ELLSWORTH, Maine — Camp Jordan has stood on the rocky shore of Branch Lake in Ellsworth for more than a century, collecting memories but not dust. As an integral part of the Bangor Y, the camp sees hundreds of campers each summer and continues to change for the better.
In the past few years, the Bangor Y has focused on improving the camp, and this summer will be an important turning point as it takes on a new name, “The Bangor YMCA Wilderness Center at Camp Jordan.”
“Camp Jordan is a well-known place in the community, but most people think of it as just a summer camp because it’s a 105-year-old program,” said Camp Jordan Director Emerald Russell, who attended the camp for 10 years as a child. “It’s beloved to the community, but it’s just so much more.”
This summer, the Bangor Y will launch a number of adult and family programs to take place at the Wilderness Center, as well as increase the visibility of their current off-season offerings, such as corporate retreats and special events.
“That’s a diamond out there,” said Diane Dickerson, Bangor Y executive vice president of marketing, development and community engagement. “Here we have this great property, a property the entire community should be using and experiencing, and only children are using in the summer.”
In addition, Bangor Y staff has restructured its summer camp for children and teens, offering a wider variety of programs that officials say they hope will encourage campers to return year after year.
“Our whole philosophy [at the Bangor Y] is to work with kids from 18- months-old in our day cares, all the way through rehab for senior citizens,” Dickerson said. “But we want from a camp standpoint for children to stay with us all the way through.”
“I really want all of our kids to experience all of these things,” Russell said.
Among the new programs is Family Camp, Aug. 19-22, during which families will have the opportunity to experience all the fun activities the lakeside camp offers. Camp staff will lead optional, structured family activities and also provide childcare for ages 3 and older for portions of each day. This camp is also a perfect option for young children who aren’t yet ready to leave their family for Sleep Away Camp.
“You can finally get your kids away from other distractions in life and really have these life-changing experiences right in your backyard,” Russell said. “And you can involve the grandparents or those cousins from Massachusetts that you never get to see.”
The Wilderness Center also will be used to host some of the programs offered through the Bangor Y’s new Adventure Seekers program for adults, such as the Wilderness First Aid courses held June 8-9 and Oct. 26-27.
Cycling tours and rock climbing courses for adults will also be offered this summer, led by Adventure & Program Development Director Jeremy Robichaud.
“The biggest message we want to give is that we have something for everybody,” Russell said.
To accommodate the new and exciting programs, renovations and additions to the campus are being completed this spring.
The oldest building on the property, Triangle Lodge, is currently being renovated with $40,000 in funds from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. All windows and doors are being replaced in the building, which was donated to the camp in 1925 by the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad. The lodge used to serve as the dining hall and sleeping quarters for the original camp, and it is currently used as a meeting hall.
Also on the to-do list for this spring, the Bangor Y will divide some of the larger sleeping quarters to accommodate smaller camper groups, which coincide with national summer camp standards.
“Camp is about having fun, but it’s also about personal growth, learning about yourself and having councilors as these amazing role models,” Russell said.
The Wilderness Center houses approximately 200 children a week during the summer, so small bunkhouse groups help campers make connections and not become overwhelmed by the number of new faces.
The camp’s arts and crafts building, which was renovated last spring, is often a safe haven for shy campers, Russell said. And this spring, they are adding to the art program by renovating a storage building to be used as a video-making and photography center, a project made possible by a $5,000 donation by the Maine Community Foundation.
“The last three years have just been project after project after project,” Russell said.
In the fall, Russell and Bangor Y staff purchased and erected a yurt to be used for the Sleep Over Camp’s nature program, an addition made possible by $7,000 in funding by the Davis Conservation Foundation. They then worked for weeks constructing a circular porch and handicap-accessible ramp to the yurt, which sits near the shore of Branch Lake.
This winter, Russell hopes to start running winter Bangor Y programs in the yurt.
They’ve also torn down the old “haunted” infirmary, Russell said, stating that the building was irreparable and unsafe.
“Everything is just so much more beautiful,” she said.
Also new this summer, local chef Cliff Richard will be taking over the Camp Jordan kitchen. Richard, known for offering personal chef services and cooking lessons through Chef on Demand, may offer healthy eating and cooking lessons for campers, in addition to providing the daily meals.
“We’re really so proud of this because we’ve really done a lot of work on it,” Dickerson said.
Now’s the time to register for summer camp, said Russell, of which there are several to consider:
Sleep Away Camp, for ages 8-15, has a new schedule. For the first year, campers will have the option to choose between a one-week or two-week session (while before, only one-week sessions were offered). The program gives children the opportunity for self-exploration through activities of their choice, from paddling to target shooting to performing arts.
Adventure Seekers, a wilderness expedition program for older campers, is divided into Early Adventure Seekers for ages 9-11, Experienced Adventure Seekers for ages 11-13, Advanced Adventure Seekers for ages 13-16 and Extreme Adventure Seekers for ages 16-17. Expeditions may include mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking, whitewater rafting and more.
And as usual, Leaders School, a program that has graduated more than 4,200 young leaders, is divided into Middle School Week (Aug. 11-17) and High School Week (Aug. 4-10). The program is all about personal growth through group problem-solving, physical challenges (many involving the camp’s high and low ropes course), guided reflection and of course, a lot of fun.
“There is a lot more crossover between the different programs,” Russell said. For example, the Sleep Away Campers will be present to send off the Adventure Seekers at the beginning of the week with a farewell ceremony and welcome them back at the end of the week with a campfire and story circle.
“We want to be getting people into the outdoors, learning about themselves,” Russell said. “This is a big year, and I’m so excited.”