LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — It’s not sunburns and bug bites that campers at Tanglewood 4-H Camp take with them when they leave, but rather environmental values and a sense of community that continues for years.
That was the theme expressed by former campers and counselors Saturday at a reunion marking the camp’s 30th year.
Tanglewood’s rustic facilities were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and blend into the stands of white pine and fir. The property abuts Camden Hills State Park, giving it a very remote setting, given its proximity to U.S. Route 1 and Camden.
A YMCA camp, operated by the Bangor area Y, used the site until 1982 when Tanglewood was created. Jim and Cindy Dunham have run the camp since its inception, with help from Les Hyde of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Residential camps of one and two weeks for 8- to 14-year-olds are offered, there are day camps for 4- to 8-year-olds, and leadership programs have been created to serve 14- to 17-year-olds.
The environmental values spring from seven laws of ecology posted on the camp dining hall: Diversity tends toward stability; everything goes somewhere; everything is connected; there’s no free lunch; the Earth has its limits; everything changes; and I am part of the environment.
The message isn’t heavy-handed or preachy, former campers said, but rather inherent in the daily life of the camp.
Craig Smith, 38, traveled from his native Scotland to attend the reunion. A counselor from 1995 to 1996, he sought out a camp like Tanglewood because he planned a career in teaching and wanted to learn skills, and “I didn’t want to work in a rich kid’s camp,” he said Saturday.
The idea of community that came out of his experience at Tanglewood, he said, was not just getting to know his fellow campers.
“It’s that everybody understands their role in making everything work,” he said, even as those roles changed day to day. “That’s not normal in day-to-day life.”
As a teacher, he believes Tanglewood helped him learn “a more creative way of approaching students.” The idea is to communicate, “I’m a human being, you’re a human being,” which ties to the concepts of personal and collective responsibility taught at the camp, Smith said.
Smith was Andrew Bourgoin’s counselor. Bourgoin, now 30, and Lucia Stancioff, 28, another former camper, both of Portland, became counselors and now serve on Tanglewood’s board of directors.
Bourgoin said the themes of sustainability and community were instilled in his Tanglewood experiences. “The community is built every week,” he said, when a new group of campers arrives.
Sustainability, a concept not commonly heard in 1982 when the camp began, is instilled through the way the dining hall is run, Bourgoin said, “with the focus on no waste.”
Stancioff added that with many summer camps built around a tightly defined theme or skill, Tanglewood teaches the idea of community by accepting campers as they are.
“You don’t have to be the best at anything to be here,” she said. “You really get to be yourself. But we do play sports,” she said, laughing.
Sue Malcolm, whose last name was Lindahl when she attended Tanglewood as a camper in the early 1980s, said the ongoing sense of community among alumni “has been really important to me.” The environmental values came in small lessons, she said, “in just being aware” of human impact.
“It was just being gentle with the Earth,” she said.
Monique Johnston, whose last name was Pomerleau when she attended, came to Tanglewood from Dexter in the mid-1980s. She agreed with Malcolm, and said now both mothers are passing on those lessons to their children.
Events at the low-key open house and reunion included hikes, swims, Frisbee games, and live music played by former campers.