Former Campers Shape Summer Experiences

August 4th, 2022

Max Warias and Willem Weigand take a group of campers on the D&R Canal as part of a day trip.

The Watershed Nature Camp has a bevy of former campers who are helping create magic this summer as counselors and counselors-in-training (CITs).

Ten young adults are recreating special moments as they lead campers in explorations to the Stony Brook, Big Boulder, stream walks, overnight trips, and other adventures. While their reasons were varied, a common theme was they wanted to connect with the Watershed community again.

Jessica McDermott, Director of the Watershed Nature Camp, unrolls the spirit string. Each week, campers receive a piece of string to help them remember their time here.

“We are thrilled to have so many camp staff this year returning to share their enthusiasm, love of nature and passion for adventure with this summer’s campers and new camp staff,” said Jessica McDermott, Director of the Watershed Nature Camp. “Their first-hand knowledge of the Watershed Nature Camp will enrich the experiences of this year’s campers immensely.”

Max Warias, 18, of Pennington has been a camper since 2010. He attended camp for the entire summer in 2014, was a CIT in 2019, and has been a counselor for the past two years. He also has volunteered at Watershed events, including this year’s Solstice Run. He heads to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall and plans to study mechanical engineering.

When he was a camper, Max said the night hikes were one of his favorite activities as he noted the differences in the day and night ecosystems. As a counselor, he encourages campers to reflect on what they see and hear when they hike to the Lone Tree for journaling activities.

Michael VanderKam reads to campers during some quiet time at a a campfire circle during an overnight outing.

“Camp gave me a much deeper appreciation for what is out there in the wild. If you stop and listen in a forest, after sitting there for a while, you can pick out individual sounds,” he said. “Every sound is a different critter or something rustling, there is so much going on in a small field. It gives you an appreciation of how complex things are in nature.”

Noticing what occurs in nature – and observing any changes – subtly informs campers about the Watershed’s mission and how they can act to protect our environment.

“For the campers who come year to year, they see the impact of pollution and how the water is changing. If there is less crayfish in the stream, why is that? There are more pollutants in the water,” Max said. “They absorb the influences of what affects the stream.”

Rachael Trokenheim hikes with her group on an adventure on Bald Pate Mountain.

Rachel Trokenheim, 19, of West Windsor, is a counselor this summer, building on two weeks as a CIT in 2018 and as a camper in 2015. She said she enjoys working outdoors doing stream walks and camping trips with campers and fellow camp staff.

“I liked that this job is active, and I’d get to hike around all day. I like teaching kids about the environment and seeing them start to have fun in nature,” she said.

Rachel, who took a gap year, plans to study environmental science at the University of Vermont in the fall. She said the Watershed Nature Camp indirectly reflects the Watershed’s mission to keep water clean, safe, and healthy.

“The camp’s mission is for kids to have fun in nature and maybe learn something too,” she said. “By having fun in nature, I hope that kids start to care about it as I do and maybe when they get older, they can take up the Watershed’s crusade.”

Max Warias and Willem Weigland create a tin foil “boat” for a Stony Brook race.

Willem Weigand, 18, who was a former camper and counselor-in-training from 2012-2019, said he made friends with some of the counselors in 2021 when he participated in the Watershed Academy for High School Students. So, this year, he landed a job as a counselor for two camper groups spanning 5th to 9th grades.

“Last summer, it looked like the counselors had a lot of fun,” he said. “I also wanted to find a way to get back into the community and I figured that being a counselor would be perfect for this summer.”

He will leave his home in Montgomery in the fall and intends to major in statistics at Rutgers University’s flagship campus in New Brunswick. His favorite memory as a camper was taking a trip to the Delaware Water Gap.

“As a camper, I remember the trips being super fun and there were no downsides. Now being a counselor, I appreciate how much effort the counselors, groups leaders and camp directors put into the trips to make it a great experience,” he said. “Even though it was a lot of work, the trip was definitely a positive experience that made me want to do it again and provide the campers with a really important outlet into nature.”

Isabella Weigand, Michael VanderKam, Steven Leung, Camilla Adelman, Maya Kirchner are also former counselors, CITs or Academy participants who are working with campers this summer.

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