Summer camp is not just for kids

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Margaret Plevak | June 19, 2016

SPRING PRAIRIE TOWNSHIP — Maybe it's been years since you've made s'mores or joined in a sing-along by an open campfire, practiced archery or worked on arts and crafts under a green spread of trees. But if you're missing those carefree summertime days and nights, you can re-create them — or start your own memories.

Adult summer camps are a growing business, with more than 800 camps in the United States and more than a million adults attending them in 2013, according to the marketing company site.

When Chicago publisher John Dewan and his wife Sue bought a piece of rural property in Spring Prairie Township in Walworth County, they were in the market for a hideaway for themselves only. But after their real estate agent showed them the land, they changed their minds.

“This was just too beautiful a place to keep for ourselves,” Dewan said.

Camp Dewan was born and now serves as a gathering spot for group camping and family reunions.

Dewan restored the barn and did some upgrades, including an air-conditioned hall, used for larger groups. They've made other changes, too, like adding a winding wooden stairway in the silo that leads to an observatory on the roof, complete with clamshell opening and telescope. Dewan uses the observatory for astronomy programs.

The couple also installed rooftop solar panels on some of the buildings, creating 90 percent of the energy used in operations, Dewan said. The camp also offers Internet access and a loft in the barn with a 9-foot movie screen, a collection of DVDs and comfy seating.

Still, every once in a while, Dewan hears a hint of hesitation from potential campers.

“They'll say things like, 'I don't like to camp,' or 'I don't want to sleep in a barn ... '”

But once visitors see the 55-acre wooded retreat, with a four-room lodge with a stone fireplace and two rustic five-room cabins that can sleep up to 20 people, they're intrigued.

Other camps have expanded to focus on a specialty pursuit: carpentry, yoga, creative writing, building boats, cooking. There are adult tennis camps, for example. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater hosts just such a camp.

Warhawk Adult Camp is designed for adults 21 and over with a National Tennis Rating Program rating between 3.0 and 4.5. Emphasis is placed on technique, repetition, strategy, competition and fun. Accommodations are upscale for dormitories — air-conditioned suites with four separate bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living space and a kitchen with refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher and coffee maker.

Other camping facilities are there to provide a more relaxing, old-fashioned summer camp experience, like Camp Wandawega near Elkhorn.

The camp has a colorful history as a 1920s-era hotel that morphed into a popular public resort in the 1950s and then a Catholic Church camp run by a group of Latvian priests a decade later. These days, Camp Wandawega has turned into a retro-chic spot for adult and family camping as well as retreats, thanks to a husband-and-wife team who purchased the property, David Hernandez — who attended the camp as a kid — and Tereasa Surrat.

Camp Wandawega offers acres of woods with rustic cabins and bunkhouses, access to a beach, a private pier for fishing, boating and canoeing, tennis, horseshoes, shuffleboard, archery and hiking. Visitors set their own schedules.

Guests bring in their own food, which can be prepared on outdoor grills and smokers on the grounds. They also can go to nearby restaurants to eat.

The appeal of the camp isn't just for those who've experienced the fun of watermelon-eating contests and weaving friendship bracelets, Hernandez said.

“For some folks, there's a sense of nostalgia: They like to relive their own childhood memories of summer camp. For others, they're trying to experience the childhood they never had,” he said. “Many millennials grew up in an overscheduled world where they didn't get to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood. They were too busy rushing from school to soccer practice to piano lessons and so on. At Camp Wandawega, they can re-enact the idyllic childhood of their fantasies.”

At Covenant Harbor, a Christian camp and retreat center, the goal is to reconnect campers with their spiritual selves and have fun doing it. Adult and family camps include a popular mother/daughter camp.

Located on the shore of Geneva Lake, Covenant Harbor is an idyllic setting to relax and learn. The camp's Road Scholar lifelong learning program is in its 40th year and features “Exploring America During the 1960s” from June 26 through July 1.

Program coordinator Brooke Furmanek said she's excited about a new program this year. “The World of Jane Austen and The Regency Period” will be held three times this summer.

“It's a fun time and Austen continues to be popular with so many,” Furmanek said.

Participants can relive Austen's time and partake in activities suitable for well-off ladies and gentlemen, including a lakeside promenade, lawn games, archery and theater.

While adult camps may offer the same activities you remember as a child, like talent shows and sports, there's often a twist: an open bar, singles mixers or gourmet camp food like rosemary skirt steak and barbecued baby-back ribs.

You can choose your style of accommodations, from rustic to luxurious, but know you'll pay more for the upscale amenities.

At Camp Wandawega, rustic means hot water, but no air conditioning or heat, and “old-school” partially open-air showers with concrete floors. But the camp's owners say their no-frills facility adds to the charm.

“Expect a ladybug on your pillow. A cricket if you're lucky. The errant chipmunk doing laps around your cabin,” Wandawega's website warns.

Yet adult summer camps are an appealing way to unwind, offering the freedom of childhood with the perks of being a grown-up.

If you feel too connected to your electronics, it's a chance to undergo a digital detox, if only for a week or so.

“By disconnecting from the day-to-day grind of meetings, technology and constant connectivity, our guests reconnect with the simple pleasures of simpler times,” Hernandez said. “If they leave feeling like they just stepped back in time, then we've done our job.”



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