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Summer Camp Benefits and the Importance of Female Empowerment

December 10, 2023 | Adventure, Wisconsin | 1 comments | Author:

When I was growing up, my parents signed me up for all sorts of fun things. I was on a soccer team once… until I got hit in the stomach with a ball and I opted out. I was a figure skater for a while because the outfits were pretty, but lets just say I wasn’t cut out for that sort of graceful movement. I was on a softball team for a hot minute until a ball hit me square in the nose causing The World’s Worst Nose Bleed. Perhaps my most long standing team sport was basketball; I fondly remember the game in which I earned the title of “The Girl Who Shot the Ball at the Opposing Team’s Basket.”

Thank God I missed.

That’s not to say I spent my entire childhood failing miserably at athletic activity. It just took a while for me to find my niche… which I discovered at a young age was The Great Outdoors.

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In Elementary School, my parents decided to send me to Chalk Hills Girl Scout camp. My best friend Lisa and I were being shipped off to northern Wisconsin for a week of adventure in the woods without Mom and Dad. Like true best friends, we had been looking forward to taking this step together, but when the day came? Well. It was rough. There were tears. We forgot about all the exciting stuff like crafts, swimming, and sleeping on cots, and started to think about the fact that we were going so far away, for so long and… and… that lasted for about an hour. Once we got off the bus at Chalk Hills, we were greeted by smiling faces, catchy camp songs, and a week packed with adventure among other girls who were just as nervous/excited as we were. And we promised to be friends forever and wore tie dye T-shirts THAT WE MADE OURSELVES. I felt a true sense of accomplishment (and garnered a life-long love of tie-dye).

The arrow below is pointing to yours truly, on my FIRST adventure trip at Chalk Hills Camp. (Thanks to my camp counselor, Rachel for this gem!)

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By the end of the week, we cried one more time… before we had to board the bus to head home. That first experience at summer camp changed me from the inside out. No longer was I someone who didn’t have skills—I had plenty! And my passion wasn’t in a field, or a gymnasium, or an ice rink… it was in the great outdoors. I returned to camp for many summers, completing backpacking trips from 3-16 days in length in the State Forests around Lake Superior—from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the Porcupine Mountains to the Superior Hiking Trail and Isle Royale. I went on to lead those same trips I’d experienced as a camper. I led canoeing trips, biking trips and hiking trips from 3-17 days in length for both Birch Trails Girl Scout Camp and Camp Manito-Wish YMCA Camp in Northern Wisconsin… providing that same life-changing experience for others, which had been given to me. If you were ever a camp counselor (or still are), you know that feeling I’m talking about—changing kids lives session after session. I still keep in touch with many of the girls I led, and the women who led me.

Looking back, what I loved most about being on those trips was being in nature with girls. There’s something so powerful about being out there, relying on one another with no male influence to sway your decision-making. Not to say women aren’t competent on their own—quite the opposite. I just feel that being around other women and feeding off the energy we have to offer as females in the outdoors is important. And since I’ve taken up backcountry skiing, I would say it’s necessary. Just as we choose role models in our professional life, we should have role models in our athletic life. It’s because of my girlfriends that I’ve learned to love backpacking (Sarah Bayer), yoga (Brittany Hopkins), road biking (Michelle Alswager), canoeing (Mary Hanks), and skiing (Chloe Vance).

To be taught by men is good. But to be encouraged by our own kind is empowering. On the night before my longest backpacking trip as a camper (Isle Royale—15 days in summer, 2000), one of my most influential trip leaders, Sarah Bayer—who today, I call a friend—read this quote from Dr. Seuss to a group of 7 of us girls:

So be sure where you step. Step with great care and great tact
And remember that Life’s A Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right food with your left.
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

During the summer of 2006—I led a group of girls on a 17-day backpacking trip through Isle Royale National Park, an island in the middle of Lake Superior.

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When I was a camper on the Isle Royale backpacking trip, I saw my first moose on July 25th. I forever remember that date as Christmoose In July!

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Fun fact about me: I’m extremely efficient at solo-assembling a tent. Try and beat me. You won’t.

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One of my favorite moments on a trip was inevitably waking the girls up before dawn to watch the sunrise before the last day of hiking on trail:

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Some days, it was only right to allow the kids to do all the work:

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My best friend, Lisa, came out to Montana recently and we hiking Glacier National Park. These smiles on our faces are the same ones we had so many years ago.

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When I worked at Girl Scout Camp, we got to pick fun names for ourselves for the summer. It was a tradition. Names like Chicago, Squaks, Puck, Eek and Toro come to mind… my name was Tom. Yes, I know. Why would I choose Tom?? Well, during my first year on staff, my partner in crime and I decided we should have matching names. I chose Tom, she chose Jerry. She left camp after that year, and thus, I was just Tom. Later on, I got bored with that name and tried to switch… forcing my campers to call me Genius.

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Canadian Suspenders were also a huge tradition at camp. After you completed your 12-day backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail, you earned your red suspenders. It may look silly, but earning these was a huge deal. I have two pairs—one earned as a camper, and one earned on staff (below).

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1 COMMENTS


  • Mom December 10, 2023 at 6:19 am | Reply

    I loved seeing your journey so far. What an exciting life you have experienced Mol,
    and so much more to come!



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