburb just outside of Dallas/Ft. Worth. I played competitive soccer growing up and continued my passion for the sport playing at Jacksonville State University. I received a Bachelors of Science in Physical      Education and continued my education working as a graduate assistant in the athletic department at JSU. I will receive a Masters of Education with a major in Physical Education this December. I am looking forward to continuing my growth as the Assistant Director of Chestnut Lake Camp “Bringing out the Best” in         everyone!

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We Love Chestnut Lake Summer Camp!

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Jake and Lucy Sher just completed their first summer at Chestnut Lake and wanted to share some of their favorite things about the Summer of 2015.

Jake Sher:

My first summer at Chestnut Lake Camp was one of the best summers that I’ve ever had. Even though I missed my parents the first day, all the fun stuff at CLC made it easy to be away from home.

One of my favorite things about CLC is the food, because there are so many different varieties of things that you can eat. I really like the chicken nuggets and the french toast! The food was the best!

I really like the bunks because you have a lot of space for your stuff. The counselors were awesome. They didn’t act like a parent, but almost like a big brother or sister. I     really liked my counselors, David, Martin and Joe, who slept in my bunk. I also really liked my division leader, Curtis, and my bunk’s partners, Garin and Joe (aka J-Fresh).

Two of the best activities were Outdoor Adventure (which includes ziplines, rock       climbing and ropes course) and the lake. At the lake, I loved the inflatables like the    water trampoline, the Blob and the Rock-it.

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Another thing I really enjoyed about CLC was Tribal. I really liked the activities and the friendly competition. I’ll never forget when I ran from the soccer field to Outdoor          Adventure as part of the Apache relay race. Unami Turtles forever! These are some of the things that made my first summer at CLC the best. I can’t wait until next year!

Lucy Sher:

My first summer at Chestnut Lake was one of the best times I’ve ever had. At first, when I got there, I didn’t know anyone and I was a little nervous. But after a while, I got to know a lot of kids and a lot of counselors who were so nice and friendly. It felt like home, and I didn’t want to leave.

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The counselors were like big sisters. Without them, I don’t know what I would do! One of my counselors, Kenzie, even taught me how to play the ukulele. The counselors are       always there for you whenever you need them, and they always know what’s best.

 

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One of my favorite activities is the lake. Once I even got to eat breakfast at the lake. At the lake, there’s always lots to do, and you can have so much fun. Another activity I like is basketball. I started playing basketball before I went to camp, and I really liked it. But at Chestnut Lake, it was so different. The counselor who taught me how to play was really nice and he knew how to help make me a better player. I love playing basketball at Chestnut Lake!

 

Outdoor Adventure is a really special thing that I think everyone needs in their life! At OA, these are some of the things you get to do: rock climbing, ziplining, climbing ropes, and working on skills that you’ve never worked on before. And last but not least, Tribal is my favorite activity because there’s so much to do and so much competition. That’s one of the things I like best. It was one of the best experiences to be an Unami Turtle.

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I love Chestnut Lake because the first time I went, it felt like family. I can’t wait to go back next summer!

 

My Best Summer at Chestnut Lake Camp!

At the end of every summer as campers return home, they always have many stories and special moments to share from their summer at Chestnut Lake. We thought it would be fun to connect with some of our first year campers and find out first hand about their summer at camp and what they loved the most about CLC.

First up is Drew Bick who attends camp with his brother, David.

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“My first summer at CLC was awesome. I had great counselors and a great Division Leader named Mike. My favorite part of camp was going to the Lake. There were so many fun inflatables like the blob, the swing and slide. All of our evening activities were awesome: some are shows, some are talent shows and some are sports. My favorite activity was fruit ninja. Your counselor throws you a water balloon and you try to hit it with a baseball bat-whoever hits the most wins. Paul and Debbi are great. There are a lot more activities at CLC than what I told you like all kinds of sports and free play time. And the food is great!  That’s why this was my best summer!”

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Next up is Claire Lenkin who attends camp with her brothers, Ethan and Noah.

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“For my first summer at CLC, I was in lower Yazhi. My favorite activities were Lake and OA (Outdoor Aventure). The Lake is SO much fun. You can go tubing and waterskiing!! They also have paddleboarding, fishing, a blob and a rope swing on the water trampoline. During Visting Day, your Dad can blob you very high!! My Dad blobbed me 10 feet in the air!  At OA, you go on the humongous zip line and the flying squirrel. They also have archery and rock climbing.

Another exciting part of the summer was when I found out which Tribal team I was on. I am a Minsi Wolf. One of my favorite parts of camp was Tribal. There are lots of fun activities like Apache Relay  and Rope Burn!  For one of my night activities, we went on a cookie hunt. Also, if your parents don’t let you stay up late at home you can stay up at camp! You also have a special snack in bed called Midnight snack. During Midnight snack you can read during “Flashlight Time”. Flashlight time is just time when you can read, whisper with your friends or doodle with your flashlight.

If you have siblings at camp sometimes at lunch there is a sibling cookout so you can eat lunch with your sibling. I had 2 older brothers at camp – Noah and Ethan.  One time in Arts and Crafts I made a wooden letter holder. In art and crafts there is sewing, woodworking, cooking and video. Also in sewing you can make pillows.  I can’t wait to go back next summer to see the new friends I made at camp. I loved my  counselors and Chestnut Lake!  That’s why this was my best summer!”

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A Summer Camp Tradition at CLC

Every summer, Lou and Sue Flego visit Chestnut Lake Summer Camp for one of the campers’ favorite traditions: Square Dancing! Younger campers learn simple calls like “Up to the middle with a tap, tap, tap.” while returning campers perfect calls like “Step to an ocean wave.” For two days, the campers practice in their 8-person sets, preparing for the competition on the final night.

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Once the squares are set, the girls take over and coordinate what each set will wear. The build-up to the final competition is pretty intense. The championship bracelets that the winners receive are highly coveted at Chestnut Lake Camp. The campers show up for the final competition decked out in coordinating outfits…there is plenty of plaid and pigtails!

Before the competition begins, Sue lightens the mood with some line dancing. Staff and campers join in as they slide and turn to “Popcorn” and “Montego Bay.” Once the line dancing is finished, the sets form their squares and prepare for the dance-off. Counselors take their spots outside of the squares, cheering on their campers and coaching them through the difficult calls. Lou, Sue, Debbi and Paul judge the squares and ask the sets that miss calls to sit down. After a while, there are only two sets left. Lou pauses to congratulate the final two squares and then moves them to the center.

As the music starts back up, all of the campers and counselors cheer the final sets on as they concentrate on executing each and every call. After the calls become more and more difficult, Lou finally has one of the sets sit down, which means that the only square still standing has won the special Lou & Sue bracelets!

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Square Dancing with Lou and Sue is a favorite Summer Camp Tradition at Chestnut Lake!

Chestnut Lake Summer Camp 4th of July Regatta

The first week of Chestnut Lake Summer Camp 2015 has been amazing! We started preparing for our 4th of July celebration on Saturday.  The lower campus decorated their bunks in patriotic themes while the upper campus turned our golf carts into parade floats.

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On the afternoon of the 4th, our older campers organized a parade for the younger campers. Kaya, Sani and Varsity marched in formation and drove their floats down Chestnut Lake Avenue. As the procession passed the campers, the Kaya, Sani and Varsity threw candy as everyone cheered. Uncle Sam even made a guest appearance at Chestnut Lake Summer Camp!

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Next up for our Independence Day celebration was Regatta. Campers organized into their tribes and started preparing to sail their boats in the pool, but first they watched their division leaders compete in a belly busting competition which was amusing as well. Later that evening the whole camp gathered together on the slope.  We all joined in for the singing of the National Anthem. As the National Anthem ended, our annual fireworks display began high above the stage.

Now the campers are anxiously waiting to see their families on Visiting Day at Chestnut Lake Summer Camp!