In the scenic waters of Upper Saranac Lake sits Eagle Island. Surrounded by the wild lakes and forests of the Saranac Lake region, Eagle Island has been a retreat since at least 1903. Today, Eagle Island is home to Eagle Island Camp, a day and overnight summer camp. Most of the programs run by the camp are geared towards young people, encouraging and empowering them to be confident, collaborative, and courageous.
The current youth camp was opened on Eagle Island in 2019, but, unfortunately, was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19. 2021 brings about a renewed sense of inspiration, though, as camp leaders and directors navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of diversity, equity, inclusion, and gender. In short, there has been a strong effort to support diversity, among campers and staff, and provide training and education that focuses on those topics. Campers today will have the opportunity to share experiences with other campers of similar ages, but different backgrounds. In the end, it's not about where you go to school or your background; it's about coming together to explore nature and learn something new in the process.
The camp on Eagle Island was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, in 2004, it was named a National Historic Landmark. Eagle Island Camp indeed has a storied past, and the future only looks brighter.
The Eagle Island Camp of today occupies some buildings originally built in 1903 as a summer retreat for Levi Morton. Unfamiliar with Levi? Well, he was Vice President of the United States from March 1889 to March 1893 under President Benjamin Harrison, the 31st Governor of New York, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a United States Minister to France. If that resume isn’t enough, Morton also put the last rivet in the Statue of Liberty as it was built in France in 1881.
In 1910, though, Morton sold the property, buildings, and furnishings to Henry Graves, Jr., a financier and fine watch collector from New York City and Orange, New Jersey. However, after their two sons died in car accidents, the Graves family donated Eagle Island to the Maplewood - South Orange New Jersey Girl Scout Council. Eagle Island Camp remained a Girl Scout camp for well over 50 years.
At Eagle Island Camp, Girl Scouts would spend time outdoors in the Adirondack fresh air, learning activities like sailing, canoeing, swimming, hiking, as well as crafting. There were a lot of traditions, like singing songs and a famous ice cream sundae party.
Sadly, it wasn’t all fun and games. The Girl Scout Council cited safety issues and closed the doors in 2009 and 2010. In 2015, the Friends of Eagle Island (Eagle Island, Inc) purchased the camp, and they plan to continue Eagle Island as a welcoming camp.
Chatting with Paula Michelsen, Eagle Island, Inc. Executive Director, and Katrina Dearden, Eagle Island Camp Director, it’s evident that this is a camp where it's truly all about the campers. The silver lining to a COVID pause last summer is that camp operators have now had a lot of time to assess programming and develop ways to make every camper, whether they be there for a day or for a few nights, feel included and welcomed.
Even though this is not formal school, spending time at Eagle Island Camp provides an opportunity to learn and grow. A high emphasis is placed on hands-on activities, and a great deal of time is spent outdoors in nature. Some campers might be experiencing the Adirondacks, or even the outdoors beyond the city, for the first time. It's all about seeing things from different perspectives, and learning and growing together.
One element that campers can look forward to each year is C.H.A.O.S. No, it’s not a disorderly confusing mess. C.H.A.O.S. stands for “counselors have another outstanding skill.” During times of “chaos,” camp counselors gather campers around to learn a skill they have that might be different, unique. Maybe a counselor is exceptional at weaving baskets or birding or poetry. The point is to encourage campers to try new things together.
For 2021, there will be all-gender day camps, girls’ overnight camps, Family Camp, and a Women’s Wellness Weekend. Camp staff is taking every precaution to ensure health and safety. There will be guidance counselors on site to help campers adjust to being around other kids again and lots of breaks for the happy campers. Some children may not have had social interaction in a very long time due to self-isolations in the age of COVID. Staff acknowledges that kids might need a “brain break” so all activities will remain hands-on and educational, but there will be downtime.
Maybe “unplugging” and spending time in nature at Eagle Island Camp is what we all need.
The sense of community at Eagle Island Camp is strong and alumni are always actively looking for ways to stay involved. Some have even moved to the Adirondacks after spending time on Eagle Island. For the young campers, the opportunity to experience nature and learn first-hand in the field is nothing short of amazing. Too many kids spend too long in front of screens (especially with the incorporation of remote schooling this past year). Eagle Island Camp is a chance to learn new skills and discover. The best part is that it’s not just for kids! The Women’s Wellness Weekend planned for late August 2021 is totally focused on relaxing and immersing in nature and the Family Camp is for those who'd like to camp with friends and neighbors. Whether you're 6 or 60, there's a place at Eagle Island Camp for you.
If you can see yourself or your children on the historic, authentically Adirondack grounds of Eagle Island Camp, don’t hesitate to register for a camp session! History, nature, and fun await.
Photos of youth campers kindly provided by Eagle Island, Inc. and Erika Bailey.
The reason you may see media of people not wearing masks on our website is because all footage is from prior years. More than ever we all need to be vigilant about maintaining social distance of 6 feet or more and wearing masks when we cannot social distance.