Short Features

A Week at Bear Brook
Summer camp is a traditional part of 4-H in New Hampshire

Six-year-old Hunter Glass, wearing a quiver of arrows, a wristband and goggles, stepped up to the shooting line.

Hunter Glass shooting an arrow - Photo by Lisa Nugent
Photo by Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services

No matter that the bow he was carrying was longer than he. No matter that the quiver was not quite full enough for at least one of the campers behind him: "Only three arrows?" called out a young voice. "I'd rather get four."

None of that bothered Hunter (and how's that for an archer's name?). He just wanted to shoot--and shoot he did. With the help of instructor Chantal Bates, Hunter sent his first arrow whizzing through the heavy July air and nailed the outer edge of the target. His second struck closer still to the bull's-eye. The third--forget the third. Hunter Glass had arrows in the target, and the Bear Hill 4-H Camp had another happy camper.

Bear Brook staff - Photo by Lisa Nugent
Photo by Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services

Glass was one of about 850 boys and girls, aged 6 to 16, who attended Bear Hill at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, N.H., this summer. He's one of tens of thousands who have come to Bear Hill since the camp opened in 1936. Through the years, other 4-H camps have come and most have gone, but Bear Hill has remained a constant.

In this, the centennial year of 4-H (see "Head, Heart, Hands, Health," page 15), Bear Hill continues to advance the 4-H mission. "We believe that youth development is the focus of everything we do," says the philosophy and mission statement for New Hampshire 4-H. Bear Hill accomplishes that through the traditional activities and customs of summer camp for youngsters and through leadership training for would-be counselors and older teens. The camp also reaches a broad audience, as only about 15 percent of the campers are current 4-H members. "That's a good thing for us," says Anne Dolloff, the UNH Cooperative Extension specialist who oversees the camp. "That means 85 percent of our campers will get an introduction to 4-H."

Parents find that Bear Brook evokes a strong sense of nostalgia. Little has changed there over the decades, and that's a good thing, Dolloff says. "We had so much feedback to stay traditional. We keep the real basics, the things you think of when you think of going to camp."

Although 4-H's roots are in agriculture, there is no farm component to the camp, although many people ask about that, according to Dolloff. Instead, there are activities like swimming and boating on the waterfront. Arts and crafts, drama and nature studies are staples. Campers break into camp songs as they skip from one activity to another, singing about bringing bumblebees home and little red wagons. And, of course, there are s'mores, those gooey concoctions of toasted marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers.

Many staff members, like Julie Ota '05, start out as campers and keep moving up. This summer, Ota ran four different drama weeks--including a Drew Carey week and a puppetry week--and got a kick out of using theater to get kids cooperating and communicating. "You've got to get to a certain comfort level to make a fool out of yourself," she says with a laugh. "A lot don't want to do it at first. And they have a ball with it by the end."

One reason for that might be that there is no "in" crowd. "In school you have your cool people and not-so-cool people, and here you don't really get that. We might have kids with learning disabilities, but they're as cool as someone else. The kids help each other out," says program director Stephen Coppin, of Reading, England, one of several international staff members.

The fact that Bear Hill offers one-week programs, while some camps go with two-, four- or eight-week sessions, can be another plus. "That's our niche, really," says camp director Sheila Fabrizio '93, who also attended Bear Hill as a camper. "It's a good introduction to camping. It's short term, and many times kids are going away for the first time." Which is not to say they are all in a hurry to leave Bear Hill and move on to other camps.

"I've been to different camps, and I think it's a lot nicer here," says Elyssa Barrick, 13, of Manchester, in her third year and planning to be a counselor-in-training next year. Gabe Perlow, 10, of Concord, came for eight weeks this summer. "I have a whole lot of fun," he says. He was hard pressed to come up with a favorite activity: "I like them all."

children swimming - Photo by Lisa Nugent
Photo by Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services

Barrick had no such problem. "Swimming and archery," she says, as a timely chant of "archery rules," rings out from inside the nearby dining hall. Hunter Glass, the archer with the good eye and even better name, might well vote the same. ~

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