Blueberry Cove Camp: a vital philosophy in action

bbc circleSMBlueberry Cove Camp has been working magic with kids for several generations.

It’s not really magic. It’s just a word that covers for a very vital philosophy in action that nurtures children to be inquisitive, cooperative learners—and to share the joy of feeling good about themselves. And it occurs in one of the loveliest places, Harts Neck on Tenants Harbor.

My teacher-parents were close friends of founders Bess and Henry Haskell, so I grew up seeing a lot of them and absorbing their influence. The camp started in 1949 on 30 waterfront acres on Harts Neck. The main lodge is built on the foundation of a farmhouse that burned. Blueberry Cove may have been the first interracial camp in Maine, and for local residents that was new and not always comfortable. But local people worked there, and some sent their kids to camp. Tim Watts, who later resurrected the East Wind Inn, was kitchen czar. Scott Davis, son of lobsterman Syd Davis and nurse Mary Davis, was a happy camper. Both grew up on Harts Neck.

Years ago I was pleased to recruit Native American Mainers to the camp, perhaps the only ones among us who can say they are not from away.

After the Haskells’ long tenure as directors, Ann Goldsmith took over the camp, having worked there for decades. Initially, her co-directors were camp veterans Ed Badeaux and Bob Hellerson. The camp went through various changes, serving as a summer artists’ workshop, a women’s carpentry program, a healing camp for families affected by AIDS. The regular children’s camp ceased operation in 1985.

Then, almost 10 years ago, Long Cove resident Les Hyde and others set out to revive the camp. Les had founded the Tanglewood 4H Camp and Learning Center in Lincolnville in 1982. In 2005 that camp’s board voted unanimously to purchase the camp from Ann Goldsmith, who now lives next door in a house my brother Paul designed and built. In this way, the camp was saved from possible development.

exploring shore-BBC SMBlueberry Cove, leased from the board by The University of Maine Cooperative Extension, now offers day camp as well as weekly residential programs. Campers still hike to nearby Roaring Spout, and swim at Drift Inn Beach. I miss the old eight-week sessions, where kids truly came to feel the camp as a home. I miss the swims at Martinsville Beach. But then, I miss my youth, too.

The magic of Blueberry Cove is a big part of my life, first as a wanna-be, a gawky kid bicycling over to camp to hang around other kids. It was exciting to be included and it sowed the seed of a life-long affinity for me. I couldn’t wait to work as a counselor, teaching sailing and swimming in the chilly harbor, but mostly learning all kinds of things about the natural world, about living in a small, warm community. I also learned something about myself, and saw that happening all around me.

Being a counselor at 16 was a coming-of-age experience, from camping trips to High Island and Mount Katahdin, to sitting around the big stone fireplace with guitar, banjo and good companions.  I fell in love at least once.

My several summers working at Blueberry Cove instilled a love of community, spontaneity and the importance of a peaceful environment for the well being of all living things, kids included. Eating from the garden, sea and shore, it seems the camp was onto sustainable living long ago. No radios or other alienating devices; we invented our own games, projects, stories. My brother Paul, a counselor, made a cement boat with campers. It made a few trips before settling into the mud. Muddling was a popular activity on a warm day. You’d put on a swimsuit and go cover yourself in mud, looking like a bronze sculpture, then rinse off. Grown-ups pay big money for this kind of spa treatment.

We counselors often had as much fun as campers, taking a night dip in Wildcat Quarry (now known as Atwood’s), a post-camp sail to Bar Island where I won’t tell you what we did. I remain friends with former counselors, and a few campers. One of those is Iris, an autistic child who blossomed into a healthy young woman through her camp experience.

In 1980, Kathy and I got married at Blueberry Cove, with Henry and Bess among the guests, and there have been many weddings there since. There have also been memorials to people in the Blueberry Cove family, usually including a circle by the fireplace and memories.

A circle, symbol of unity and continuity, was traditionally part of each day as counselors and campers gathered for council, deciding on activities and hearing any announcements. Before breakfast and chores, musician and co-director Ed Badeaux would stroll from tent to tent with a homemade wake-up song. Sometimes the bunkmates would sing along.

Today the tents are gone, replaced by restored cabins. Kids no longer go barefoot and counselors can’t drink beer on camp property after the campers fall asleep. Some changes are good, some perhaps not as good, but the strong spirit of the camp, and the sense of sustaining and enriching young lives, lives on.

That’s what counts. New director Ryan LeShane and his staff invite you to come by and get to know us. Visitors are very welcome.

Steve Cartwright is vice president of Blueberry Cove-Tanglewood’s board, and race director for the Blueberry Cove 13.1, which this year is set for August 24. He has a Harts Neck home a hop-skip away from the camp.

PHOTOS: Steve Cartwright

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