Outdoor Center

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.

 

Teacher In-Service Day Training Programs

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director – Groups and Retreats

Gather the faculty and staff at your school and come to Camp Mason for a teacher in-service day. Spend the day outdoors participating in a variety of activities that promote group collaboration and hands on learning. The group will leave at the end of the day with new teaching techniques and activities, as well as a better understanding of one another.

If you choose a teambuilding session your group will be lead through a number of teambuilding exercises by our professional staff. The exercises are designed to highlight the various aspects of teambuilding such as communication, leadership, and trust. After each exercise the group will have a chance to reflect on how they worked as a team, and discuss how they might improve upon any weaknesses. The group can also relate the discussion to how they work with one another throughout the school year. The teambuilding experience can continue by choosing to add a session of high ropes to the schedule.

To build upon the teambuilding experience, groups can participate in a session where they learn how to run teambuilding exercises with their students. The exercises require few to no props, and can be done within the space of a classroom. The group will also learn how to facilitate a debrief session to promote teamwork among the students.

We also offer academic focused sessions, in which our professional staff share interactive techniques to teach information in the content areas. Sessions may include questioning techniques, development of student’s observations skills, games that get students thinking about specific topics, and much more. The information in these sessions is best suited for teachers who teach 4th – 7th grade.

Scheduling is flexible and can be created based on the interest of the group. We are able to offer both full and half day sessions. If you have any questions or would like to book a teacher in-service day please call us on 908-362-8217.

 

Winter Happenings at Camp

By Anna Bilton, Senior Camp Director

It might be cold outside, the trees are bare and summer seems like it is a long way away but the winter is not all doom and gloom here at camp. We are able to take time to reflect on the work we do and make plans to make the camp experience better than ever this spring, summer and fall. In case you were wondering what’s on the agenda for 2018 here’s a preview of what’s in store!

1. Summer Camp staff from 10 different countries!

We have been busy interviewing and selecting an all-star summer staff team to run amazing programs this summer. They are all raring to go and are going to be incredible role models this summer for our campers!

2. New and improved candle making area

We’ve offered candle making at Camp Mason for years and it is a huge hit with our weekend Outdoor Center guests but its never had a home of its own. This year we are planning to convert an old cabin into a candle making workshop to be able to offer the activity to all of our visitors including our summer campers. Prepare to get creative and make a candle of your own. 

3. Preparing our new covered space for action

You may have heard on the grapevine that there is a large, new covered space in our main entrance way as of the end of last year. We are thrilled to have a large covered space for rainy day activities, meeting spaces and evening programs. Before we can fill the space with people there are a few things we need to do first – we need to decide on lights, a screen, chairs and tables as well as anything else we can think to make the space as useful as possible. It’s an exciting project and should be fully functional and ready to go for the spring season. We know this space is going to make rainy days and evening programs much better.

4. Planning training for our Outdoor Center team

Each season we welcome over 11,000 people to camp with their schools and other groups to visit our year round Outdoor Center. The training we do with our team is crucial to prepare them to lead activities, learn skills to work with people of all ages and learn all things Mason. It takes a long time to plan the sessions and seminars we teach each season and we put a lot of thought into how we do things. It’s exciting to prepare for our new team!

5. Continuing our team’s education

Did you know that our staff attend numerous training events and conferences throughout the year continually working to improve ourselves and the work we do? We want our team to be as prepared as possible to work with children, young people and their families. This year our year round team have attend 4 different conference between us and have come back with lots of ideas to make sure 2018 at camp is better than ever!

We would love to hear your ideas and suggestions on the things we are working on at camp. Call us on 908-362-8217 or email us at information@campmason.org to share your thoughts.

The Leaves They Are A-Changin’

By Alex Loop, Outdoor Education Naturalist for the Mason Outdoor Center

And so is camp! The new pavilion is going up, leaves are going down, and cars and buses continue to roll in for the last few days of the fall season. With the constant countdown to summer camp posted on Facebook and Instagram, one would think that there is substantially less happening here at Mason over the fall and into the winter. This is not the case. We have had crazy weeks here at camp over the past few months. A different kind of crazy from the summer, but hectic nonetheless.

Long days with ropes setup starting at 6:30 in the morning, ending with night hikes lasting til 9. Days filled with back-to-back ecology classes, and hours of belaying. Sometimes we facilitate every activity for a group, from a structured course on sustainability to leading songs around a campfire. Other times, we are merely here in the background, as the group has (almost) free reign over camp. I have been lucky enough to experience Mason both in the summer and the fall. I could not tell you which season I prefer – these are two different camps that happen to be in the same spot, with their own kind of magic.

Just as summer staff were challenged to “Make Magic,” we make magic here at the Outdoor Center with every new or returning group that visits us. Whether we are explaining the science behind the changing foliage that lights up camp with its dazzling splendor, or guiding a nervous 8th grader through the full high ropes course, Camp Mason continues to impact the kids that come here. The Outdoor Center is much more than a plug for summer camp – it is its own entity. In a span of a few hours to several days, students learn about themselves and the natural world around them. I have never visited Mason with my school. I am a naturalist who lives and works on camp seasonally, however, like my coworkers and the participants I teach, I too, am a student who constantly learns and grows in this unique, magical place that has so much to offer, no matter the season.

Stewardship, Sustainability & Service

By Nikki Reiff, Outdoor Center Program Director

Sometimes you need to stop and smell the flowers, and sometimes you need to stop and save the flowers. Here at Camp Mason, we do both. What I mean by this, is that when visitors come here-they are immersed in a culture where stewardship and sustainability take the forefront. Sometimes it’s in the form of litter picking as you head to an activity, often times in the form of an environmental education class that creates an understanding of why protection of the environment is so important, and sometimes it’s palpable.

This past week, the French American School of New York brought their 6th grade class to Camp Mason for a unique outdoor experience. Aside from zip-lining through the trees, orienteering themselves through the woods, and forging group bonds in our Low Ropes course—they built bat boxes from scratch as a service project to our camp, and to the entire north east. Bats in the north east are important animals that help maintain an ecosystem and are of great service to humans. One colony can consume more than 250,000 mosquitos a night, and they also predate on pesky invasive species, such as tent caterpillars, that threaten a forests’ health or farmland. These bats are threatened for a few reasons- fungal infections that gets spread in some hibernacula (or habitats), the installation of wind turbines, and destruction of habitat in forests. All of these reasons can be summarized as unsuitable habitat. So in a matter of 3 days, a team of naturalists and a couple dozen students addressed this problem and created new habitat for 5 colonies of local bats.

Facilitation of activities like this are not uncommon here at Mason. The Outdoor Center team incorporate sustainability and stewardship into nearly every program here. Giving back to the earth or to one another is a recurrent theme across team building, recreation, and environmental classes all the same. In the fall, NJ District Circle K help Camp Mason with litter picks along nearby roads and streams. In the spring, United Nations International School visited and created water-awareness murals with the same idea in mind–to make a difference. St. Lukes School helped us remove invasive species along our trails. We are always looking to unite with schools and groups to complete more projects like this!

So whether it’s composting our brown napkins, maintaining trails, or physically creating animal shelters When you take a moment to look around at our guests and staff alike, its’ easy to see that stewardship and sustainability are key values we hold dear to us at YMCA Camp Mason. And if you don’t see that, you’d have to be blind as a bat.*

*Bats actually are not blind, they however, use echolocation to hunt rather than their vision. But you get the point!

Fall is here at Camp Mason!

By Sara Davis, Senior Naturalist at the Mason Outdoor Center

As the sounds of children playing and the bugle blaring dance through my ears and the scents of sunscreen and insect repellent waft through the air, memories of crisp spring mornings linger.  Only a few weeks have passed since the end of the spring season for the Outdoor Center, though it feels like just yesterday I was working with school groups, girl scouts, and family camp. I successfully ended my first season as a Senior Naturalist at YMCA Camp Mason and celebrated ten years of experience in the field of Outdoor Education. I’m rather fortunate to have the forest, fields, lake, streams, garden, and ropes courses as my “office.” I have the opportunity to study the natural world around me and instill inquisitiveness in children and adults alike.

The passion for outdoor education and a love of nature is something that is shared amongst all the Outdoor Center staff. And although many of the Outdoor Ed. staff are fully engaged in this crazy, magical thing called Summer Camp, there are a few of us who keep the Outdoor Center in the forefront of our minds during the summer. Summertime affords the opportunity to reflect on the past season, and to scout out the trail that lies ahead. Taking feedback from our schools and groups, we are working very hard to make improvements to our programs and supplies, update curriculums, and prepare for staff training.  Many may wish that summer will never end, but when it does and the children resume their role as students and parents once again become homework helpers and school chauffeurs, the Outdoor Center staff will be ready to guide all towards new discoveries through experiential education. 

Spring Training: It’s a Knockout!

By Nikki Reiff, Outdoor Center Program Director

Though this is my second spring working at Camp Mason, it will be my first spring training, and my first spring as a Program Director. After a week and a half of leading and participating in it, I can tell you that—much along the lines of spring training as it pertains to baseball—it allows new and returning team members to enhance their skills and serves as practice before the season begins.

This season, our naturalist and per diem team is made up completely by returning staff with the exception of two new faces. However, this didn’t stop us from re-training in all the different activities that we offer here at Camp Mason year round. Thus far, we have covered a majority of our science education, high rope elements, and team building initiatives. So what does training look like for our outdoor center staff?

We have hiked a few miles through a foot of snow to study native wildlife and their adaptations.

We have climbed the firecracker, vertical playpen, climbing wall, and zipline. And we have belayed… and belayed… and belayed.

We played laser tag because a group that belays together, plays together! And a team that plays together, stays together! (Or rather we did this to help unite us as a team outside of a work setting)

We have been through team building ourselves to share new ways to challenge groups and debrief participant interactions.

We have refreshed our CPR and First Aid certifications, as well as run through emergency procedures.

We hit targets through riflery and archery, and then set targets for what we as a group aim to achieve together.

…All this, and we are just getting started!

Looking at our full time seasonal line up—We have three new senior naturalists; Sara, Rebecca, and Michael all looking to expand their skills from seasons prior. We have got Mark and Chris, who are taking on new coordinator roles of high ropes and the ranges, respectively. We’ve got Christian a seasoned day-camp counselor who is working his second OE season, Carly who was previously a per diem but has chosen to take on more responsibility full time, Leighann who is working on developing new ecology curriculum for our school groups, and Erik who is tackling our garden and sustainability here at Mason. Combine this team with Co-Program Director Sally, Senior Camp Director Anna, and myself, and I can confidently say this spring we’ve hit a homerun.

Weekends at Camp Mason!

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director – Retreats

Have you ever wondered what goes on at Camp Mason on the weekends? Saturdays and Sundays can be two of the busiest days of the week here at Camp. We often have Girl Scout troops and school groups here on the weekends, but Camp Mason also runs some specialty programs that anyone can come to. We offer programs such as Family Camp Weekend, Women’s Wellness Weekend and Volunteer Work Weekend. You can find more information or sign up for any of these weekends on our website.

Bring your family and prepare for a weekend packed with fun family oriented activities, during our family camp weekends. Depending on the season, you can race down the zip line, learn how to cross country ski, enjoy one of our off- site hikes, or just relax on the porch of your cabin. We have also made some improvements to our high ropes course that you may get to try out. Family Camp weekends run four times a year, and are one of our most popular weekend programs. In fact, our Memorial Day Weekend Family Camp (May 26th – 29th 2017) is already sold out. You can register for our Fall Foliage Family Camp (October 6th – 9th 2017) on our website at any time. Registration for our Labor Day Family Camp (September 1st – 4th 2017) will open on May 3rd 2017.

Yoga for Women’s Wellness Weekend

Another great weekend program is our Women’s Wellness Weekend for all of the ladies. This is a relaxing weekend with the opportunity to get in some exercise if you wish. Activities for the weekend may include mountain biking, yoga, aerial silks, and meditation just to name a few. You can bring a friend or come alone and make new friends while you’re here. We run two Women’s Wellness Weekends each year. You can register for a two night stay May 5th – 7th 2017 or a three night stay October 6th – 9th 2017.

We also hold an event here at Camp called Volunteer Work Weekend, where you can come to camp for free, and help us prepare camp for either the winter or summer depending on the season. This is a great opportunity for students who are looking for community service hours or people who just want to volunteer some time. There are projects for all ability levels from raking leaves and painting to construction of docks and benches. Registration is open for both the spring weekend May 12th – 14th 2017 and the fall weekend November 3rd – 5th 2017.

Please feel free to contact Sally with any questions by email at sally@campmason.org or by phone at 908-362-8217.

Winter Fun at Camp Mason

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director – Retreats

Many people visit Camp Mason throughout the year. In the spring and fall we welcome over 100 different schools and groups, and in the summer we have around 300 campers on property every day. But fewer people get to see Camp Mason blanketed by a beautiful layer of snow. We have a number of groups that come to camp to enjoy the beauty of winter and participate in all of the fun activities winter can offer.

Winter at Camp Mason is just as fun as any other season. We do close down some of our program areas in the winter such as high ropes and boating; however, when the snow falls camp becomes a wonderland of exciting cold-weather activities. When the weather is right you are able to sled ride down Sioux hill, ice skate on the lake, and cross country ski along our hiking trails. You should be sure to bring your own ice skates, but all equipment for cross country skiing is provided, even a brief lesson at the beginning of the activity. We also provide sleds, but a lot of participants like to bring their own as well.

If skis and ice skates aren’t for you that’s ok! We still offer many of our classic activities like archery, riflery, and the climbing wall. Other camp activities get a little bit of a winter twist. During Winter Eco-Art you are able to use colorful dies to bring your creations to life. Animal tracks can be followed much more easily in the snow than on a hot summer’s day if you choose to participate in Tracking.

We do have a few bitterly cold days each winter, but don’t worry because we have lots of indoor activities too. Participants can work on their aim at our indoor BB gun range, or make a pretzel while enjoying some hot chocolate in the dining hall. A visit to our Algonquin Rec Lodge will allow you to make a baked apple to snack on, or a craft to take home.

We have a lot of fun sledding, shooting archery, and drinking hot chocolate and we hope you will join in our fun this winter. You can bring you family for our Winter Family Camp Weekend on February 17-20, 2017 or come with a group of your friends. Register for Family Camp here or call the office on 908-362-8217 for more information or to book a retreat.

We wish everyone a happy holiday and hope to see you all in the new year!

Meet Our Team: Sally

allyBy Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director

My dream of working at camp began at a young age as I watched my camp counselors sing silly songs, play crazy games, and create camp magic. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to spend my entire summer in the woods creating unforgettable experiences for my campers. When I was finally old enough I applied to work at the summer camp I grew up at and was hired! I spent the next 9 summers working at the camp in a variety of roles such as Counselor, Adventure Specialist, and Assistant Camp Director. In between my summers at camp I attended Shenandoah University and earned a Bachelors in Biology and a Secondary Teaching License, with the plan of becoming a high school science teacher. At that time I didn’t know that I could make a career of working at camp; and I figured becoming a science teacher would combine my love of science with my passion to have a positive impact on people’s lives. However, leaving camp just didn’t seem like the right decision for me and that’s when I found Camp Mason.

I came to Camp Mason thinking I would spend a season or two here before starting my teaching career, but instead I found a home. My co-workers became family and teaching science using experiential education techniques aligned perfectly with my passions for teaching and the outdoors.  I’ve had a couple of different roles here at Camp Mason working seasonally for both Summer Camp and the Outdoor Center, and now I’m excited to settle into my new role as one of Camp Mason’s Outdoor Center Program Directors.

In true camp fashion we are going to play two truths and a lie so you all can get to know me better. Below I will list 3 facts about myself. Two of the facts are true and one is false. You will have to decide which fact is false and then check YMCA Camp Mason’s Facebook page on Monday December 12 to find out if you were correct!

  1. I am a girl scout
  2. My favorite color is blue
  3. I don’t have any siblings
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YMCA Camp Ralph S. Mason
23 Birch Ridge Road
Hardwick, NJ 07825
Phone: 908-362-8217
Fax: 908-362-5767
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