Tag Archives: Camp Mahackeno

Mahackeno: An Old Camp For A New Age

Mahackeno — the Westport Weston Family YMCA camp just south of the Bedford Center — has a long, storied history.

It’s as old as the Merritt Parkway. And as new as the work currently be done there, not far from the Saugatuck River site.

The Y opened its camp in 1938. Six years later they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the present camp.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said 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.” One of the highlights: a rope swing, dangling from the nearby Merritt Parkway.

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.

Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away the rope swing (and an enormous military-style float that it’s a miracle no one ever drowned underneath.

Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

This year, Mahackeno opened its new, now 34-acre facility. After a year of construction there’s a new amphitheater,  archery range, climbing walls, 2 slides and 5 rainy-day pavilions.

A counselor gives an assist at a new climbing wall.

The basketball court, Beck Lodge and swimming pool have been renovated (with a new splash pad too). Playing fields were leveled.

The refurbished pool. Y members can register to swim for one hour slots on weekends.

Every tree of 8 calipers or more has been replaced by 2 new trees. Oh, yeah: the port-a-potties are shielded too.

Westport Weston Family Y CEO Pat Riemersma checks out one of several new wood chip paths.

250 or so boys and girls attend one or more of 9 week-long sessions. This being a pandemic, they remain in strict groups of 10, with the same (masked) counselor all week.

Scroll down for some photos of Camp Mahackeno, 2020. It’s not 1938 — but then again, what is?

Between canoe sessions, a counselor sanitizes railings.

Gaga is a ground-level form of dodgeball.

Two new slides are a huge hit.

The new amphitheater seats 360 campers and staff members.

No camp is complete without an archery range.

The newly renovated basketball court gets plenty of action.

Rainy day pavilions: shelter from the storm.

The all-new playground.

A classic camp scene.

“Day Of Champions” Will Be Quite An Experience

Westport is awash in organizations that benefit young people — here, in the rest of Fairfield County, the country and the world. It’s one of the strengths of our community.

Many throw fundraisers. Westporters support them generously, with time as well as money.

But most of these kid-focused groups’ events don’t actually involve young people themselves.

That’s why Experience Camp’s Day of Champions is so wonderful.

Not to mention unique, cool, and tons of fun.

Experience Camp is the Westport-based network of summer camps for youngsters who have lost a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The program builds confidence, encourages laughter, and allows them to navigate grief through friendship, teamwork, sports and the common bond of loss.

This year, Experience Camps will serve 1,000 boys and girls, at 5 locations from Maine to California.

Of course, running such a life-changing program costs money: $1,000 for a week at camp.

For much of its first decade, Experience Camps — founded by Westporter Sara Deren — relied on gala fundraisers in big cities, and foundation grants.

In 2017 Deren asked fellow Westport resident Gery Grove to help raise funds here. She teamed with Melissa Post, who like Grove loved the idea of the camp.

They thought about the usual events, like cocktail parties. But they realized the best way to raise money for kids was to involve kids themselves.

Together with a hard-working committee, they launched the first Day of Champions in 2018.

Fun at Experience Camps’ Day of Champions …

Camp Mahackeno was the perfect venue for the camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) competed in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities. Many wore costumes.

Points were awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It was a joyful day — and it brought in over $150,000.

… and funny hair …

To participate, teams had to raise at least $1,000. Some were well over $25,000.

Organizers feared the first year might have been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

Last year’s Day of Champions brought in more than $225,000. Over the past 2 years, Westport’s Michelle Yanover — who lost her mom at 7 — has raised over $45,000. Working with his New York Life firm, Grove’s husband Matt added another $40,000-plus.

… and a tug-of-war …

This year’s 3rd annual event is Sunday, May 17 (8 to 11:30 a.m.). Due to construction at Mahackeno, it’s moved to another great location: Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Yet as fun and financially important as the Day of Champions is, there’s another element that makes it special.

… and more fun. (Photos/Stephen Dodd)

“It teaches kids a lot,” Grove says. “They learn there are other kids who need their support — kids who don’t have their entire family here anymore.

“Kids get a chance to raise money for a resonant cause. And they have the best time doing it. Our lives are busy, but families come and do this together. Kids, teachers, parents, town officials — everyone puts concerns and differences aside for the day. It’s a great time!”

(Click here to register a team. Spectators are welcome too.)

Pics Of The Day #854

Yesterday, Patty Kondub held her last outdoor Aqua Fitness class ever at the old Camp Mahackeno pool.

It will be open for only a few more days.  Then camp is over, the Y closes for cleaning, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held, bulldozers move in, and a big new complex will be built.

Kathie Motes Bennewitz says she’ll miss it. The pool reminds her of when she first moved here in the late 1970s.

In honor of the last session, she and her Aqua Fitness classmates tried to spell “YMCA” with their noodles (front).

Meanwhile, she wonders if “no chicken fights” will make it onto the new rule board next summer.

(Photos/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Slush Puppy

Westport was spared the snow, ice and wind that’s buffeting much of the rest of the country.

All we’ve gotten is light rain, and slush. This was the scene at otherwise empty Winslow Park this morning:

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

And here’s Camp Mahackeno, seen from the Westport Weston Family Y:

(Photo/Dan Woog)

But we did not escape today’s weather unscathed.

As happens more and more often, there’s flooding all around town. Some are places that flood often; some are spots we seldom worry about.

Grove Point — off Hillspoint — saw waters high enough from Sherwood Mill Pond to close the road. Here’s the view:

(Photo/John Kantor)

Standing water is everywhere. Be careful out there!

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.