Fells Forest Camp: “Literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air for our family”

Hundreds of children escaped their largely house-bound lives to disappear into the woods for hours of exploration amidst the rocks, mud, frogs, and trees of Lawrence Woods in the southern Fells.

This summer’s Fells Forest Camp enjoyed record enrollment, as families flocked to the unique offering of an all-outdoor camp experience for their children. “This camp was the highlight of our whole summer,” wrote a parent afterward.

Meeting hurdles that closed many other summer camps, the Friends of the Fells staff, supported by its Board of Directors, hired a cadre of experienced counselors, adapted programming and policies to adhere to new health regulations, and moved camp to Medford High School when the Commonwealth closed Botume House, our original camp location, at the last minute.

In seven weekly sessions, almost 500 campers aged 4-12 from a dozen nearby communities hiked the trails, learned to bushwhack, built structures with natural materials, discovered insects, birds, salamanders, frogs, snakes, and other native species, played outdoor games, took turns leading with maps, shared jokes and stories, and arrived home muddy, sweaty, and newly energized.

Reflecting on the camp season, Jesse MacDonald, co-director of this year’s Fells Forest camp, said, “we were in the very fortunate position to provide a much-needed summer option to the families in our community. Being a fully outdoor program, we had the ability to make Fells Forest Camp a safe environment for our campers while providing a rewarding nature-based experience to children. And based on the feedback we have received from many families, it was a service that was urgently needed.”

Chris Redfern, executive director of the Friends, added “We’re grateful for the last-minute hospitality of the staff at Medford High School – without their welcoming, can-do spirit, camp could not have happened this summer.”

Many parents described a positive experience at Fells Forest Camp:

New to the woods

“This was our daughter’s first camp experience and she loved it!”

“My kids have not been huge fans of the outdoors in the past, but this camp really helped to get them to enjoy going into nature, hiking, and exploring. Each day they came home with stories about animals they had seen in the woods.”

Great staff

“The counselors were a lot of fun- many animal observations, jokes of the day, new and fun games, forest building, bush whacking, mud slope sliding, my son came home every night with a story. The leaders were easy to communicate with if adjustments were needed. Thank you Friends of the Fells for making our COVID summer more bearable and fun.”

“The counselors seem to perfectly balance letting the campers explore and providing games, etc. to structure the day.”

“Our cautious and somewhat shy 5 year old daughter absolutely loved camp! The instructors were fantastic, they were caring and nurturing and provided a safe space for her to step outside of her comfort zone a bit while exploring nature. All around a wonderful experience!”

Breath of fresh air

“The Fells Forest Camp was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air for our family this summer. It was just a joy to pick them up each afternoon, joyous and exhausted, ready for a bath, and full of stories to share.”

 “The kids loved the chance to explore with their peers. The staff supports curiosity and learning in a nurturing, flexible environment. Great outdoor camp for nature lovers!”

“This child-led, outdoor, place-based opportunity was just what they needed; we saw our sons grow and thrive through the experience. Thank you for making this a safe and fun possibility for our boys!”

Enthusiastic children

“My son had a great time–he often complains about camps after a day or two and asks to skip a day, but he was enthusiastic every day and was sad the one day we skipped because it looked like thunderstorms. He loved that he got to be the “navigator” on the first day and held the map. He says he definitely wants to do it again next year.”

“Our 9-year loved this camp and he doesn’t usually respond with enthusiasm at the prospect of a hike (maybe that’s just with mom and dad), but he was happy every day. He also had lots to share about things they saw and adventures they had in the woods. Thank you!”

“Our five year old loved exploring the Fells: walking over tree-trunk bridges and exploring the frog pond. He came home excited every single day!”

Dirt is a good thing

“Our kids come home so dirty (this is a good thing in my book!) and full of stories about all of the interesting things they did that day. We love that they are now our guides in the Fells as they discover new places which their parents don’t know. It’s clearly empowering for them and fun for us.”

“I am so grateful for this program and the experiences it provided for my son. Every day I picked him up exhausted, covered in dirt, and full of new information and stories about his new friends and adventures. I couldn’t ask for anything better!”