Washington, Maine: Medomak Family Camp

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All photos/art by Reena Bammi

As dawn broke over the lake this morning, your daughter caught her first perch. A few hours later, your son paddled to Loon Island with a new friend while you read several chapters (in one sitting!) of a novel you’d been meaning to start for years.

At dusk, after a gourmet lobster bake, you and your spouse sampled Maine microbrews by the campfire while dozens of kids, including yours, rolled by in clusters, like tumbleweeds, playing a mega game of tag, gently supervised by fresh-faced counselors.

Tonight, after wishing on shooting stars, your family will be lulled to sleep by the sound of pine boughs rustling in the wind high above your golden cabin at the edge of the wood.

This is how days and nights unfold all summer long at Medomak (med-AH-mick) Family Camp in Washington, Maine. Set on 250 acres beside Washington Pond, about an hour and a half northeast of Portland, Medomak began as a farming camp for city boys in 1904.

In the words of founder Frank Poland, a teacher from Dover, New Hampshire, it was a place for men and boys to be at work and play. Because of his vision, generations of young people grew up with the Medomak philosophy: Expand yourself; compete with your own abilities and standards; set your own strategies and vigorously pursue your goals — but always remember the other person.

In the 1960s, the camp expanded to include girls. A church operated the camp for a couple of decades, and in the early 1990s the property went up for sale. Former camper Holly Stone purchased it in 1994 and has ever since been upgrading the facilities and adapting the experience she so loved as a youth (and later, as head counselor) for whole families. Think: kayaking and archery, papermaking and tie-dyeing, home-cooked meals served family style. Massages and yoga, pickup games of softball and soccer. Mosquito bites and sing-alongs. Aromatherapy. Happy hour with wine and locally made goat cheese. Whole afternoons lost to blueberry picking in the camp’s fields. There’s no television, no video games. After several days of being disconnected, you won’t even think about checking your e-mail.

“What sets Medomak apart,” says David Hoople, “is how Holly has maintained the original spirit of the place.” David, of Simsbury, Connecticut, knows: He was a camper in the 1960s and ’70s. Before that, his dad was a camper in the ’40s; for a time, in the late 1950s, his great-uncle owned the place.

“Back then,” says David, “the magic was in the rituals, in traditions passed down through generations of campers.” Among his memories are waking to the bugle call, Saturday night campfires, and contests of skill. “As we got older, I especially liked the adventure trips, like paddling the Allagash,” he recalls. “I made friendships I will never forget.”

In 1974, best friends Ralph Ringler and David Hoople capped their final year at Medomak Camp for Boys in Maine with a hike up Katahdin. A photo at the summit shows their hair drifting below their ears, their teenage faces pure insouciance. A few weeks after the photo was taken, the boys headed off to college.

Fast-forward 30-plus years. The men had lost touch until a camp reunion in 1993. Almost 20 years had passed since that last summer at the lake. “Being there again took us right back,” says David. The friendship rekindled. With sons and daughters of their own, Ralph and David have returned to Medomak for the same week each summer for the past dozen years with their families.

“It’s been great to share with my kids a place that I loved when I was their age,” says Ralph, who lives in Stevenson, Maryland. “My wife, Linda, and I appreciate the sense of freedom here. Even when our kids were very young, they felt comfortable going off with a flashlight with their friends. They felt safe.”

Meals and their fixings are included in the cost, but Medomak is truly a camp, not a resort. Guests bring their own linens, blankets, and towels from home. Everyone buses her own dishes. If you get lucky with a fishing pole, the kitchen will gladly serve up your catch.

Out of necessity, some of Medomak’s old traditions have faded, but it’s a place where new traditions take hold. For many years running, Ralph and David have led a sleepover in lean-tos by the water. “We light a big fire and a few adults and a pack of kids from various families join in,” muses Ralph. “You’re never too old for summer camp.”


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