My parents shipped my sister and me off to summer camp the year I finished fifth grade. We spent a month at Friendly Pines Camp, a sleepaway camp tucked into the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott.
I was assigned to a cabin with seven other girls my age. I slept in a sleeping bag on a bunk bed, learned to water ski, sang silly camp songs, made some crafts, navigated relationships, missed my parents and developed a little independence. To this day, when I hear about vacations that include ropes courses and crafts, I get that feeling of nostalgia and possibility.
Many, many years later, I’m now my family’s social director. While searching for fun things to do, I learned that Friendly Pines hosts an annual family camp: a three-day event on the third weekend in September where families stay in the cabins, participate in most camp activities, eat camp food and socialize.
Basically, it’s summer camp for adults with kids. Kevin Nissen, executive director of Friendly Pines, says that’s exactly how Family Camp got started. “A lot of adults who visited the camp would tell us, ‘You should have a camp for adults!’ So we started Big Kids Camp … which evolved into Family Camp.”
When I float such destinations past my husband, I’m often met with a look of wonder mixed with dismay. He has no desire to relive my summer camp glory days. So I threw out the idea to my 7-year-old son to see if he would embrace a structured family adventure. “That sounds great!” he exclaimed. Once our son was on board, my husband soon came around.
“It’s a weekend. Anyone can do a weekend,” I nudged. He agreed.
The third Friday in September, we packed up the car, picked up my son from school and drove two hours north. Once there, we got situated in our cabin and picked out our spots on the two bunk beds (parents on bottom, kid on top), then headed to our first activity: rock-wall climbing.
We joined a couple of families who were already suited up and listened to the safety rules. My son waited his turn and carefully maneuvered his way up the wall, almost making it to the top. I followed and touched the top of the climbing structure. Bested by his mother, my son insisted, “I want to go again!” This time, he scrambled to the very top and gave a victory whoop.
Next up, we took a van to a spot 10 minutes away and explored giant rock formations. We ducked through low tunnels, and my husband gripped the side of a sheer rock surface, trying to channel his high school climbing days. My son clambered to the top of a giant boulder, took a deep breath and sighed, “This is great!”
When the dinner bell rang, we joined families at community tables and ate a meal we all agreed was pretty tasty — possibly all the more so because we were starving after atypical amounts of exertion. Then we headed to the tennis courts for the family square dance. Before things got started, my son, moved by a fiddling tune, started hopping around in an animated jig. At the pinnacle of his solo, he pitched forward and hit the ground awkwardly. He was silent for one second, then wailed.
We took off his sock and shoe, revealing a giant bump. It was the first casualty of family camp, but not the last. After getting ice and researching urgent-care facilities, we retired for the night. Because he couldn’t climb, my son took the lower bunk, and I climbed to the top. The rest of the weekend was spent kayaking, fishing, horseback riding and enjoying the outdoors.
My son climbed up to the zip-line platform, then, terrified by the height, climbed down. He learned to fence — something he’s always wanted to do. After another day of activities we headed back to our cabin to clean up for dinner. We read a little, chatted about the day, and in a moment of youthful optimism, my husband decided to climb to the top bunk. Halfway up, he grimaced and hollered, “My back!” and was down for the rest of the weekend.
For us, Family Camp was an excuse to get out of the heat, off the couch and do something different — and maybe even help one mom recapture a bit of her youth. It was also a good way to give our son a taste of overnight camp life — but with the security of parental support.
“It takes a little bit of the mystery away from starting at a camp,” Nissen explains.
The families we met wanted to get their kids acquainted with the camp layout, taste the camp food, explore the activities and meet other kids … many of whom had already attended the summer camp. Despite our setbacks, at least two of us called the weekend a success. On our way home, my son said he’d like to go to sleepaway camp … someday. Looks like the baton has been passed.
Calendar Editor Carrie Wheeler is the mother of Wilson (8).
March 30: Open House
Parents and kids interested in learning more about 79-year-old Friendly Pines Camp are invited to an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 30. The day includes camp tours, wagon rides, marshmallow roasts, zip-lining, drawings for prizes, refreshments and more. A buffet lunch, including ice cream cones and hot Dutch-oven biscuits with honey butter, will be served. 933 E. Friendly Pines Road, Prescott. Preregister at 928-445-2128 or friendlypines.com
Sept. 21-23: Family Camp
Friendly Pines hosts Family Camp Friday-Sunday Sept. 21-23, 2019. Cost is $260 per adult and $150 per child ages 6-17 and free for ages 5 and younger. The price includes seven meals, snacks, lodging, activities and a T-shirt. Sign up early. The camp has space for about 30 families and is already taking reservations.