Do you ever wish you could be a kid again and go back to summer camp?
Guess what? You can, if you happen to be a graduate of the University of Michigan. I went to camp last summer, six decades after my first camping experience, and no one laughed. This time, though, I got to take three granddaughters and their parents into my cabin along with me. Any age is welcome at Camp Michigania Family Camp outside of Boyne City, Mich., but one of your party has to be a University of Michigan alumnus in order to be allowed through the camp gates. Once in, starting at the big blue rock with the yellow “M” marking the entrance, everything is U-M maize and blue, from the T-shirts (not required but seemingly worn by everyone from age 10 weeks on up) to the yellow-flowered “M” garden display overlooking Walloon Lake to the blue and yellow life preservers at the boating shed to the breakfast waffles imprinted with an “M” in the middle. One day, I thoughtlessly wore a green T-shirt and although no one said anything, I felt like a Michigan State University traitor who had sneaked into the grounds. If I go back to camp next year, I will leave that T-shirt at home.
I will also try to do a few more of the activities that I had no time to do last summer, when I filled every day with swimming, canoe picnics, meadow nature hikes, golf chipping competitions, sailing and pontoon boat rides, rifle practice, turbo kickboxing, wildflower soap making, and mentoring one of the staff (if we alumni choose to offer our expertise to a staff member looking for information in our particular field, we both sign up, and the office puts mentors and mentorees together for meetings while at camp). If I return next year I hope to go horseback riding, practice archery, early-morning hiking along the lakeshore, play tennis with my 8-year-old granddaughter, do the High Ropes course with my 12-year-old granddaughter, and kayak with my 10-year-old granddaughter. Never in any camp where I have spent time as a camper or counselor have I seen the number and variety of activities available for every age from infant to senior citizen, as there are at Michigania. The campground is huge: 377 acres, capable of easily hosting 400 campers who come for one of the 11 summer weeks that it’s open, and the facilities are impressive, from the riding stables to the nature center with its inflatable star lab and extensive nature trails to the ceramics, arts and crafts building offering everything from the usual lanyard making for kids to the advanced adult glass and ceramics courses, silk scarf painting and the like. Not only can parents enjoy parent/child classes and tournaments at Camp Michigania together, but they can also leave their littlest ones with caring staff members who watch them from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m., and again from 1:15 to 4:45 p.m. if they so wish.
Where else can a parent of a newborn head to the beach to read a book or play some tennis with a spouse, knowing their child is cared for completely? Kids ages 3 to 6 have their own Kids Camp with supervised activities during the same hours, and the “789” program for children of those ages offers a combination of guided activities with staff in charge, and afternoon programs that encourage those ages to explore other parts of camp and complete challenges in at least five different program areas, with awards and medals offered for those who do. This gives those ages structure and guidance but allows independence in the afternoons as well as a chance to hang out with their peers. It was heartwarming to observe parents and grandparents going about their camp activities knowing that their youngsters were happy and safe no matter where they went in this enormous, safe campground. Of course even if they’re not in a staff-guided program in the afternoon, these children, and the preteens and teens, will find one of the 100 staff members available at any of the program areas where they go. The staff is made up mostly of college-age young people, the majority of whom are from the University of Michigan, and some are experts in their field of sports.
In addition to the 50-plus regularly daily scheduled activities at camp, and three enormous and varied buffet meals, each day and evening presents special events, such as a boat regatta, a water carnival, soccer game, family campfire sing-along, hayrides, Escape Room, pickleball lesson and game, astronomy talks, euchre tournament, and family Olympics. A 9 p.m. faculty forum for adults features a presentation by one of the two members of the university faculty invited to camp for each week. The next morning, those who wish to discuss the previous night’s subject can meet for a more intimate coffee question-and-answer session with that faculty member. Even a book discussion meets, with interested members who were given the name of the book to be read before camp started.
Even with 11 weeks available, and 400 camper slots each of the weeks, the university is faced more and more each year with turning away scores of would-be campers from this highly popular summer venue. One puts their name into the list in February and hopes that the lottery chooses them for a lucky place at Michigania Walloon beginning each June since 1963. Ernest Hemingway’s childhood summer home is right across the lake from camp, and the Hemingway family still owns it. Now we understand why the writer had such fond memories throughout his life of northern Michigan, and especially of Walloon Lake. Not much has changed up there, and that’s the way the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, owner and founder of the camp, likes it.
Julie Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com.