We get a lot of visitors at camp – families coming to tour, former campers and staff coming by to say hi, newly engaged couples looking for the perfect wedding venue, vendors dropping off supplies or making repairs. Without exception, and regardless of how many camps they have seen, all our visitors comment on the amazing natural beauty of MTC. A comment made frequently enough to be our unofficial motto is “it’s not the biggest camp I’ve ever seen, but it sure is the prettiest”.
It’s good that visitors, campers, parents, and staff remind us of how lovely MTC is, because we sometimes get so focused on programming, on staff training, on camper and parent concerns, that it can be easy to take our beautiful setting for granted. But we shouldn’t, and not just because it is an aesthetically pleasing place to be. We apply the same amount of intentionality to our camp grounds and buildings as we do to our activity schedule.
Sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious as to why some parts of camp are the way they are, and that’s okay, because some of this takes a bit of time to appreciate. Spend a couple of days in camp, tour the whole facility, and a few things will start becoming obvious, while others might require some explanation.
For instance, the seating in and around gardens and in scenic spots is intentional. Look around camp and you will see multiple instances of chairs and benches placed facing each other – to facilitate conversation, or facing a scenic outlook – to encourage contemplation. Of course, we want to encourage conversation everywhere, so we never place just one chair. By building behavioral cues into the landscape, we can encourage those beneficial behaviors.
Another example is the numerous gardens and planters around camp. These plants and garden areas are a true labor of love. Why? Well, by ensuring there are gardens near all areas of activity, we are making sure the community has an abundance of the vibrant, colorful, growing landscape that is critical for healthy minds and bodies. These gardens also provide habitat to a wonderful variety of birds, insects and spiders, and an endless source of interest for those looking for inspiration, or simply something to fill in a gap left by going device free. And of course, tending gardens provides a wonderful opportunity for any staff or campers willing to jump in and lend a hand weeding or watering. Doing so is a great physical activity, is a wonderful opportunity to engage in a great conversation, to get some dirt under the nails, and grow an appreciation for the tangle of the natural world all around.
One area of camp improvements made in more recent years has been an effort to increase the amount of sunlight and breeze in camp, as well as removing undergrowth and scrub. This effort has multiple benefits. By lifting sightlines, we create a more easily supervised facility, and create water views from practically every spot in camp. We also reduce habitat for mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents by keeping camp grounds neat and tidy, and by increasing sunlight and air movement, we reduce humidity, which makes us more comfortable, and mosquitoes less. It also allows for a wider variety of migrating and songbirds and owls, to call camp home. We have also been planting a lot of new trees, carefully selected and placed, to replace old trees, as well as diversify the forest in preparation for a changing climate.
A final area to highlight is that of outdoor lighting. There is a real balance to be struck in terms of outdoor lighting in a summer camp. Obvious safety concerns dictate that there must be some outdoor lighting, as wandering around the woods in total darkness is a good only for the Ace bandage company. However, one of the truly magical parts of the summer camp experience is seeing the night sky. The weather, the activity schedule and the layout of the facility mean that all members of camp are outside at night, for at least a little while. To be able to look up, from almost any part of camp, and see a sky full of stars, or a massive full moon rising over the lake, or shooting stars natural or man-made (the International Space Station makes multiple appearances every summer) is incredibly impactful. So, to accommodate star gazing, and safe walking, we’ve replaced large streetlight style lights with more sensible, shaded retro “barn style” lights throughout much of camp. This reduces upward light pollution, while still providing ample illumination for moving around safely.
All of this is to say, simply, that although MTC is mostly the creation of ancient glaciers piling hillsides and gouging out spring fed lakes, of thousands of years of bitterly cold winters and lovely summers creating conditions just right for white pines, red oaks, and sugar maple – there is a lot of thought that has gone into the stuff we can control.The facility shapes, and is shaped, by our philosophy of camping.