Tag Archives: Camp Mahackeno

YMCA To Expand Bedford Facility, Enhance Camp Mahackeno

In 2014, the Westport Weston Family Y opened its new Bedford Family Center, off Wilton Road.

It was big, beautiful, modern, bright and airy.

It also lacked gymnastics, and a child care center.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center.

Four years later, the Y is ready to embark on a 2nd phase of construction. Highlights include bringing the gymnastics program back from Norwalk, increasing space for programs like yoga, and enhancing facilities and amenities at nearby Camp Mahackeno.

Today, the Y reveals the specifics in a series of member meetings in the Schine Room. Two were held this morning. One began a few minutes ago. A 4th is set for 6:30 tonight.

According to CEO Pat Riemersma, a 22,000-square foot, 2-story addition will connect to the current “Kids Club” part of the current building (facing the main parking lot).

The upper level will include space for gymnastics, and a bigger “Kid’s Club.”

An architect’s drawing of the proposed Bedford Family Center upper level expansion.

The lower level will allow expansion of popular programs like group exercise, spinning, dance and youth services.

The addition is within the previously approved 107,000-square foot footprint, Riemersma says.

The project includes 70 more parking spaces. However, the Y will not seek a change to its current membership cap, or increase the day camp cap of 360 children.

Camp Mahackeno — just south of the Bedford Family Center — will see a new pool and splash pad; new poolhouse; re-grading of the athletic field; relocated archery range; 2 new giant slides (tucked into existing grading and vegetation); expanded playground, with equipment for older children; improvements to the outdoor amphitheater, and a refurbished and winterized Beck Lodge.

Plans for the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center expansion, and renovations at Camp Mahackeno. New construction and areas of enhancement are marked in yellow.

The facility addition and camp improvements are slated to begin in September 2019. Camp Mahackeno is expected to open on time in June 2020. The building addition is planned for completion in September 2020.

Total cost of the project is $25 million. Funding will come from various sources, including the capital campaign, endowment and bank financing, Riemersma says.

Color War For A Cause

For many Westport youngsters, summer camp is a rite of passage. They spend weeks in the woods, doing fun stuff and forming lifelong friendships in an environment far different from suburbia.

A few spend only 1 week at Experience Camp. But for them — and the 550 boys and girls ages 9 to 16, who attend one of 4 sites in New York, California and Georgia — it is a profound, even life-changing, time.

Experience Camp is for youngsters who have lost a parent or sibling.

Most of the time is spent in typical camp activities — swimming, arts and crafts, campfires.

But with the guidance of licensed clinicians, campers find opportunities to share their life stories with kids who are just like them. They learn that grief, isolation and loss is not theirs alone.

A week at Experience Camp is filled with fun.

Experience Camp is directed by Westporters Jon and Sara Deren. It’s headquartered right here in Westport.

The national organization has kept a low profile in town. But on May 20 Experience Camp holds its first-ever fundraiser. Money raised will keep camp free, for every youngster who attends.

The “Day of Champions” is set for Camp Mahackeno — a perfect choice for this camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) compete in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities.

Points are awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It will be a day of laughter and fun.

Of course, it’s bittersweet. Many members of the planning committee lost a parent, sibling or spouse at an early age.

Rory Murray’s husband was killed in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Their daughter Aly was 5 months old.

Five years later, she attended Camp Better Days. The 1-week program on Lake George brought together scores of children of 9/11 victims.

Enjoying life at Camp Better Days.

Aly went back the next year. And the next, and next.

She’s now a Staples High School junior. She’ll head back this summer, for the final time. The friends she’s made there — the youngest group that began at the camp — head to college next year. Camp Better Days has served its purpose, and will close in August.

“This has become her family,” Rory says. “It’s a safe haven, where they can be and say anything. Aly moves heaven and earth to go there.”

As she thought about the end of Camp Better Days, Rory learned about Experience Camp. Immediately, she volunteered to help.

“The Day of Champions will help provide all the wonderful things Aly had,” Rory says.

“For kids who lost a sibling or parent, having a place to go is magical. There’s implicit trust, and lots of love. Realizing you’re not alone, that you’ve got other people to lean on, cry and laugh with, is so powerful. This 1-week escape is a gift for these children, and their families.”

Rory and Aly Murray

Rory, Aly and her family will be one of the 20 teams participating in the Day of Champions. Many slots are already filled.

But there’s still room for a few teams. So be a champion! It’s a “camp experience” that’s even sweeter than a s’more.

(The Day of Champions is set for Sunday, May 20, 9 to 11 a.m., at Camp Mahackeno behind the Westport Weston Family YMCA. To register a team, or for more information, click here. To donate without participating, click here.)

SLOBs Take Over Westport

If you drove around Westport today, you may have noticed an unusual number of high school boys weeding, planting, mulching, painting, cleaning and picking up garbage.

What a bunch of SLOBs.

That’s the great acronym for Staples’ Service League Of Boys. One of the most popular clubs at the high school, it’s a way for boys — and their parents — to join together in community service.

Today — during the group’s 8th annual Service Sunday — SLOBs contributed over 600 hours of work. They also donated $5,000 in supplies and goods, to get their work done.

Staples seniors Brendan Massoud, Thomas Moy and Elliott Poulley (rear) work at Earthplace.

Among the job sites: Wakeman Town Farm, Camp Mahackeno, Earthplace, A Better Chance of Westport Glendarcy House, Staples High and the Bridgeport Community Garden.

More SLOBs action this time at Wakeman Town Farm — from today’s Service Sunday.

Meanwhile, inside Staples, SLOBs created a library for the K-8 Luiz Munoz Marin School in Bridgeport. Members contributed over 800 books, which they catalogued today.

They also assembled healthy snack bags for Read School students. For some youngsters, that’s much of the food they eat on weekends.

SLOB’s service day is big. But the boys do plenty throughout the year too. Since September they’ve volunteered at over 70 community events, here and in neighboring towns — providing over 3,800 hours of service.

Our SLOBs are pretty neat!

Service League of Boys members and parents pose for a photo. Soon it was back to work.

Snow Day: Afternoon Views

By noon, the snow had moved on. The quick storm dropped 8 inches of heavy, beautiful stuff. It was a photographer’s delight.

The sun peeks through on Meadow View. (Photo/Krystof Bondar)

The sun peeks through on Meadow View. (Photo/Krystof Bondar)

iFloat was open for relaxation. This was the view from the 2nd floor of Main Street, shot by owner David Conneely.

These trees in front of Vineyard Vines on Main Street come courtesy of iFloat owner David Conneely.

Dayle Brownstein enjoyed this painting-like view, from the comfort of inside.

Dayle Brownstein enjoyed this painting-like scene, from the comfort of indoors.

Sadie romps outside. (Photo/Karen Abramson)

A little snow does not stop Sadie from fetching. (Photo/Karen Abramson)

Emily, Michael and Luke Bernier have a great time. Who says yellow snow is bad?! (Photo/Anne Bernier)

Emily, Michael and Luke Bernier have a great time. Who says yellow snow is bad?! (Photo/Anne Bernier)

Bella Sabino, Georgia Graham, Sienna Peck and Evan Sabino enjoying the snow at Winslow Park today. (Photo/Lisa Sabino)

Bella Sabino, Georgia Graham, Sienna Peck and Evan Sabino enjoying the snow at Winslow Park today. (Photo/Lisa Sabino)

Snow-covered Compo Hill, as seen from across the Sherwood Mill Pond by David Squires.

Snow-covered Compo Hill, as seen from across the Sherwood Mill Pond by David Squires.

Attendance at the Y's fitness center was low -- but members who made it to work out also enjoyed this scenery. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Attendance at the Y’s fitness center was low — but members who worked out also enjoyed this Camp Mahackeno scenery. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport was wonderfully wintry. This shot is from Partrick Lane. (Photo/Martin Gitlin)

Westport was wonderfully wintry. This shot is from Partrick Lane. (Photo/Martin Gitlin)

Applying The Cunningham

When most Westporters read that Briggs Cunningham III — a great-grandson of Edward T. Bedford, the founder of the Westport YMCA — pledged $250,000 to support the new facility at Camp Mahackeno, they may have thought “that’s a lot of money.”

Or “Briggs Cunningham III — what a WASPy name.”

Neil Brickley –a good friend of mine who learned to sail off Burying Hill Beach, within sight of the old Bedford estate (now Green’s Farms Academy) — thought, “I wonder if that’s the same Briggs Cunningham who invented ‘the Cunningham.'” (If you’re not a boater — and I’m not — then you don’t know that a Cunningham is “a common device on sailboats that adjusts sail tension.”)

“Cunningham downhaul” (Photo/Wikipedia)

“Applying the Cunningham” is apparently a favorite sailing technique. Though it sounds like something right out of the Kama Sutra, via The Onion.

Neil is right. The inventor — Briggs Cunningham II — has quite an entry in Wikipedia. He was, that impeccable source says, “an American entrepreneur and sportsman, who raced automobiles and yachts.

“He skippered the victorious yacht Columbia in the 1958 America’s Cup race, and invented the eponymous device, the Cunningham, to increase the speed of racing sailboats.”

He learned to sail at 6. He began racing at 17, out of Pequot Yacht Club. Briggs II left Yale to marry Lucy Bedford — daughter of Standard Oil heir F.T. (Fred) Bedford. Not a bad career move.

In addition to sailboat racing, II competed in the 24-hour auto race at Le Mans. In 1951 he designed and built the Cunningham C-4R, a race car with “a sleek, hand-hammered aluminum body and Chrysler’s newly introduced V-8 engine, (which) has been called America’s first sports car.”

Briggs Cunningham II, on the cover of Time.

On April 26, 1954 Briggs II was on the cover of Time magazine, with 3 of his Cunningham racing cars. (“The H-Bomb In Color” rated only a ribbon at the top.)

So I’m guessing the $250,000 his son — Briggs III — just pledged to the Y isn’t going to break the bank. (Briggs III’s sister, Lucie McKinney, pledged $500,000. But she’s got more skin in the game. She’s a Westporter — III lives in Kentucky — and 2 of her 5 children are Y board members.)

The Cunningham-Bedford Y connection is indeed strong. In 1944 the Y was offered 30 acres of land off Sunny Lane, near their newly established camp. Fred Bedford (Briggs II’s father-in-law, and III’s grandfather) said the Bedford Trust Fund would pay half of the cost — provided the Westport community matched it.

The total amount:  $10,000.

In 1945 the Y moved onto the new land, which they called Bedford Camp. The next year — at Fred’s request — it was changed to Mahackeno. The name honored Mahackemo, the chief of the Norwalke Indians, who in the early 1600s used the property as a summer home lodge.

Which is all you need to know today about Mahackeno, the Bedford family, Briggs Cunninghams II and III, and how generations of boaters have changed the shape of their sails.

Camp Mahackeno, shortly after the name was changed from Bedford Camp.

Let The Games Begin

File this under whichever category you want: “Signs of the Apocalypse,” or “Meeting Kids Exactly Where They Are Today.”

Back in the 1940s this was a typical scene at Mahackeno, the Westport Y’s long-running summer camp:

Here’s a photo from last summer:

(That’s laser tag, for those of you not down with modern games.)

Building on last year’s success, Camp Mahackeno introduces special “theme weeks” this year — 1 for each of the 8 weeks camp is in session.

They include Olympics, space week, sports of all sorts, science week, travel around the world, holiday week, and arts week (in conjunction with the Westport Arts Center).

Traditionalists, take heart: One of the sessions is called “Water Week.”

Hey, it’s still summer. No one’s changed that.

Yet.

Channeling Stevan Dohanos

In 1953, Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos posed some Camp Mahackeno boys at the wooden bridge, where Poplar Plains Brook runs into the Saugatuck River.

The result was a classic Saturday Evening Post cover.

This afternoon  — 58 years later — Westport Y officials gathered some Water Rat swim team members at the same spot.

A few things were different — there’s no totem pole, but there are girls and safety railings — yet much remained the same.

The kids loved the watermelon.  The trees and rocks haven’t moved.  There’s still no mountain in the background (Dohanos’ artistic license).

(Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

The photo will be used as part of the Y’s fundraising campaign.  And although the new Y will be built just a few yards from where the 1953 cover was drawn — and the 2011 photo taken — the brook and river will remain.

Hopefully they’ll look the same in 2069 — 58 years from now.

(The August 1, 1953 Saturday Evening Post cover is courtesy of Peter Prigge — a Mahackeno camper who posed for Dohanos’ illustration.)

Chief Mahackemo

Mahackeno” has become shorthand for the Westport Y‘s future home.

Y members — and those of us who went to summer camp there — know exactly what “Mahackeno” is.  But plenty of non-members — and newcomers to town — don’t.

Canoeing -- a timeless Mahackeno activity.

In 1938, the Y started a camp along the Saugatuck River near the new Merritt Parkway.  Six years later, they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the camp.

F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said that his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.

Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion:  $10,000.

In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property.  That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.”

A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.”  That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who, in 1639, met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.

The Camp Mahackeno pool staff -- in 1985.

Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew.  It added girls, a pool and other amenities.  It (reluctantly) packed away a rope swing that hung from the parkway bridge.

Today the camp includes a 12-acre canoeing and fishing pond; a climbing wall; playing fields and basketball courts.  There’s still room for camp activities like archery and leather making, which Chief Mahackemo might recognize.  It serves up to 250 children (grades 1-10) per 1-week session.

This Saturday (May 21, noon to 2 p.m.), the Y hosts an open house for new and prospective campers.  There will be tours, and a chance to meet director Jennifer Perrault and her staff.

There’s also a noontime planting of a new “teaching garden” (weather permitting).  The Y and Green Village Initiative are teaming up to help campers eat healthily.  So much for s’mores and bug juice.

Fun fact:  This Saturday marks the 80th anniversary of Edward T. Bedford’s death — go figure.  No, I’ll do it for you:  He was 82, and the Y he founded was just 8 years old.

After more than 70 years, Mahackeno is a venerable Westport institution.  But it’s a tradition that may take a hiatus in 2013 and ’14, when the new Y is constructed on part of the property.

Y officials will explore the possibility of holding their camp elsewhere, perhaps at a public school.

As always, they look on the bright side.  In 2015 — if all goes according to plan — Camp Mahackeno will reopen.  There will be access to a water slide and a large gym, among other additions.

That’s something that Chief Mahackemo may not recognize, were he to return.

Then again, he’d be over 400 years old.

(For more information on Camp Mahackeno, click here or email jperrault@westporty.org)

Mahackeno staff and campers -- a timeless tableau.


Y Moves Closer To Mahackeno

The fat lady may not have sung — yet.

But her spotlight is on.  She’s warming up her vocal cords.  And she’s ready to step onstage.

A Stamford Superior Court decision seems to have removed the last major impediment to the Westport Weston Family Y‘s move from downtown to its 32-acre Camp Mahackeno property.

On Thursday, Judge A. William Mottolese rejected an appeal filed by Y Downtown, a grassroots organization hoping (duh) to keep the Y downtown.  The sigh of relief heard in the 87-year-old Tudor building on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street could be heard — well, all the way up Wilton Road, to Mahackeno’s hills, dales and river.

The Westport Y in downtown Westport -- until 2014, it now seems.

Yesterday, Westport Y CEO Rob Reeves reflected on what the decision means.

“We didn’t have to wait for this decision to move forward with our plans, but because I was new to the job 2 years ago, and there was so much uncertainty (about the court case), we decided to wait,” he said.

“Now that the judge has spoken, we’re going to refocus our efforts.  We’re going to talk to the community and the media.  We’ve been quiet for a while.  Now we look forward to reminding people of what we do, how we connect to the community, and how we’ll make this the best move it can be.”

Y Downtown has 20 days to request an appeal before the Connecticut Appellate Court.  There is no certainty that request would be accepted.

Y Downtown has not announced whether it will appeal.  As of yesterday afternoon, its website did not have news of Thursday’s court decision.

Though a major impediment to the Y’s move has been cleared, another obstacle remain$.

A capital campaign will be announced sometime this year.  Y officials have not yet re-priced the Mahackeno building, but the fundraising environment is clearly different than when planning began in 2002 — nearly 10 years ago.

Reeves — who combines FDR-like optimism with a healthy dose of pragmatism (he came to Westport from Maine) — sees an upside in the economic downturn.

“If we’d started a capital campaign 4 years ago and then ran into the recession, people might not have been able to make good on their pledges,” he said.

“Now, people might contribute less.  But they’ll be more realistic about what they say they can give.

“We have to go beyond the typical big donors,” he added.  “They can’t carry this.  Whatever we do has to be much broader based.”

Nationally, Reeves noted, non-profits are initiating fundraising campaigns — and money is coming in.

He said that the Y will soon reassess “what we can realistically build.  We won’t commit to a building we can’t afford.”

An artist's rendering of the Westport Y at Camp Mahackeno.

So — as the fat lady prepares to walk on stage — Reeves is readying the Westport Y for its own next steps.

“We have to position ourselves as an asset to the community,” he emphasized.  “We have to explain why this took so long, and what we plan to do.

“If this community wants the Y to be an integral part of Westport — and that’s what we hear, over and over — we have to make sure people understand that we have to move.

“We have an agreement to be out of the (downtown) building by the end of 2014.  We can’t change that.”

Though he supports keeping the Y where it is, Matt Mandell is not a Y Downtown leader.  He’s chair of the RTM’s Planning and Zoning Committee — and an astute observer of the way the political winds blow.

In an e-mail to like-minded Westporters after the judge’s decision, he seemed to acknowledge that the fight was over.

He said that Y Downtown “put up a great fight.”

The Y folks too, he said, “fought well.”  He congratulated his foes, and acknowledged that over the past few years there were “some tough moments and at times bad blood.”

But in the end, Mandell said, “we are all one community and continue to live among each other.  While I might not like the new location, I’m sure it will be a great place to use.  One thing Y folks, please do right by your neighbors, you owe at least that much to them.”

Reeves agrees with his former foe.

“We’re hopeful we can put everything that’s gone on behind us,” the CEO said.  “We want to be a good neighbor, even for those people who might have been uncertain about us.”

The fat lady couldn’t have sung said it better herself.

Modern Mahackeno

Some bloggers get invited on press junkets to Alaska, the Caribbean orAustralia.

I got an hour-long tour of Camp Mahackeno.

Hey, I’m not complaining.  The gathering included an A-list of Westporters — YMCA trustees and major donors — and was capped off by a cookout at Y CEO Rob Reeves’ house.  Best of all, this was a chance to revisit a piece of old Westport, a place that has in many ways changed dramatically since I was a camper there years ago.  In other ways, it’s changed not at all.

David Cohen, Y VP of operations, welcomes the tour. Randee bok (senior director) and Jennifer Seirup (director, youth and family services) look on.

David Cohen, Y VP of operations, welcomes the tour. Randee bok (senior director) and Jennifer Seirup (director, youth and family services) look on.

David Cohen, Randee Bok and Jen Seirup took turns talking about the 71-year-old camp.  They take special pride in the Special Cares program for children with physical or mental challenges.  Up to a dozen youngsters per session are mainstreamed as much as possible, and enjoy a staff-camper ration of no more than 1:2.

Mahackeno is open to children entering grades 1 through 7.  It’s not cheap — and even kids in the Leaders in Training (grades 8-9) and Counselor in Training (grade 10) pay — but the Y provided 120 slots this summer to families in need, through Westport and Weston’s human services departments.  In addition, they fund several Fresh Air Fund campers.

Bill Gault was on the tour.  Like me, he is a former camper.  When we were there, the Sunny Lane drop-off area was open and dusty.  Now it’s lush with trees and plants.  A few decades do that to a place.

We walked through the “LOGS” area, where campers meet for special activities.  There are no logs to sit on — only benches — but that’s okay.  “LOGS” stands for “Lots Of Good Stuff.”

There is archery, canoeing, baseball — all the usual camp stuff. There’s also a strong outdoors program for older campers, complete with team-building exercises.

Counselors’ shirts say “Professional Role Models.”  Randee and Jen place a premium on staff development.  They laughed — but also cringed — when Rob described the recollections of a camper from 40 years ago.  Back then, a harsh waterfront director forced campers to swim in the cold Saugatuck River.  They emerged covered with leeches.

Nothing says "summer camp" more than a lake, canoes and kids.

Nothing says "summer camp" more than a lake, canoes and kids.

The Saugatuck is strictly for canoeing now.  A large, well-guarded pool is one of the most popular spots at camp.

Mahackeno has a social conscience.  During each session, campers are introduced to the Polar Bear initiative.  They learn about climate change, and collect winter coats to distribute to needy families.  (They briefly wear the coats, to understand how polar bears feel in July.)

The economy has taken a toll everywhere, including Mahackeno.  Enrollment is down this summer.  But Randee takes the long view.

“We expect kids to move on every year.  We try to build independence, so they can go to sleepaway camps” — hopefully, those sponsored by other Ys.  “And then we hope they’ll come back to our LIT and CIT training programs, and eventually become staff members.”

We ended our tour in the hollow down the hill from the drop-off circle.  Large “Demolition” signs decorated two wooden buildings — part of the land where the Y hopes to build its new facility.

Nearby, happy campers played, ate, laughed and roughhoused.  For 71 years, those things haven’t changed.

The tour group gathers in front of what the Y hopes will be its new building. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

The tour group gathers in front of what the Y hopes will be its new building. (Photo by Dave Matlow)