|Campers can learn gardening techniques in raised beds.|
Clarice KeatingChildren rove in packs, pounding up the path to the mess hall at Camp Howard. They have spent the morning in the trees, trying out archery, fishing and survival skills, to work up an appetite as they sit down for the boisterous communal meal – same as they have done for decades.
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“But these children are growing up in a very different world than we did,” said the camp’s new director, Bill Fogarty. “It’s good to get them unplugged.”
Arrival at Camp Howard means a departure from iPods, video games and Facebook.
Here, staff members, led by Executive Director Sister Krista von Borstel, worked hard to foster an authentic camp experience, where children have fun but also hone citizenship, leadership, sportsmanship and creativity. And, these days, when outdoor play often loses the battle to the Wii, it’s even more crucial for youngsters to have a traditional camp experience.
Though lifestyles have changed, there are some things that are constants at Camp Howard. First-time campers still cry when they leave their parents, and then cry again on Friday when they must go home. Just as they have for decades, campers vie for the coveted Cougar Award, given to one camper in each cabin each week for exhibiting good conduct and Christian values.
On a recent day, the August sun beats down, but under the canopy of pines, temperatures are comfortable. Over at the soccer field, several dozen children shriek and laugh while playing the complicated game of Sprout Ball. The sport looks like an unruly version of dodgeball to the untrained eye. Other campers meander down a trail while listening to a camp leader discuss wilderness survival skills.
They’ve finished making transpiration water stills, and now they treat themselves by nibbling miner’s lettuce and other edible plants.
Established in 1952, Camp Howard is located on 245 acres of land adjacent to the Bull Run Watershed, donated by the Horton family. Named for Archbishop Edward Howard, the fifth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Portland, the camp runs in July and August. This year, the camp hosted a near record 1,450 campers.
CYO and Camp Howard merged officially in the 1980s, after working side by side for many years.
There are specialty camps, like paintball, fishing, survival, Spy Kids, drama and outdoor cooking, but also family camp with activities designed for youth and adults, and running and volleyball camps. During the offseason, the camp facilities are rented for Outdoors School, Scouting events, weddings, retreats and more.
This year is Fogarty’s first at Camp Howard. The St. Juan Diego Church parishioner had little time to ease into the new job before beginning the complicated reaccreditation process through the American Camp Association, professional benchmarking for best practices. He documented and tracked the camp’s staff-to-camper ratio, staff training, facility standards, and more. It would be the third time Camp Howard would earn a 100 percent.
This year, campers spent evenings around an improved fire pit, constructed by Eagle Scout candidate Danny Donney and his family and friends.
For 15 years, one of the most requested improvements to the camp has been to heat the pool. A pool heater was finally installed, paid for by the 2011 Champions of Faith benefit dinner, so this summer the water temperature hovered around a balmy 80 to 83 degrees.
Fogarty said many children consider Camp Howard their home away from home during the summer months, as did their parents, and even grandparents.
“Camp Howard is known for its community feel,” he said. “We’re teaching kids the right values, how to make friends and how to be good adults, all under the guise of fun.”