From the moment campers arrive they don their maroon Birch Rock shirts and learn to tuck them in. Welcoming staff members extend their hands for firm handshakes from the boys, and the tradition ‘shake a hand, make a friend’ starts campers on their summer adventure.
The daily schedule is shaped by our time-honored rituals and traditions. Birch Rock boys rise early with the wake-up bell and line up outside the lodge for ‘morning flagpole’ announcements. The whole camp comes together for meals and certain activities, which makes everyone feel included and comfortable.
At the heart of this boys sleep away camp in Maine is the Lodge, where fires blaze on rainy days, and the entire camp meets for meals. To enter this building is to take a wondrous step back in time. The walls, from floor to rafters, are filled with the names and achievements of campers from 1926 to the present. New wooden plaques are carved at the end of each season to commemorate the boys who summered here. Meals are served family-style with rotated seating so campers and staff quickly get to know everyone.
Campers follow footpaths that snake their way down the hillside. For the younger campers, the Lower Camp’s white-washed cabins cluster near the the main Lodge. In each, four campers live with a CIT (counselor-in-training) and a counselor. Close living quarters make for cooperation and strong bonds. Older campers live up the hillside in Upper Camp with larger cabins staffed by two counselors. While boys are grouped in bunks according to their ages, many activities bring the whole camp together for high energy fun. Evening all-camp activities include Capture the Flag, and the wildly creative Saturday night skits, better known as ‘Campfire.’
At the foot of the hillside, the waterfront of Lake McWain is lined with canoes, rowboats, kayaks, windsurfers and sailboats. Floating swim docks designate the area where campers have instructional and general swim time. Swimmers constantly challenge themselves to conquer distances in this lake. After much preparation, some adventurous teenagers undertake the perimeter swim—more than 5 miles—known as the “Whale.” As a boy finishes his last strokes, the bell is rung and the entire camp rushes down to the docks to shout encouragement and whoop congratulations with the traditional Birch Rock Cheer!
Further along the waterfront, the camp craft lean-to is the soul of Birch Rock. For eight decades, our mission has been to safely immerse boys in the natural world. Mastering basic campcraft skills is the quintessential work of every Birch Rocker. With expert teaching, even our youngest campers learn how to handle knives and fire safely. These are the bedrock skills for wilderness trips, and campers can progress over the years through arduous survival badge requirements. This is deeply satisfying, grounding work for children who are tech savvy but can’t tie a square knot. When a boy lights a roaring fire with flint and steel on a windy day his obvious pride is a wonder to behold.
On the way back up the hill, boys can flock to a quiet oasis in the woods. The Allen Kearns Library is a cottage filled with books, magazines, games, and lots of comfy chairs. Reading is a deeply-rooted tradition at Birch Rock. Every camper is encouraged to read books here during rest periods, before bed, and whenever a quiet break is needed.
One of our most profound traditions is a non-religious Sunday gathering of the entire camp by the ‘Birch Rock’—the eponymous birch tree growing out of a rock. ‘Tree Talks’ focus on character development issues. Each Sunday the community delves into group discussions and activities or skits to bring the topics to life. Boys and staff talk about essential life questions like community, goals, trust, and communication. Boys respond powerfully to the use of ‘warm fuzzies’—exchanging notes about the positive qualities they see in every other Birch Rocker. On the final day of a camp session, senior campers stand before the whole assembly and pass on the lessons they have learned, letting the younger boys know how Birch Rock has transformed their lives.