Camp Arcadia: ‘Like having 100s of sisters’

CAMPING BOND — Wendy Ross and her daughter Tracy Spalsbury are among the alumni who spent the weekend of Aug. 7 – 9 at Camp Arcadia, the girls’ camp located along Pleasant Lake in Otisfield. (De Busk Photo)

CAMPING BOND — Wendy Ross and her daughter Tracy Spalsbury are among the alumni who spent the weekend of Aug. 7-9 at Camp Arcadia, the girls’ camp located along Pleasant Lake in Otisfield.                     (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

OTISFIELD — Eleanor Tracy Cochran and her younger sister, Ann Tracy Ross, remember the skills they learned at Camp Arcadia such as swimming, canoeing, archery, marksmanship with a rifle, as well as weaving and letter-writing.

The director of the all-girls camp on the shores of Pleasant Lake believed that to be confident in the world, young women should be confident in the outdoors. So, campers spent a lot of time in the water. When out of the water, the campers learned valuable life skills and made long-lasting friendships.

While this might seem to be the status quo at any summer camp, the Tracy sisters went to Arcadia Camp in the 1930s and ‘40s.

“You have to remember it was still the turn-of-the-century, women had just got the voting rights in 1920,” Eleanor said.

The girls’ summer camp was quite progressive for the time period, she said.

About 50 years later, Ann’s granddaughter, Tracy (Ross) Spalsbury, 32, had a great affinity for the lake. There, at camp, she met friends who would ask her to stand in as a bridesmaid, and those who would invite her to weddings, and those who would stay in touch through Facebook.

“I lived at the H-dock,” Spalsbury said.

“I did a lot of swimming and some windsurfing, and a little bit of canoeing,” Spalsbury said.

Her mother Wendy, who spent three summers at Camp Arcadia from 1967 to 1970, gravitated toward theater.

REMINISCING ABOUT CAMP ARCADIA — the all-girls’ overnight camp, are sisters Eleanor Tracy Cochran and Ann Tracy Ross, who attended in the 1930s and ‘40s. (De Busk Photo)

REMINISCING ABOUT CAMP ARCADIA — the all-girls’ overnight camp, are sisters Eleanor Tracy Cochran and Ann Tracy Ross, who attended in the 1930s and ’40s. (De Busk Photo)

Wendy recalled the friends and comradery, and the starring roles she played on stage. At Camp Arcadia, her natural interests started Wendy on a path that led to a career in television.

Wendy’s cousin Paige Cochran, who is Eleanor’s daughter, expressed high acclaim. “If it weren’t for Camp Arcadia, I wouldn’t be alive — literally,” she said.

“This is where my grandparents met,” Paige said.

Her grandmother — whom everyone referred to as a “very independent woman,” was the rifle range instructor in 1929. During her time as a camp employee, she was introduced to her future husband. The couple married three months later.

Over the weekend of Aug. 7 through Aug. 9, the alumni from multiple generations met at the 365-acre spread to celebrate 100 years of camping memories at Camp Arcadia.

In many ways, not much has changed from decade to decade.

Tracy Spalsbury was once again spending her free time at the H-dock. She exited from the water to visit with her mom.

“There are people who I have been lifelong friends with since I was 12,” said Spalsbury, who attended camp from 1995 to 2000, and returned as a counselor in 2003.

It would be difficult to not form a bond since the girls lived in close quarters for up to six weeks.

“We spent all our time together, from the time we made our beds in the morning until we went to sleep at night,” she said. “When we were older, rest time was great. We would hang out, dance, lay out in the sun and listen to music,” she said.

“It was the best time. We just unplugged. It was our world,” she said.

Many important learning experiences were tied to the friendships and the way the girls were taught to treat one another.

Spalsbury valued the moral teachings on Sunday — something that Wendy appreciated as a mom and as a camper.

“That is the virtue of this camp. You learn that you are your own person and that you are okay. You find your own inner self and you help others find theirs,” said Wendy, who was a camper from 1966 until 1970.

The alumni gathering gave her the opportunity to see three women she knew as a girl.

“The interesting thing is they remember who you were,” Wendy said.

“Cathy was bubbly and funny and always made me laugh. Cathy remembers me as being involved in theater, having a take-charge personality, and encouraging others to perform on stage,” she said.

Cathy McCormick laughed about Wendy’s role of support in “my one and only performance on a stage in my life.”

McCormick went to Camp Arcadia from 1966 to 1970. Unlike Wendy, she was a first-generation camper. “My two sisters and I had the privilege to be here,” she said.

One of the things that most impressed her was the older campers who tried to earn their Junior Maine Guide certificate. “The image that the girls could do what boys do,” stuck with her.

Mostly, she loved the singing that was such a vital part of campership.

“The singing is what I remember. We sang in the cabin. We sang in the canoe. We sang in harmony. We sang all the time — even at meal time,” she said.

Wendy’s cousin, Paige Cochran, got a taste of Camp Arcadia from 1977 through 1980.

“I loved meal time,” she said.

“It was the most magical time. We would eat and sing. I have the best memories of just hanging out with girls all the time. It was like hanging out with 10 of your best friends 24/7. No parents, no boys, no distractions,” Cochran said.

“Oh, and the food was good, too,” she added.

The camp life had some routine to it. However, the girls were given free time “to gravitate toward what we liked,” she said. In addition to tennis, Cochran “was into camp crafts, hiking, living outdoors.”

“This is not a girlie camp. You learned to take care of yourself,” she said. “And the older girls take care of the younger girls. They adopted me,” she said.

Her mother Eleanor laid claim to a bunk in one of the cabins in the late 1930s. Then, camp counselors stressed that the girls were competing against themselves, and not each other, she said, adding that the campers and the counselor were supportive.

“It is a very supportive environment — this whole camp. It’s like having hundreds of sisters.” Paige said.

Camp Arcadia is not just a place where parents drop off their daughter for the summer, Eleanor said. The young girls returned home with newfound skills, she said.

Eleanor and Ann described the ritual of cleaning their cabins and writing letters on Sunday evening. “This is where I learned how to make ‘hospital corners’ with the sheets,” Ann said.

Paige was 12 years old when she first enrolled in camp. Her daughter Brooke is 11, and has been a camper since 2011.

“I like Camp Arcadia because there are not so many people in a cabin. I can organize my own space in my cabin. I have my own space in the bathroom,” Brooke said. “Every Friday, we have mud pies,” she said, listing the white cake with hot fudge topping among her favorite things at camp.

“Each cabin has a CTG, a counselor training guide. They come over to our cabin every night. They are fun to hang out with because they teach you,” Brooke said, of the older teens. “They are like role models, but also, they are friends,” she said.

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