Girl Scout camp builds brave, outdoorsy, outgoing youth

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Allison Mathies (front, second from right) posed for a picture with some of the friends she made during camp in 2017.

Prairie du Chien’s Katelyn Mathies, 8, will attend the Mess Makers session at Camp Ehawee in Mindoro this summer. She’s most excited about sliding in paint on the slip-n-slide and meeting up with the friends she made last year.

Both Mathies girls are avid swimmers. Allison shows that here, while photographed comfortably underwater at camp.

Katelyn was all smiles, but still had a hard time saying goodbye to camp last summer when her parents picked her up.

By Correne Martin

Everyone knows children love to camp. And in 2018, area Girl Scouts will be going on full-blown adventures. 

Girl Scouts of Wisconsin-Badgerland unveiled its summer camp season, featuring double the programming, expanded overnight options and themed day camps. One Prairie du Chien family will send two daughters on a return trip to Camp Ehawee, Badgerland’s primary resident camp for its K-5th grade Girl Scouts in Mindoro, in La Crosse County. The camps begin the week of June 17 and run through Aug. 5 and are held among thick pine trees within a camping area that includes a bunkhouse, cabins, platform tents, campfires, a pool, flush toilets and more. 

Allison and Katelyn Mathies, the 10- and 8-year-old daughters of Alex and Janelle Mathies, will attend the “Hogwarts: An Intro to Magic” and “Mess Makers” sessions, respectively, at Camp Ehawee. This will be the third summer for both girls. Allison previously reveled in “Adventure Alley” and the “105th Birthday Party Camp-in” in 2017 and “Brownie Camporee” and “Camp Confidence” in 2016. Katelyn took part in “Brownie Camporee” and “H2Wow” last year and “Daisy Camporee in 2016. The sisters have also been to the camp with their local troops during the school year.

Their mom, who is also Prairie du Chien Brownie Troop 4338 co-leader, said they enrolled their girls because they felt it would be a good experience and help them to become good leaders. She had been to the site for troop group camp, so she had few concerns and was grateful for the opportunity. 

“Katelyn, especially, was pretty shy. I wanted her to get used to situations where she needed to get to know people,” Janelle said. “It was the longest either of them have been away from home, but I think you could really notice a difference in their confidence afterward.”

The Mathieses have made Girl Scout camp a tradition, as gifts for their daughters’ summer birthdays.

This year, Allison and Katelyn will be attending camp along with friends they met at previous sessions. They were both enlivened when talking about their experiences, in past years and in anticipation of the coming summer. 

Katelyn loved decorating  T-shirts and other crafts, sliding on the soapy slip-n-slide, and learning about animals, rocks, etc.

Allison remembers the dance parties, ziplining, the ropes course, swimming and other exercise.

Most of all, the sisters were thrilled about the new friends they made. Though they may have started their days at Camp Ehawee not wanting to say goodbye to their parents, both had to be torn away from their new friends by the end of the session.

“Almost everything makes you laugh,” Katelyn said.

Allison explained how, at camp, responsibility is important, too. She said they wake up around 7 a.m. and go to bed about 9 or 10 p.m. They show respect to the flag every morning and night. For every meal, there are helpers who set the tables, clean up, wash dishes, sweep and perform additional jobs, assigned to them by their college-aged camp counselors. There’s also a nurse and administration on site. Each day, there’s one hour of free time.

To keep things interesting, sometimes, meals are eaten without utensils, without hands, to the beat of music or sitting on the ground. Daily fun activities have a endless range following each session’s theme. They include canoeing, canoe tipping exercises, making boats for racing, nightly campfires, cooking, pool parties, gaga ball, ninja skills, marshmallow throwing, painting, morning frog jumping, building and breaking things, robots, science experiments, magic, art, water and bugs, special quests, etc.

“It’s all about how to share and get along, be brave and team building,” noted Katelyn, in talking about the hands-on, explorative activities.

Throughout the week, parents are sent pictures of their kids at camp, for peace of mind. No other parental contact or cell phones are allowed at Camp Ehawee. Though, parents can send care packages. 

From Prairie du Chien, the camp is about two hours away. Open houses and visits by appointment are regularly possible. 

Marci Henderson, Badgerland Girl Scouts’ CEO, said the 2018 summer camp planning team was charged with one purpose: “Getting more girls to camp, because Girl Scouts benefit immensely from spending time outdoors.”

Findings published by the Girl Scouts Research Institute show that when girls participate in outdoor programs, they experience personal growth and empowerment, try new things, overcome fears and learn teamwork and leadership skills. The study also finds that nearly three-quarters of girls improved a skill while participating in an outdoor Girl Scout program.

“Another significant finding in the research is that girls develop lifelong environmental stewardship by participating in camping outdoor experiences,” Henderson added. “That’s why it’s so important to get more girls outdoors this summer.”

No matter their age, all Badgerland Girl Scouts will try something new at camp this year. But they’ll also participate in the traditions that have kept girls coming back to camp for decades: campfires, swimming, songs, archery, creek hopping, flag ceremonies and more.

“We’re infusing energy and interest among girls and their parents to experience camp, and to want to come back in years to come,” Henderson said.

Any girl in kindergarten through 12th grade can attend Girl Scout camp; including non-members. Information about costs, dates, session themes and other details can be found at www.gsbadger land.org.

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