The kids are home! Camp was great, and once again there’s a wait at Ruby’s Diner. It’s that pleasant interim between peak summer and back-to-school. Last week, on a trip to New England, my husband took us on a tour of the overnight camp where he spent six glorious summers in his youth. It was heartwarming to see him share his memories with our camp-aged son as he endeavored to warm him up to the idea of maybe going there, too. It was all I could do not to go around picking up the wet towels. I could totally see why it’s one of his “happy places.”
We arrived on a cool, lazy morning. Color War had just ended, and the boys were sprawled on their bunks listening to music, hanging out at the office, or playing ping-pong on rough hewn, outdoor tables. Everyone was friendly, delightfully polite, and vibrant with good health. I could picture our kid here.
Of course, rustic boyhood splendor don’t come cheap! This surfeit of sports played amidst idyllic scenery – on over two hundred acres, as the energetic camp owner/director proudly beamed – plus all the grilled cheese you can eat, it comes at a price. Per week, the cost of some overnight camps is on par with private school tuition – maybe even a little more. Plus gear! Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly programs out there, too. Not all kids want to be away for the whole summer and in the last few years or so, as camps try to operate with more flexibility in tighter economic times, there’s a greater variety of programs and time-frame options. So I’m thinking maybe our guy would prefer a week of music camp, and then some soccer?
One thing all sleepaway camps share is high overhead. It’s a seasonal endeavor yet it requires year-long recruiting, and heavy maintenance. My brother-in-law was once Director of Camp Chen-A-Wanda in Susquehanna County. It’s nestled in a quiet grove of high-realm deciduous forest. You could hike for just a few minutes up the hill and find yourself in an aromatic stand of Alpine evergreens. I just checked, and I see that Chen-A-Wanda now finds itself in the midst of the shale gas boom. Perhaps it, too, sits a top a drilling sweet spot – a pocket of pure, hardly-gotta-treat-it, natural gas? One by one, surely as the bugle blares at dawn, cash strapped overnight camps in the Poconos are being approached by gas drillers to lease their land.
Faklempt Over Fracking
A few weeks ago, I read an article by Josh Nathan-Kazis in The Jewish Daily Forward about the B’nai B’rith Perlman Starlight camp in Wayne County, PA. As part of a larger community-based landowner group, they had negotiated and signed a gas drilling lease with Hess. “It’s a shonda!” commented Donna Fellenberg. Anti-fracking Mom wrote, “The best summer of my life, and I am sad it will not be an option for my own children – I will not have them attend camp there…” I “liked” that one, and made the suggestion that since children and the elderly are most vulnerable to the local impacts of fracking, perhaps camp owners should obtain baseline water and air testing prior to drilling activity. Impassioned comments poured for days after. Never really a camper myself, I quickly understood that people can be pretty attached to their cherished camp memories. The maelstrom of reactions culminated with a few reasonable thoughts, and a kindly call to action, from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, which I posted about on July 25th.
Since returning from vacation, I noticed a spike in clicks on that particular post. My hunch is, as parents are becoming aware of shale gas drilling issues in Pennsylvania, they want more information before they write a check for next summer. They want to be certain they’re not putting their children at risk.
To those parents, I’d say check with your camp director and simply ask if they’ve signed a gas lease, or plan to. You probably won’t be the first. You can also run a proximity search of the county at FrackTrack.org – a clever database with zoomable maps and extremely current industrial gas-drilling activity. And be sure to search “waste” too, as onsite and centralized treatment facilities are proliferating like crazy, particularly in Northeastern PA where gas drilling activity is heavily targeted.
Here’s a list of overnight camps in Pennsylvania – that I know of – who have signed gas drilling leases. As many as 10 Jewish camps, including the New Jersey Y, have entered negotiations with companies like Hess and Chesapeake. Though the New Jersey Y lease was signed in 2009, it seems ironic now that NJ state legislature has passed a ban on fracking and a bill is currently on Governor Christie’s desk.
B’nai B’rith: Perlman Camp Starlight
Camp Morasha, Lakewood
New Jersey YM-YWHA: Camp Nesher
New Jersey YM-YWHA: Camp Shoshanim
B’nai B’rith and NJ Y Camps signed leases with Hess in 2009, while Morasha signed a lease with Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC in 2008. Chesapeake later transferred the Morasha lease to Hess. SOURCE: Josh Nathan-Kazis, The Jewish Daily Forward