Throughout their Winnebago careers, campers experience many developmental shifts. Arriving at camp as young boys and leaving as young men, campers develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally while acquiring skills, coping mechanisms, and world views that will influence their imprint on the world. A recipe for healthy development is creating a safe place for boys to try out new things while gently pushing them past their comfort zone. This balance is mindfully tended to throughout Camp Winnebago’s programming.
One of the areas where this “pushing the envelope” is most evident is in our Tripping Program (i.e., camping trips). Every age division goes on two trips each summer; one canoeing trip and one hiking trip. Our land and water trips follow a thoughtful chronology that allows campers to incrementally build a portfolio of camping skills while being increasingly comfortable in the outdoors. Trips are led by experienced and certified Trip Leaders who, through our training program, are familiar with each age group’s developmental milestones and incorporate these into the planning and executing of their trips.
With each successive summer at Winnebago, campers experience trips that are slightly more demanding, giving campers increased skills and confidence. A significant incremental leap is when Crescents (age 12) navigate the Moose River and progress from base camping to paddling their first river while staying at a different campsite each night. It also marks the beginning of a series of both river and backpacking trips that involve more physical challenge, in-depth decision making, and teamwork to complete. It is no coincidence that these trips also coincide with the camper’s developmental shift from childhood to adolescence and their acquisition of increased physical skills and a more complex emotional make up; both very helpful to complete the journeys.
Our trip program capitalizes on these significant shifts in adolescent development and helps boys develop a sense of empowerment and agency in challenging environments. As thirteen-year-olds, they begin a series of three backpacking trips that take them northward through the Appalachian Trail’s 100 Mile Wilderness and cap their camp careers at fifteen by finishing atop the summit of Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak. By carrying both their belongings and a portion of the group’s supplies, campers learn the value of meeting their own needs while also contributing to the group; both a lesson and symbolism that aligns perfectly with a young adult’s need to find individuality amidst the myriad of group dynamics they navigate.
The series of river trips follow the same flow as the hiking trajectory. As 13-year-olds, campers paddle the beautiful Penobscot River, at fourteen, they canoe and navigate the US/Canadian border on the St. Croix River and in their final summer, complete a nine-day journey on the Allagash River. On each trip, Winnebago trip leaders increasingly give the campers more leadership opportunities such as preparing meals and acting as a leader for the day; responsibilities that give campers skills, confidence, and understanding of their place in the great outdoors. When alumni return to Winnebago and share the most influential and memorable moments in their Winnebago careers, they inevitably share an experience that took place on a trip in the Maine wilderness. Remembered are physical challenges, deep connections with nature, and lifelong friendships forged around the glow of a crackling campfire.
The Winnebago trip program is just one portion of our programming that supports the healthy development of boys into young men. It is an example of the intentional link between camp programming and the promotion of healthy childhood development. We believe that the experiential learning moments fostered at sleep-away summer camp creates unique experiences that help a boy understand his potential. When boys become aware of their capabilities and what they can contribute to a group of peers, they understand and internalize the tremendous positive influence they can have on their surroundings and become confident, self-aware, and empowered; characteristics of resilient young men.