Summer camp is an American institution that dates to the late 19th century. There are more than 12,000 that operate in the U.S., from day camps to multi-week sleep-away programs. Millions of children and teens enjoy everything from astronomy, debate, backpacking and scuba diving to digital photography, magic, farming and aviation.

But the s’mores around a campfire are still there.

A few Highlands residents recently shared their memories from years gone by.

Pete Smith
Pete Smith

Fifty-five years ago, 6-year-old Pete Smith attended Camp Aleluia, a day program near Waterbury, Connecticut. He must have liked it. He returned every summer until he was 14, including stints as a junior counselor.

“It had a very ‘kumbaya’ vibe, and lots of nuns with guitars,” he recalls.

A self-described “camp runt,” he found that his stature didn’t limit him. “I won the pie-eating contest two years in a row!” he said.

But it was the beauty of the camp music and art that affected him most. “I’m sure it inspired me in my later life in the performing arts.”

Carol Filmanski
Carol Filmanski, at age 10

Not every 10-year-old relishes going to camp. In 1964, Carol Filmanski’s Sunday school teacher gave her a brochure for Quinipet Bible Camp. She made sure her mom never saw it.

“We thought our parents wanted to get rid of us, and torture us with the Bible!” Carol recalls.

The church paid each kid’s camp fee, and Carol was off to Shelter Island, like it or not.

“It was nothing like what I anticipated,” she admits. “We all had a fabulous time.”

Her days included swimming in Peconic Bay, while dodging the Portuguese man-o’-wars.

“And we had hikes to see the island’s abundant, large osprey,” Filmanski said.

She did have to attend vespers but that proved “pretty painless,” she recalls.

Filmanski said there was a sense of adventure at camp, sometimes in unusual forms. “All I could think of was that I could sleep on the fire escape!” (It was on the third floor of the old house that served as her cabin.)

One memory has lasted a lifetime, thanks to her friend Maureen.

“She had a boyfriend at camp; they were ‘an item,’ ” Filmanski recalled with a laugh. “We still talk about him to this day.”

Melanie Leonard
Melanie Leonard

For Melanie Leonard, summer camp was “everything horses,” for three summers until age 12. Her routine at Pony Farm, in Laconia, New Hampshire, meant getting up at 5:30 a.m. to muck stalls and feed the horses.

“You got a horse for the week; you’d take care of it like it was your own,” she recalled nearly 25 years later. “It was amazing.”

After chores, she got to ride. Campers could choose activities such as dressage, jumping and showing, but one adventure topped the list: riding to the swimming hole.

“We rode bareback, no bridle, just holding onto the mane,” Leonard said. “And you’d swim with your horse!”

There was more to camp than horses. “It grew so far beyond that,” she said, “It was the camaraderie; people came there from all over the country, and the world.

“It was the first place I ever sang in public, or did a theater performance,” she said. “It was the first time I had the confidence to do those things.”

It was day camp at the Garrison Art Center that impressed 14-year-old Caitlan Chadwick.

“It wasn’t a typical art camp,” she recalled of her experience a quarter-century ago. “Even though I went to a great high school in Westchester County, I was exposed to a lot of new things.”

GAC had a particular vibe, she said. “It was a breath of fresh air, like I had entered another world,” with programs such as printing on copper and paper-making.

Chadwick has a favorite memory: sitting by the river on a summer day, taking in the beauty of Garrison’s Landing. She captured the scene on a copper print that she still has.

Camp did present one difficulty — the commute from Westchester. Each morning she walked a mile to catch a bus to the Metro-North station, and took one train and then a second to get to Garrison. “It was a big commute for a 14-year-old,” she said.

Her perseverance paid off. She was asked to come back the next summer as a junior counselor and a year later as a counselor.

Michael Vierra
Michael Vierra

Michael Vierra was an away-camp “major leaguer,” attending both four-week sessions at Camp Wonposet in Litchfield, Connecticut, for three summers in a row, until age 14.

“It had everything,” he said, including equestrian activities, woodshop, drama, archery, riflery and waterskiing.

Certain camp traditions, such as the Saturday night fire, were considered “sacred,” Vierra said. “The owner had a vision, to connect people from around the world. My waterskiing guy was from Australia; the woodshop was run by a woman from Finland and a guy from Scotland.”

He remains especially fond of his second and third summers. Seniority meant extra privileges.

“There was great camaraderie; we got to eat together, stay up later and see a blockbuster movie every week,” he said. “I remember one was Men in Black; it was the ’90s.”

He also developed his social skills. “I learned if I was nice to the girl who did the juice call, I got an extra juice!”

A major highlight was the competition between the blue and red teams, culminating with the war-canoe race.

“There were 14 kids in each canoe,” Vierra said. “I remember paddling so hard, and winning two years in a row.”

Camp Wonposet closed after a 99-year run. Vierra has come to appreciate its history and belongs to a Facebook community for alumni.

“It’s amazing to talk to people who went there in the 1960s,” he said. “They sang the same songs, did many of the same activities; it’s really cool.”

Lori Moss
Lori Moss

Lori Moss experienced camp from a very different perspective. As assistant director of the Manitoga/Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison, she supervised its Nature and Design day camp for 5- to 12-year-olds from 2007 to 2014.

One of her fondest memories was seeing children learn.

“Watching them make the connections between nature and design, gaining insight into Russel Wright’s design of Manitoga, was beyond words,” she said. “Kids get it!”

Safety was paramount on the camp’s rough terrain and Moss has one especially vivid memory: A timber rattler showed up, followed by a copperhead. A “speed dial” call to a local reptile expert kept everyone safe.

She is passionate about what young people gain from attending camp.

“I firmly believe it instills a real respect for nature,” Moss said. “And the biggest benefit is learning how to work with others as part of a collaborative team.”

Summer Camps Guide

4th Wall Theater Camp
Hopewell Junction
845-702-1190 |
Improv, musical theater and acting day camps will be held from weeks of July 4 to Aug. 1 for grades 1 to 8 with nightly high school acting camp the week of July 25. Cost: $145 (night), $295 (day)

All Sport Camp Fit
845-896-5678 |
Ten weekly camps will be held from June 27 to Aug. 29 for ages 4 to 12. Cost: $295 per week (members $265)

Army Sports
West Point
845-938-7223 |
The U.S. Military Academy offers a variety of athletic camps for children and teens, including those for baseball, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, lacrosse, rugby, wrestling, softball, cross-country, track and field and volleyball.

Arts on the Lake Music
845-228-2685 |
The nonprofit arts center will host three camp weeks for students in grades 6 to 12 devoted to band (July 11), chorus (July 11) and orchestra (July 21) and taught by Carmel school district teachers. Cost: $100

Ballet Arts Studio
845-831-1870 |
The studio will offer weeklong workshops in ballet, pointe, modern dance, theater dance, contemporary and hip hop beginning June 27.

Beacon Music Factory
845-765-0472 |
The school will offer a teen songwriting camp, teen percussion ensemble camp and 5-week adult rock camps.

Be Creative as Possible
845-905-2338 |
Seven weekly camps will be held from June 27 to Aug. 8 for ages 3 to 6 (storytelling, space, water, nature, fantasy worlds, dinosaurs, farm). Cost: $300 per week

Black Rock Forest
845-534-4517 |
Five weekly sessions of summer science will run from July 11 to 25 for students ages 11 to 15. Cost: $425 per week

Camp at the Camp
845-765-8440 |
The city’s Recreation Department plans to hold two 2-week sessions for children ages 5 to 11 and counselors-in-training ages 12 to 15, the first starting July 11 and the second July 25. Registration opens April 5 for Beacon residents and April 6 for everyone. Cost: $500 per session ($625 non-residents)

Camp Kinder Ring
Hopewell Junction
845-221-2771 |
This camp, which was founded in 1927 and operates June 26 to Aug. 14, has a waiting list.

Camp Nabby
Mohegan Lake
914-528-7796 |
The camp offers eight sessions starting June 27. There is a three-week minimum and fees start at $2,400 for the preschool program and $3,150 for junior (ages 4½ to 8½) and senior (ages 8½ to 13) camps. There are also leadership and counselor-training programs for ages 14 and 15.

Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries
The Friars organize three programs over the summer: The Summer Outreach Week for middle and high school students at St. Joachim’s Church in Beacon (June 27 to July 1), which is $50 per day or $225 for the week; a mission trip to Harlan, Kentucky from July 9 to 17; and the Catholic Literature and Arts Summer Program from July 31 to Aug. 6 at the Mt. Alvernia Retreat Center in Wappingers Falls.

Clearpool Camp
825-225-8226 |
Three sessions starting June 27 for preschoolers to Grade 8. There are also leaders-in-training and counselors-in-training programs. Cost: $310 to $345 per week

Common Ground Farm
Wappingers Falls
845-231-4424 |
Eight weekly camps will occur from July 5 to Aug. 26 for ages 4 to 12. Cost: $325 per week

Compass Arts
917-648-4454 |
There will be four weekly camps for ages 3½ to 6 for $180 to $220 per week; a photography camp for ages 11 to 14 (July 25) for $335 and a two-week performing arts camp (Aug. 22) for students entering the fifth to ninth grades for $600.

The Foundry Montessori
Cold Spring
The school will offer weeklong programs for children ages 4 to 6 from July 5 to Aug. 12.

Garrison Art Center
845-424-3960 |
The art center offers two camps: Summer Arts on the Hudson, which runs for two or four weeks starting June 27 for students entering kindergarten through the eighth grade ($825 per session), and the two-week Summer Art Institute for high school students ($1,125) that begins July 25.

Hudson Hills Montessori
845-831-1100 |
The school will have camps for children ages 3 to 6 from late June through August. Call for information.

Kiwi Country Day Camp
914-276-2267 |
Kiwi has a camp for students entering the first through 8th grades for up to eight weeks, as well as preschool and counselor-in-training programs. Camp begins on June 27 and continues through Aug. 19. The minimum session is 4 weeks for about $5,000.

Manitou School
845-809-5695 |
The school will offer camps from July 5 to Aug. 12 for children ages 3 to 5 and 6 to 11, as well as a counselor-in-training program for students ages 12 to 17. Cost: $375 per week ($300 for July 5 week)

Philipstown Recreation
845-424-4618 |
Camps for preschoolers to Grade 12 run weekly starting June 27 and include sessions devoted to sports and theater and the Junior Fire Academy. Registration opened March 21 for residents and will open Monday (March 28) for non-residents. Although most camps are full and have waiting lists, there are still openings in sports and theater camps, the free fire academy (July 25) and for some grades in the day camps. Cost: $155 per week ($170 non-residents)

Renegades Baseball
Wappingers Falls
The minor-league Hudson Valley Renegades will offer a basic skills camp for ages 6 to 14 starting July 18, a pitching and hitting camp for ages 8 to 14 starting Aug. 1 and an advanced skills camp for ages 8 to 14 starting Aug. 15. Cost: $275

Rose Hill Manor
845-831-4847 |
The school will offer day camps for children ages 5 to 12 for nine weeks beginning June 27. Call for information.

School of Rock
845-835-0001 |
Five weekly camps will take place from July 11 to Aug. 8 for ages 7 to 18, including modern indie rock, classic rock, best of the ’90s, pop legends and ’80s rock. Cost: $500

St. Philip’s Nursery School
845-424-4209 |
The school will host five weekly camps from June 20 to July 22 for children ages 2 to 5. Daily from 9:05 a.m. to noon. Cost: $140 to $175 per week

Surprise Lake Camp
845-265-3616 |
Camp opens June 28. Tours for prospective campers are scheduled for April 3 and April 10. Cost: $395 to $9,000

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features