SUMMER CAMP IS NOT JUST FOR KIDS ANYMORE
In July, a group of 15 camp friends from across the country reunited in Boston for a weekend getaway. They saw the Red Sox lose to the Orioles at Fenway Park, attended a beertasting, toured the local nightlife and cruised through Massachusetts
Bay on a rented boat.
They wore special Tshirts they had made to commemorate the gathering, trying to recreate the tight-knit, fun-loving community they had experienced at the summer camp where they met ... as adults, not as kids. Most of the 15 happy campers had met only a few months before in
Austin, Texas, at a site for the all-adult Camp No
Counselors, a sleepaway retreat where adults play like
children and party like adults. CNC, which has more than 16 sites across the United States and Canada, will be expanding to Denver for two Colorado sessions at Pike National Forest in August and September.
“Camp is a mentality reset,” said Chad Bartlett, 31, a two-time CNC participant who attended that Boston meetup. “There’s no cell service at camp. If you go to a beach town, you’re still plugged into your phone. You don’t get that full disconnect that people really need.”
The unlikely community of his Austin-Boston cohort speaks to a spate of adult summer camps popping up all over the country, from the woods of New England to the deserts of New Mexico.
The camps attract adults with the allure of activities from childhood: team games, water sports, arts and crafts, cabin bunking, talent shows and unique traditions specific to the institution. Most, including CNC, add in alcohol and remove the rigid rules, curfews and oversight found at children’s camps.
“The whole purpose of the experience at camp is to play, to be silly, to have fun and bring smiles to people’s faces,” said Adam Tichauer, who founded Camp No Counselors in April of 2014. “It started as a weekend of fun, then quickly became a lifechanging experience.”
Tichauer, 34, came up with the idea around Labor Day 2013, when he organized a weekend-long camp excursion upstate for a group of 90 friends looking to escape the grind of New York City. To his surprise, his informal vacation had 90 sign ups. A few months later, he planned another camp getaway; 125 adults attended.
“After that second one, a light bulb went off. I thought maybe this was needed — maybe this was more than a simple party.”
Camp No Counselors has since reached nearly 7,500 campers in just under four years. For $525, a spot at CNC-Denver in September includes three nights of lodging, all meals and snacks, an open bar and a weekend of archery, basketball, capture the flag, color wars, hiking, rock climbing, dodgeball, ziplining and more.
The Centennial State has also cradled its own startup adult summer camps.
Camp Shenanigans Colorado was hatched by five Rocky Mountain Rollergirls, an all-women roller derby league based in Denver.
“When we first came up with the idea, we thought it was super original,” said Camp Shenanigans cofounder Beth Bandimere, who competed on the 22nd season of “The Amazing Race” and lives in Arvada. “We thought, wouldn’t it be fun to drink beer and make out in the woods and not get caught, just like summer camp?”
Like CNC, which Bandimere and her fellow founders have since looked to for guidance and inspiration, Camp Shenanigans will host an all-inclusive session in August and another in September featuring rope courses, ziplines, canoeing, yoga, group meals and ample drinks.
Laura Herlands, 51, is a Camp Shenanigans sign-up who lives in northwest Denver. She hopes the experience will live up to the whimsy of its namesake.
“In our society, we’re allowed to have fun until we’re 22, and then we’re supposed to get a job and be all serious,” Herlands said. “Adults need to go out and have fun, let their hair down and be silly. Just because we love to play doesn’t mean we’re not grown up. I’m a little sad for people who can’t have fun because they’re an adult. They’re not mutually exclusive by any stretch.”
Shenanigans’ target audience is Colorado singles, though organizers emphasize that the three-day escape to Deckers won’t descend into debauchery.
“It’s certainly by no means a drug fest. It’s also not a hookup camp. It’s more for people who like to cut loose and have fun,” Bandimere said.
“No counselor” adult summer camps can pose a number of challenges for camp administrators, who have to counterbalance many campers’ wish for a party in the woods — complete with enough alcohol and romance to satisfy up to 200 adults — with concerns over safety and comfort.
Of the few rules, a wellenforced one is a prohibition on discussing work.
Bartlett estimates that he’s made 250 friends through his two stints at CNC. Yet he doesn’t know how many of his friends make a living.
“Often times you don’t know what people do even after camp,” he said. “There’s some people who I have literally no idea what they do. They might be a good reference for how I can advance my career, but you don’t do that. It’s social, not professional.”
At many established camps, attendees enroll by application, which allows organizers to engineer a group with a diversity of professions, backgrounds and interests. Application questions also help screen for potential safety issues. Tichauer says that Camp No Counselors regularly turns away applicants who may pose a concern to camp sexual climate or substance policy. (CNC maintains a zero-tolerance stance on drugs, though one reporter found drug use on camp premises.)
Like their adolescent analogs, adults attend summer camp with many of the same expectations of adventure, often based on hook-ups. Adult camps have born more than a few relationships, engagements and marriages.
Tichauer sees the longterm relationships formed at camp as a healthy fulfillment of CNC’s mission.
“At the end of the day, it’s about making unique connections over shared experiences,” he said. “Drinking and partying is a very, very small part of the CNC experience. At the core, it’s about disconnecting from work and technology, making friends, letting go, and having fun.”
A camper slides into a lake at Camp No Counselors.
A woman scales a tree at Camp No Counselors, which will have two sessions in Colorado in August and September.