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Lehigh Valley Local News

'It feels like home': Girl Scout camps in the LV foster sisterhood, friendship

SALISBURY TWP., Pa. — As the warm weather season reaches its midpoint, so do summer camps across the region.

Across the Lehigh Valley, Girl Scout camps provide those rite-of-passage experiences designed to prepare girls with the skills and the confidence to become the leaders of tomorrow.

  • The Lehigh Valley is home to the Girl Scout of Eastern Pennsylvania's smallest camp, Mountain House
  • Not so far away, in Montgomery County, is Laughing Waters, GSEP's largest camp
  • Girls from across the Lehigh Valley learn leadership skills and foster friendships at Girl Scout camps, say Girl Scout reps

Two of those camps are Mountain House and Laughing Waters, vastly different properties that can foster the experiences of sisterhood.

Stacey Moyer, chief marketing officer for GSEP, said about 4,000 girls attend the council’s six camps each summer.

Mountain House and Laughing Waters are the smallest and largest of the six properties owned and operated by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP), and are among the sites that host girls from the Lehigh Valley.

While Mountain House’s Camp Director Amanda Hunsberger said it has seen some decline of camper enrollment since the summer of 2019 and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic, Caroline Rahmlow, director of Camp Laughing Waters, said her site has largely recovered.

Moyer said that there were about 30,000 girls were served by the GSEP council before COVID, but “Since COVID, we’ve been rebounding. We see about 10% growth each year.”

Mountain House

In the heart of the Lehigh Valley, Camp Mountain House is nestled in a 15-acre corner of Salisbury Township. It’s a day camp, meaning the girls arrive each morning and leave each afternoon.

"The biggest thing is that we're building up individuals to go be the adults of tomorrow."
Ashley Booth, director of operations for girl experience at GSEP

According to Ashley Booth, GSEP’s director of operations for girl experience, the campers build plenty of skills in that time.

In addition to arts and crafts, archery and program-themed activities, the girls learn leadership skills.

“The biggest thing is that we're building up individuals to go be the adults of tomorrow. And so we want them to be confident and have their voice and have their identity out there in the world and be who they are.”

The 30 or 40 campers each week swim twice per session at the Hellertown Pool in the afternoons, but otherwise spend most of their time in the shade of trees and a small, 110-year-old hunting lodge on a property that abuts the Wildlands Conservancy since an expansion two years ago.

Director Hunsberger, who goes by the name “Perry” with the girls, says they’re currently building a greenhouse. She hopes to bring in faster-growing plants and things for cooking programs, like tomatoes and herbs, so the girls can see progress over their week or weeks at camp.

Recently, the camp installed flush toilets, which Hunsberger says has cut down on accidents from campers who were scared to use the more primitive privies of the past.

According to Hunsberger, most campers spend between three and four weeks at the camp during the eight-week summer.

BAM!, a cooking program for kindergarten to 5th graders, guides them through making mac and cheese and corn over a fire; Fictional Fun (for grades 4-8), allows girls to compose a play in an amphitheater made from a deconstructed yurt; and Me & My Girl, for grades K-3, is a unit dedicated to American Girl Dolls.

One of the girls in the Me & My Girl program, Cheyenne, 7, said her favorite part of camp is the “teachers, because I love the teachers.”

Cheyenne was also fond of the camp’s mobile trading post, a van called “Luella” after Luella Bates. Bates was the first female commercial truck driver who, according to reports, in 1920 drove a Ford Model B truck to the New York Auto Show in NYC. Luella goes from property to property to serve parts of the council that are more remote.

Cheyenne walked away with a red panda plushie with big eyes.

Camper Cora, in BAM!, said her favorite part is arts and crafts, “Because I get to be very creative and make different things,” as she described the process of putting together a papier-mâché pizza.

In its effort to expand, GSEP is also looking for funding to build another program space, to add to the aging lodge, at Mountain House.

State Senators Milou McKenzie, R-Lehigh, and Nick Miller, D-Lehigh/Northampton, both visited the camp in the spring to look at where that new structure might go.

Laughing Waters

A little outside the Valley in Montgomery County, Camp Laughing Waters in Gilbertsville, is a 500-acre property that welcomes girls entering grades 1-12 in tents and cabins across fields.

The creek on the property gives the camp its name.

"We want them to progress to be able to feel like they can be at camp on their own."
Ashley Booth, director of operations for girl experience at GSEP

Many of the girls at Mountain House are younger than those at Laughing Waters, where campers stay overnight for days or weeks at a time.

“So you definitely see a progression between day camp and resident camp,” said Ashley Booth, director of operations for girl experience.

“I'll say a lot of campers tend to sometimes go to our day camps for a few years, and then they will trickle into doing a half-week program and then come into resident camp. At least that's the hope for us. Right? Like we want them to progress to be able to feel like they can be at camp on their own as well,” Booth said.

The half-week programs at Laughing Waters run from Sunday to Tuesday, and there are also full-week programs running Sunday to Friday, and sometimes into multiple-weeks.

Laughing Waters had about 100 campers at the start of summer’s fourth week between all programs, with about 20 leaving that Tuesday, said camp Director Rahmlow, known to her campers as “Smilez.”

With a pool and stable on site, the girls at Laughing Waters get swim and riding time every day. Campers go to the art barn three times a week, twice for a program-specific craft, once for tie-dye.

At the Take Aim program, campers were hard at work making decorative bows and arrows during their session.

Once they’re old enough, girls get the opportunity to do archery at least once over the course of their time at camp, and more often if they’re in a program like Take Aim or if they have a special interest. The same goes for rock climbing in the activity center.

Those two programs, as well as riding, carry different age requirements.

“As far as the other activities, they all kind of planned what they're gonna do for the week when they come on Sunday,” Rahmlow said.

While each camp offers a different experience for the campers, the overwhelming sentiment from the girls was that it was fun.

“I like meeting new people,” said one, “Because I don't, like, know a lot of people. Especially if I come back and I know a lot of counselors, it feels like home a little bit.”