Healthy Living

The Dirt on Dirt

By Sara Davis, Outdoor Center Program Director

At the Camp Mason Outdoor Center, we have several opportunities to get up close and personal with dirt. Why would you want to? Dirt is beneficial to people, in many different ways. Not as just a substance used to educate, but as a substance that can be therapeutic, and bring joy to the hearts of young and old.  

Our Wetlands class involves hands on, down and dirty activities in order to learn about the characteristics of a wetland.  One special characteristic of a wetland is the soil. The students get to dig in the soil to get a sample, and then use their senses to gather information. They learn how to use color palettes and read flow charts to learn more about wetland soil.  

Now Archaeology is a class anyone could dig. Participants get to learn about the history of this area and unearthen hidden artifacts by digging in the sand pit.

Compost isn’t just for the worms! In our dining hall we encourage students to create as little food waste as possible and to separate their food waste from things that can be composted. Such things include apple cores, banana peels, brown napkins, and any fruit or vegetable matter that will be used in our compost bins to break down into healthy, fertile soil. In our Sustainability class, students learn about the compost itself and the insects, microbes, and plants that benefit from it.

Which brings me to our garden. Whether it is planting, weeding, or harvesting, there is always fun to be had done in the garden. Working in this dirt proves to leave one with tangible, and edible results.

Dirt matters

The benefits to people are great indeed. Education about our natural world through hands on experiences will help to ensure future generations caring about the health of our soil and our planet. Exposure to various bacteria in the soil has much needed immune boosting benefits in an ever increasingly sterile world. There are also mental health benefits. Certain bacteria in the soil can increase serotonin levels in people. This is the chemical in the brain that elevates mood.  

So whether it is exploring the wetlands, the archaeology dig site, the compost or the garden at Camp Mason or getting dirty in your yard or local park, take opportunities to get dirty and you will see and feel the benefits. The joy of playing in the dirt isn’t just for kids!

Find out more about our programs for schools here.


Food Glorious Food!

By Maryann Ledder, Food Services Director

As Food Service Director I have the privilege of feeding everyone that comes through the doors to the dining hall. Whether it’s the Summer Camp or the Outdoor Center, all campers, students, teachers, chaperones, and alumni meet three times a day to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I love watching the summer campers come back every year. Watching them go from the junior tables to the senior ones, growing into wonderful young adults. I love when summer camp does theme days and the dining hall is transformed and the staff and the campers are in costume.

The Outdoor Center brings all kinds of groups, from schools to family camps, reunions, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts, which we gently remind to “please walk” as they eagerly get their food.

I’m happy knowing everyone has a variety of foods to choose from and that there is always something even for the pickiest of eaters. It’s very easy to work with everyone here because of the wonderful Camp Mason kitchen staff. Just as in other departments of the camp, the kitchen staff have gone from co-workers and friends to family! Always working together to get the job done. Knowing we’re a team and helping each other makes it easy to get the food cooked and out on the line.

My favorite line to hear from returning campers is “I was here last year and couldn’t wait to come back!” So, as this year winds down, everyone is looking forward to hearing those words again next year.


Campers ready for dinner in the Camp Mason Dining Hall.

I Notice…

By Maddi Green, Naturalist at the Camp Mason Outdoor Center

In my first month as a Camp Mason Naturalist, I’ve asked question “What do you notice?” of my students often. Sometimes, they notice the painted turtles sunning themselves on a fallen tree in Lake Mason. Sometimes they notice that looking up at zip line from the ground is a very different perspective than looking down at the ground from the top. And sometimes they notice that their teammates need to pause and really hear each other if they are ever going to complete their team building challenge.

From hiking with families across the cable bridges of the Yellow Trail to the abandoned Christmas tree farm, to guiding middle school students through righting a flipped canoe, to encouraging high school peer leaders to engage with their fear of heights, being a naturalist gives me many chances to make some observations of my own. Fifth graders will stop to discuss, at length, a slug sunning itself on a rock on the trail that we adults already walked right past. Kids on the rock wall who are willing to try, even if they are unsure of themselves, usually can reach the top, with a little encouragement.

The most effective leaders are the ones who are willing to seek out ideas from the people around them. Best of all, I’ve noticed that Camp Mason gives everyone (naturalists included!) who comes through a chance to really stop and notice the world and the people around them. And once we’ve started noticing all of the turtles and slugs and great ideas from our teammates, we start to notice what our place is in it all.

YMCA Camp Ralph S. Mason
23 Birch Ridge Road
Hardwick, NJ 07825
Phone: 908-362-8217
Fax: 908-362-5767
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