SUM­MER CAMP IS NOT JUST FOR KIDS ANY­MORE

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Gra­ham Am­brose

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.”

Jeff Neu­mann, The Denver Post

Amy Pi­nard, Pro­vided by Camp No Coun­selors

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.

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