Ancram’s camp opens doors wide

ANCRAM—If you are kid in Ancram, you can’t wait to go to summer camp.

Every year enrollment in the Town’s Summer Camp program grows, and this year, the most campers ever have signed up.

Ancram Summer Camp Director Samantha Mason told The Columbia Paper this week that 84 kids, ages 4 to 12, have enrolled.

Out of the total, an average of 68 to 70 youngsters show up every day for camp, more than half of them between the ages of 4 and 8.

Ancram Camp Director Samantha Mason and one of her many charges, Joseph Lutnick, 5. Photo by B. Docktor

Ms. Mason, 23, who has been the camp director for the past three years, said she originally set a maximum daily attendance figure at 65, but then figured, “Why not take the rest, what’s a few more?” She said did not want the extra kids to have no place to go. The decision has proved successful.

The camp is free for Ancram kids and $75/week for non-Ancram youngsters. Scholarships are offered based on need, so many campers attend for free, with those families, who can afford it, contributing, according to an email memo about the camp from Town Supervisor Art Bassin.

The camp and pool cost about $50,000 to operate for the summer, mostly to pay for our lifeguards and camp counselors. [The town] raises money to operate the camp and pool from donations from town residents and from grants from organizations willing to help fund the camp and pool programs,” the supervisor’s email said.

Summer camp runs five days a week, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., for seven weeks through August 18. Four days a week are spent at Blass Memorial Field, where a large tent provides shade. In the event of a sudden dangerous storm, counselors put on safety vests, stop traffic and evacuate campers in an orderly manner to St. John’s Lutheran Church across County Route 7. Rainy days are spent at Town Hall.

In addition to Ms. Mason, nine other counselors, ages 17 to 19, guide the campers on their summer adventures.

In previous years camp themes have focused on art, environment, farming and theater. This year the theme is a combination of all of them, Ms. Mason said.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at camp start with swimming lessons in the Ancram Pool. The 57-year-old, in-ground, concrete pool is the only outdoor municipal pool in Columbia County.

Swimming lessons are taught under the direction of Head Lifeguard Johanna Boice Skoda and her staff of seven other lifeguards. Ms. Skoda grew up in Ancram and learned to swim at the pool.

Swimming lessons are underway from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Campers are divided into 5 groups of 15 or so depending on their level of swimming expertise, said Ms. Mason. Each group spends about an hour at the pool.

When not at the pool, campers engage in playtime activities with snacktime at 10 a.m. and lunchtime between 11:30 a.m. and noon. All campers and swimmers are offered a free nutritional bag lunch which includes milk, juice and fruit every day of camp. Ancramdale Neighbors Helping Neighbors and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY cooperate to provide the lunches through the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

After lunch all campers join in a game of kickball or their favorite “Sharks and Minnows,” a tag-like game where three sharks try to tap a minnow, thereby recruiting them to the dark side.

Before campers know it, it’s time for end of the day clean-up and parents start arriving for pickup.

Tuesdays at the Town Hall, campers get to learn something cool from a professional. Most recently actors from the Ancram Opera House provided direction and props and campers performed a paused slow-motion scene, said Ms. Mason.

Last week a professional baker instructed them in the art of cake decoration, she said.

Volunteers from the Roeliff Jansen Library provide a program to campers during which they read to younger kids and have interactive book talks with the older kids. They talk about different book genres, give book summaries and interest youngsters in reading books, said Ms. Mason.

Thursdays are field trip days. Campers have hiked to Bash Bish Falls in Massachusetts. They have visited the RJ Library for a Science-Tellers Show, in which campers volunteered to assist with scientific experiments.

Future trips will be to Club Life in Valatie, an indoor trampoline park; Beckenrah Farm, where farm owner Woody Baxt provides, lunch, hayrides, a farm tour and a meet and greet with the animals; a visit to the Movie Plex in Hudson for popcorn and a show; and a trip to Kids’ Time in Millerton, an indoor playground.

Remarkably, all camp activities seem to appeal to all ages of campers. Even those who are initially skeptical come away saying “That was so awesome,” notes Ms. Mason.

What kids love about the camp is that all ages get to play together, no one is excluded; swimming at the pool; the guest presenters and mostly that every day is different, said the camp director.

Ms. Mason graduated from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania with a BS degree in early childhood education. She is a long-term substitute teacher in the Pine Plains School District and coaches girls basketball at Webutuck. She was on the track team at college, specializing in the long jump, her best jump—17 feet 6 ¾ inches. She moved to Ancram when she was in the fifth grade from Saugerties, but her grandfather has always lived here, so she has always visited.

Supervisor Bassin said in a recent email addressing concerns expressed about “too many kids” that the record number of campers this year, “is a result of the excellent word of mouth reputation our camp and pool have established, which is a tribute to the exceptional job our camp director, head lifeguard and all our counselors and lifeguards have been doing for the past few years. We have a mature and experienced camp/pool team. This is something to be proud of, not worried about.”

He said by phone, that Ancram’s program is the only one in the county with swimming and non-swimming activities. He credited town Councilman David Boice, his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Head Lifeguard Skoda, with the continued successful operation of the pool over the years.

What makes the Ancram program special, said the supervisor, “is that you have the big kids, teens through early-20s, who all grew up at the pool providing that same experience to the little kids, 4 to 12, it’s a nice community activity.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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