Family Travel: Fun For All at Camp Common Ground in Vermont

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Playing tag under the hot summer sun. Swimming until your fingertips pruned. Cozying up with friends around the crackles and pops of a camp fire. Perhaps a fleeting romance? For many of us, camp memories include great friendships, endless fun and lots of sweet cherry ices. Feeling nostalgic?  Several Montclair families have already found the secret to re-capturing these moments at Camp Common Ground in Vermont.

Here, families of diverse backgrounds come together to experience the joys of camp life, once again. It all started when founders Peg Kamens and Jim Mendell moved to Vermont from Brooklyn with their three young children. Camp Director Carole Blane explains, “Jim wanted to re-capture his childhood camp experiences while Peg was looking for an adult retreat with art programs and education.” Together, they wanted to do something good for the world. In 1994 – along with a bunch of friends they invited up from Park Slope – all of these visions fused together and Camp Common Ground was born.

What to Do

Today, campers travel from all over the world to enjoy a week full of fun, family time and really good vegetarian fare (even by meat-eaters’ standards). Each day follows the same schedule. After breakfast, kids ‘go to camp’ where they make crafts, play sports or swim in the pond while the adults can participate in activities of their choice like glass blowing and mosaics to yoga, dance, tennis, ping pong,  hiking and golf (at a nearby golf course). You can also choose to have ‘me’ time by napping in a hammock or lounging on the porch with a book—without judgment. “Being idle is also encouraged,” Rachel Egan from Montclair adds. “It’s a completely guilt-free experience.” After lunch, there are camp-wide activities like baseball, scavenger hunts, mini-Olympics (with togas, of course) and Quidditch (because no camp experience is complete without some Harry Potter inspired happenings). Nightfall brings campfires, s’mores and star gazing – sometimes with an astronomer. Community service is also woven throughout the week in the form of light chores like wiping down tables or sweeping up after lunch. Alma Schneider, a Montclair mom and recent camper, shares, “This camp fed my inner-hippie’s craving for wholesomeness, nature, communal living (be warned, that goes for the bathrooms and showers, too) without being too forced or touchy-feely. There was no “Kumbaya” but a whole lot of good, quality, family time and ‘me’ time while the kids were in their camp from 9-12.”

What to Eat

The food, which is organic and locally sourced when possible, is an experience in itself. “The vegetarian food was so tasty, fresh and healthy that I looked forward to every meal—something I did not expect,” Alma shares. From salads made with freshly picked greens to colorful smoothies, tasty tempeh noodles and freshly baked danish, even the pickiest children leave the dining room satisfied. Ms. Blane points out that most campers are meat eaters, yet in 20 years they have never had a complaint about the food.  Rachel adds, “I would go there for food alone.”

Where to Sleep (and other stuff)

Today, the camp is located on the site of an old farm snuggled in between the Hogback and Green Mountains about 30 minutes from Burlington and Lake Champlain. “The environment is stunningly beautiful,” says Rachel, “and with 700 pristine acres and not a car in sight, there is plenty of space for the kids to explore and run free.” Depending on the level of ‘campiness’ you are looking for, families can pitch a tent, bring their own pillows and sheets and cozy up in a rustic cabin (many with porches) or stay in the newly built Eco-Lodge. The Eco-Lodge is the only option that has electricity and private bathrooms. There is also a central bathhouse near the cabins and tents – which is both communal and spotless.

Your Fellow Campers

Far from its Brooklyn roots, the camp now draws a progressive and diverse group of families from all over the United States and beyond. Camp Common Ground has hosted families from New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California and Colorado to Australia and Hungary this summer alone. Children of all ages are entertained here, and proof of this resides with the staff, many of whom grew up going to Camp Common Ground with their own families. Alma points out, “For a family with a child who is not yet ready for the separation of sleepaway camp, especially children with special needs who may never get to reap the benefits of the sleepaway camp experience, Common Ground family camp is the perfect compromise.” The camp fosters an extended family feel with communal dining and team building activities. “You know everyone’s name by the second day,” Rachel explains.  She goes on to say “It’s magical there. At night, the children sit on logs around the campfire, their arms linked together.  These amazing bonds are formed.” And very much like the camps most of us remember from our childhoods, families look forward to seeing the same friends year after year.

Other Cool Stuff

Other ‘group specific’ camps are also hosted on these grounds including families with autistic children, families going through high-conflict divorce and LGBTQQA youth. The facilities can also be rented out for weddings, family reunions, school programs and corporate retreats. This year, the camp’s 20th anniversary celebration will take place over Mother’s Day weekend.

How Much Does it Cost?

Camp Common Ground works on a sliding scale, with dollar amounts ranging from $50 (for babies) – $975 per person with additional fees for families who choose to stay in a cabin or the Eco-Lodge. ‘Camperships’ are also available for families who cannot afford the sliding scale.  Director Carol Blane points out, “Everyone blends together here.  No matter what people can afford, everyone is welcomed as family.”

For more information, visit Camp Common Ground.

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