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Our campers love to dress up. Funny costumes, tutu’s, silly outfits- these things are normal attire at Birch Trail. It seems like the only thing the kids like as much as silly outfits are t shirts from the canteen (camp store). One of our slogans is “Best Friends are made at Birch Trail.” Every few years we reproduce a t shirt with this slogan and it sells out instantly.
When I ask the kids why they love this t shirt so much they tell me that it represents camp so well. Almost every camper has a story about how they met their best friend(s) at camp. What I love is that each story is unique.
Over the years we have been able to witness so many of these friendships forming, growing and maturing. It’s truly an honor to see these friendships through the years. I get to see campers grow into adults, room together in college, stand up in each others weddings, raise their children together and eventually send them back here to Birch Trail together. It’s so amazing for my family to the see children of camp best friends in cabins together. I know how happy their parents are that their children are having fun together in the same place that they loved as kids.
The letters, phone calls, emails and personal stories that we have received through the years would fill a book. Often I wish I could write that book as it would be a great collection of memories and a true testament to the fact that best friends really are made at Birch Trail.
One of my favorite stories is one that I will share with you today. Back in 1969 a friendship was formed between two of our campers. They were campers together, counselors together and they come back to camp every summer. They have been doing this for over 25 years. When they are at camp they work on signs for our camp buildings, carry on and bring back old traditions and share stories from their era of Birch Trail. Because their friendship was solidified on a canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters, after their week at camp they go on a Boundary Waters trip. Each time they bring a different group of their camp friends. It’s a great thing- being friends for 48 years. Imagine your daughters meeting a friend this summer and being able to watch that friendship grow and pay dividends for 5 decades.
We first met in what is today know at camp as the boathouse – it’s the little cabin where waterfront equipment is stored right down by the lake – but in 1969, that was our Upper Maple cabin of six girls from Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis and St Louis. Some of us thought each other’s accents were a little weird, to be sure. But we made each other laugh, planned grand pranks and exhausted our counselor, from what we have been told. On July 20th we got to watch the astronauts land on the moon on a black and white TV in the lodge! Later that summer our cabin took a trip to Pattison State Park near lake superior to see the beautiful waterfalls and we all shared a big tent with our stuffed animals tucked into our sleeping bags. Before we left camp, we secretly wrote our names on the wooden bunk beds. Then the two of us wrote letters to each other all that next winter with sealing wax dripped and stamped on the back of the envelope. We actually mailed each other recorded letters on cassette tapes – what could we do, no FaceTime, no email, not even free long distance! We counted the days to camp, shared a cabin for six more summers, and have taken numerous camping trips together over the years since then.
We share friendships today with many other close Birch Trail girls living all over the country, as well – what make these camp friendships from years ago still so special? We think it’s the intensity of our shared experiences those summers, particularly experiences that you could not easily duplicate at home.
In particular, we continually encourage campers to fully participate on the many outdoor trips offered at Birch Trail, as these are among the hardest experiences to reproduce in the city, particularly in middle school or high school. (Smothering your friend in whipped cream and flour is also difficult to pull off at home, but camping out together truly takes the cake.)
Shivering in your sleeping bag next to four other girls with the sound of frogs croaking outside, paddling in the same canoe for hours through the far away wilderness, or even on a lazy nearby river, you grow in synch with each other. Cussing your way together across a long portage with mosquitos biting your neck while you balance a canoe on your shoulders, trying to avoid sinking in knee deep mud, hiking with a heavy pack on your back and crawling over logs one after the other– this has a way of connecting souls. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the day, the lack of pop culture distractions, or just the feeling that we are moving through this experience together in a way we could not do alone that forges a new appreciation of yourself, each other, and the world around you.
Three counselors separately came up to us when we were at camp recently, with thanks for pushing them to sign up for Boundary Waters canoe trips two or three summers ago when they were Tamaracks. “I never would have gone, and I will never forget it.” How! That meant so much more than any LinkedIn endorsement at the office! And these are not “slacker trips” by any means but pushing yourself alongside other girls builds self confidence, group trust, and lots of great memories of laughing until you cry – and sometimes crying until you laugh (our backpack trip in 1973, but that’s another story.)
We try to keep traditions alive at Birch Trail, and the outdoor tripping program is one of camp’s finest traditions. We hope that all the girls will take advantage of these opportunities, and that they will remain close friends decades later, as well.
Paddle on Birch Trail!
Teresa and Jan (known at camp as “Moody”)