In 1985, Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, a New York City psychiatrist, came to Great Camp Sagamore with an idea. He had recently published a book called "Grandparents/Grandchildren: The Vital Connection" and had developed some theories about the importance of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. He thought this remote location in the Adirondacks might be the perfect place for grandparents to develop and nurture that relationship with their grandchildren.
Great Camp Sagamore is unique as a site for an intergenerational camp in that it is a bona fide Great Camp. Built just before 1900 by W. W. Durant, it was purchased by the Vanderbilt family soon after its completion. During the early part of the 20th century, Alfred Vanderbilt enthusiastically built additional buildings and enhanced existing structures at Sagamore. Through the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, the camp was a whirlwind of activity attracting celebrity guests from all over the country. However, after the devastating 1950 Big Blowdown in the Adirondacks, Alfred’s second wife, Margaret Emerson, gifted the Great Camp to Syracuse University to be used as a wilderness education site.
Great Camp Sagamore was almost demolished in the 1970s when the university sold it to New York state and it was placed under a Forever Wild classification. The Preservation League of New York worked tirelessly to convince the state that Sagamore should be preserved. It was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1975, the Sagamore Institute of the Adirondacks began offering programs and other opportunities for visitors from outside the region. The uniqueness of Great Camp Sagamore is apparent as visitors drive the long entrance road, where numerous trail signs dot either side. This road carves through the Moose River Plains Wild Forest. The camp itself, however, exists with a special historic designation within the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area.
Since the 1980s, the original idea that Dr. Kornhaber conceived has bloomed and grown. Now some of the week-long Intergenerational Camps are run by Roads Scholar, which has taken the concept of Grandparent Camp and applied it to programs worldwide. Great Camp Sagamore also has their own tried-and-true program, known affectionately as “Saga-Grands Camp.”
Sagamore keeps the programming simple. Two groups participate alternately in a morning activity and an afternoon activity: music, art, nature-based, and environmental education. Together, the grandparents and grandchildren learn how to paddle a canoe, create a weaving project, or learn how to play a table harp or lap dulcimer.
There are evening activities as well: dances, campfires, art gallery time (where the kids' art creations are all proudly displayed), concerts (where campers can show off those newly learned harp abilities) and, of course, Creativity Night, where grandchildren re-tell in their own words a story they learned earlier in the week from their grandparent.
But the emphasis of the whole week truly is to have quality time together with your "grand." Therefore, no activity is mandatory. If you need some quiet time together, you’re free to hang out in your cabin with a game, puzzle, or book. If you want to just go for a walk in the woods together, go for it. If you want to paddle around Sagamore Lake, there are canoes, paddles, and PFDs available for you to grab and go.
The campers, both young and young-at-heart, that I spoke with on my recent visit could not say enough great things about their week at Sagamore. The kids were enthusiastic about the activities, the other kids, and about getting one-on-one attention from grandma or grandpa. The grandparents were all just thrilled to have their grandchildren all to themselves.
One little boy lives outside the U.S. so this time is the only time, every summer, that his grandmother can spend with him. Another grandmother explained that she comes for a couple weeks every summer, each time with another grandchild. Numerous people proudly told me this was their 8th, 12th, or even 18th year coming to Great Camp Sagamore!
The Road Scholars and Saga-Grands programs are for kids between the ages of 6 and 14. Also, both programs do schedule time for the grandparents and grandchildren to unwind with their own age group for at least an hour.
Regardless of the intergenerational camp programming, the Great Camp continues its dedication to two daily tours to any outside visitors. The camp is large enough so that visitors on tours do not interrupt any of the programming, and the campers all happily greet any tour groups they happen to come across.
Intergenerational Camp at Great Camp Sagamore — an amazing experience in a truly unforgettable Adirondack location.
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