New Owner Rebuilding, Revitalizing Summer Camp on Trout Lake
Eleven years ago Mark and Lauren Bernstein saved Camp Walden from developers. “The camp was about to go under and we bought it before the bulldozers leveled it to make room for houses and condos,” Mark said. “We had a vision of what this place could become.”
Camp Walden’s spectacular 105-acre campground is nestled on the shores of Trout Lake, just a short drive from Bolton Landing. According to Mark, the camp began operation in 1931. “It was an all-boys camp when it began, but we’re co-ed now,” he said.
Mark said the bought the camp because it was Lauren’s dream to own and operate a camp. “She has been in camping her whole career as well as an educator and vice-principal. She’s been a director for other camps as well,” he said.
Each year since they purchased the camp in 2005 the Bernsteins have either re-modeled, renovated or replaced buildings and facilities at the camp. During this past winter they demolished the camp office building and replaced it with a magnificent Adirondack-style building which serves four functions. “The new building houses our office, a state-of-the-art health center, a Canteen for indoor activities and an apartment for us,” Mark said.
Mark said the new multi-purpose building cost “well over a million dollars.” Mark said the new building will be fully operational when the camp opens for the 2015 season on June 25.
According to Mark, the couple straightaway started rehabilitating the cabins and the infrastructure at the camp. “We replaced 70-year-old wiring and rebuilt the cabins to make them safe for the campers,” he said. Mark said they could have replaced the office building the first year they bought the place. “But, we put the needs of the campers first,” he said.
“We had 129 campers that first year. Now we have over 400 campers each year with a 94 percent repeat rate,” he said. “We have a 50 to 60 percent return rate on counselors as well. We only hire them after they complete their freshman year (in college).” Mark said the counselors receive two weeks of orientation and training prior to the arrival of the campers. “We have a staff of over 200 people when camp is open,” he said. Mark said they have three staff members in each cabin.
During the winter of 2013-14 the Bernsteins built a 22-bed facility for staff members and four years ago they rehabilitated the dining hall and kitchen facility. “We used all local contractors,” he said.
Mark, 51, said the focus of Camp Walden is to teach campers a lot of life-skills. “Kids today have what I call a nature-deficit disability. They don’t play outdoors anymore like we did as kids. Today kids experience ‘helicopter parenting’ where parents don’t let them out of their sight. We give them a chance to play outdoors. There are no electronics here… no iPads and no cell phones,” he said. “We try to teach them how to be better human beings.”
A variety of outdoor activities are available for campers. There is a Little League Regulation Softball Field, two roller-hockey rinks, five tennis courts, four basketball courts, two volleyball courts, archery range, a brand new go-cart track, a 40-foot climbing wall, an extensive ropes course and zip-line as well as a heated outdoor swimming pool plus 550 feet of linear dock with multiple swimming areas.
Indoor activities include arts and crafts, wood-working, rocketry, a dance studio, a cooking and baking program and an air-conditioned movie theater. “We want to give the camper a well-rounded experience. If your child is an exceptional basketball player, for example, and is looking for intensive basketball training, Camp Walden is not for you,” Mark said. “We offer what you can’t duplicate with a pool in your backyard.”
Mark said Lauren runs the camp. “Which is kind of unique because most camps are run by men,” he said. “Her philosophy is to run the camp from an operations standpoint rather than from a budget perspective,” he said. Mark explained that often times he suggests that an improvement might be done at a lower cost but Lauren is insistent on doing the project with the camper in mind. “Sometimes it costs more to do it her way but when all is said and done, her way was the right way,” he said.
Campers range in age from 8 to 17 years of age and two three-and-a-half week sessions are offered as well as a full 7-week session. The camp closes for the season on August 13, 2015.
Mark said tours of the camp are available after the camp closes. “We have a signed agreement with Bolton Central School that for one dollar a year the school can use our facility in the off-season,” he said. “The new superintendent found out about us this year and I told him we signed an agreement with them six years ago. The baseball team practiced on our field this spring.”
Mark said that a few years ago the Town of Bolton held a Bolton Pride Day at the camp. “I’d like to see them do that again. We want to be good neighbors.”
Camp Walden is located at 429 Trout Lake Road, Diamond Point, NY. Phone 518-644-9441 for more information.