Unplug, fall in love with nature or more

Photo courtesy K. Collier
Kayla Collier and groom Ben Collier on their wedding day at Mount Norris camp, Oct. 1, 2016.

By Kayla Collier

Most people today have a hard time putting down their devices so they can listen to nature and enjoy the fresh air. However, at Mount Norris Scout Reservation, kids can appreciate a weeklong summer camp experience without their cellphones or iPads, and staff members enjoy a six-week hiatus from the real world.

Mount Norris, located in Eden, is the only Boy Scout camp in Vermont, and it offers a six-night, seven-day camping experience for Boy Scouts — the climax of the troops’ year-round program. The camp mainly gives Scouts an opportunity to work on merit badges toward their next rank, from first-year camper to Eagle Scout.

However, Mount Norris is not just for Scouts.

One week out of the summer, Mount Norris also hosts military kids, sons and daughters between ages 13 and 17, for a teen leadership camp with all the amenities of a true camping experience: tents or lean-tos, campfires, swimming, archery and more, plus team-building exercises.

I fell in love.

I found a love of nature and the outdoors very early in life, and it’s no wonder I fell in love with this beautiful camp, where work almost felt like a vacation.

I have never been to summer camp as a camper, but I have worked at a couple, including Mount Norris.

In 2009, I marked my first summer away from home. A friend of my grandmother asked me to babysit her granddaughter for the summer. The only catch: I’d have to live 90 minutes from home for most of the summer, with people I barely knew, at an all-boys YMCA camp in North Hero. My mom was a little wary of me accepting the job, but how much harm could come from staying with a friend of my grandmother at a summer camp? So, I accepted.

That summer, I was able to experience camp from the perspective of the 2-year-old girl I was watching, who loved being outdoors and hanging out in the arts building, working with paint. At that age, kids are so carefree, without any cellphones or computers to distract them from the world around them. Still a kid still myself, at only 15, working at Camp Abnaki was the best way for me to experience summer camp without having to burden my parents with the costs, and it got me hooked on the camp experience.

In the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2014, I worked at a camp a little closer to home. Right before the camp season began at the end of June, my aunt, who was the cook at Mount Norris, called me. They were looking for a dishwasher. In need of a job, I accepted.

My first two summers at Norris, I worked as the dishwasher in the kitchen. It isn’t a glamorous job by any means, and without fans, it became excruciatingly hot at times, but it was mostly fun.

In between meals, I was able to walk the trails, help at other areas, shoot my gun or do archery at the ranges, learn to climb rocks at the climbing wall, or participate in a number of the events with the Scouts as long as I was back in the kitchen to help with meal prep.

I was able to meet a number of people, many of whom return year after year, and it helped me break out of my shell.

Lighthearted kids

The only thing that wasn’t fun about being the dishwasher were the weeks when we had 200 campers onsite, and I didn’t get any help after dinner. Some nights I was in the kitchen until 10 p.m., just trying to clean things up, and it got a little stressful, but I wouldn’t have changed my experience for the world.

As a camp staff member, you don’t get paid much, given the hours you put in, but you do receive free food and housing for six weeks.

I skipped the camp season in 2013 because I was working at the local grocery store and didn’t have time to work at camp. Still, I went up to visit the staff nearly every Saturday, and in 2014 I returned — but not to the kitchen.

I became the Trading Post manager, where I was able to work more closely with the kids.

The most popular items sold that hot summer? Slush Puppies, ice cream and frozen candy bars, the staples of children who are sent off for a week at camp with a pocketful of money from their parents, who aren’t there to tell them what to spend it on.

Some kids budgeted to make their money last all week, while others ran out by the second day, but the benefit of having camp friends is that usually someone was willing to lend a dollar or two to another kid who really needed it.

It’s funny; the kids I see in my everyday travels seem so much different from the kids I met at camp. Maybe that’s because they didn’t have any technology in their hands, and didn’t seem worried about where their phones were every second.

They just seemed far more lighthearted.

A week in nature, living in sweaty old army tents, rickety lean-tos or staff cabins that are only slightly infested with mice may not sound like fun, but believe me, a week or an entire summer in nature changes people.

I almost didn’t go back in 2014, because of other commitments, but I’m glad I did. I actually met my fiancé at camp in 2012 — although he is a Boy Scout, he was a staff member, not a camper. We began dating at camp in 2014, and because we both love Mount Norris so much, we were married there in 2016.

This article was originally published in the Stowe Reporter.

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