Before dawn even breaks, a troop of kids can often be found in a 13-foot Boston Whaler, out on glassy Medomak Lake, fishing for white perch and trout. Soon, other intrepid guests at Medomak Family Camp will shed their bathrobes in piles by the shore's edge to strike out on the half-mile swim to a small, rocky island, accompanied by a lifeguard quietly paddling a kayak. More sensible campers at this idyllic 260-acre spot in Washington, Maine, spend the early-morning hours in their pine cabins (each of the 12 has hot and cold running water, queen and twin beds, a writing table, a rocking chair, and its own name—such as Big Dipper or Little Dipper).
Founded in 1902 as a boys' camp designed to teach city kids to appreciate the wilderness, Medomak turned coed in the sixties. After a church purchased it in the early eighties, the property fell into disrepair. When Holly Stone, who'd been a camper here, heard it was on the market again, she put in a last-minute bid and bought the place. Stone restored what she could of the original buildings and constructed new cabins, transforming Medomak into one of the country's few camps that welcome families all summer long (see sidebar for others).
Each of the one-week sessions (eight in all) hosts about 50 campers of all ages—some from as far away as England and Bolivia. It's not unusual for those who were Medomak campers 30 or 40 years ago to find themselves back, joining in as their children learn to build a lean-to and collect firewood (birch bark is best, but it should never be pulled from a live tree).
Stone insists that Medomak "truly is a camp, not a resort." You bring your own linens, blankets, and towels, and everyone helps bus dishes. Most meals are served in the farmhouse dining hall, where each of the round tables seats 10 and is piled with an abundance of local fare—vegetables and edible flowers from the camp garden, goat cheese from a nearby farm, lobster from the coast, and, depending on camper skill and fortune, the occasional fish from the lake. One evening in the barn children might sample Maine root beer while the adults taste 14 beers from Maine microbreweries. Medomak offers arts and crafts—mask-making, tie-dyeing, whittling, photography, printmaking—as well as plenty of games and sports, including baseball, basketball, tennis, and archery. There are also talks by local astronomers ("What Is a Meteor?" was especially popular during the Perseid meteor shower).
And the camp has a summer book club. Last year kids raced through the 1978 adventure Lost on a Mountain in Maine; adults selected The Secret Life of Lobsters. The casual book discussions—afternoons spent lakeside, chairs pulled into a lopsided circle—are always held at the end of the week, to give campers time to attend to their reading. But with acres of wild blueberries to pick, Sunfish to sail, soapstone to carve, and canoes to paddle, anyone who actually finishes the book is considered something of a hero.
MEDOMAK FAMILY CAMP, 178 Liberty Rd., Washington, Maine; 866/633-6625; www.medomakcamp.com; weeklong sessions June 25August 19; adults $850, children 2 to 4 $400, children 5 to 12 $750, including all meals and activities.