Tag Archives: Camp Mahackeno

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.


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.