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Sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows, singing silly songsand not having a care in the world used to be summer camp. Today, summer camp is a well-organized one- or two-week excursion for kids.

American Camp Association data indicates that in the United States there are about 7,000 overnight camps and 5,000 day camps, attended by some 11 million children. In 2006, 75 percent of the camps began to diversify, adding new programs to counter decreasing enrollment. Now summer camp is an educational and cultural experience for children.

Katherine Counce chose Camp Crestridge for Girls, in Ridgecrest for her daughter. Her son is going to Camp Ridgecrest for Boys.

“I grew up going to Camp Crestridge for Girls, and Scott, my husband, worked at Camp Ridgecrest for Boys,” Counce said. “We met at camp. I remember what a good experience it was for me, and wanted the same for my daughter and son.

Lila Counce, 10 years old, has been going to summer camp since she was six. “She has loved it every year,” her mother said. “She stayed for a month last year.”

Although summer camp is expensive, Katherine Counce believes the benefits outweigh the monetary outlay.

“It cost approximately $7,000 for the two kids to go to summer camp,” she said. (Rip, her 8-year-old son, will be starting his third year at camp.) “The Ridgecrest camps are less expensive than some of the others,” she said. “We see it as an investment for our kids in learning to get along well with others their age, and a time to make lasting friendships with kids from all over the world. Last year Lila shared her cabin with a girl from Scotland.

“I know the camps so well that I don’t have any worries about sending my children. I also like the idea of them going to single sex camps. Girls will be girls and boys will be boys, but it removes a lot of the worry if they are in different camps. It is our decision that Lila and Rip go to summer camp. They don’t really have a choice.”

Camp Merri-Mac for Girls and Camp Timberlake for Boys in Black Mountain are popular among parents and kids.

Professional photographer Sunday Grant sends her 8-year-old daughter BellaRose to Camp Merri-Mac. The camp offers horseback riding, backpacking, cheerleading, art, games, swimming and a lot of other outdoor activities.

“I went to Camp Merri-Mac for three years and worked there for another five years,” Grant said. “I loved camp so much that I still go back and help out. It helped shape me into the person I am today. BellaRose is definitely a camp girl. She loves the outdoors and is adventuresome.

“It is a Christian-based camp, making it well worth the cost of $3,500 for a couple of weeks. It is a safe environment and provides them with experiences outside their usual environment. BellaRose has gone for two summers and is excited about going back this year. It is a same sex camp, although the boy’s camp, Camp Timberlake, is close, there is no interaction. I think that is important at this stage of life. Girls can be 100-percent safe, and silly as they should be.”

Hope Burk believes sending her kids to camp is so important that she returned to substitute teaching to help pay for it.

“My kids are going to basketball, volleyball and overnight camps this summer,” she said. “Jack Wesley, 8, is going to Camp Ridgecrest, and Lalia, 11, is going to Camp Crestridge for two weeks. We chose these camps because they are Christian-based and economically the best choice for us. It is the first time going to camp for both kids. They are really excited. We hope our kids will love it so much they will want to come back as counselors someday.

“Camp will help provide our kids a chance to bond with kids from other states. We are sending them to camp to help grow their roots here, and to make lasting friendships.”

Margaret Hurt and her husband chose to send their 13- and 11-year-old sons, William and Charlie, to Camp Daniel Boone, a Boy Scout camp near Canton, as part of their membership in local Troop 50.

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