Be A Good Neighbor

By John Lefner

Imagine the sounds of a peaceful lake in the mountains on a summer morning--the birds chirping, fish jumping out of the water for a bite to eat and splashing back in, and the spinning of a reel as you cast off to pull in the first catch of the day.

This is one form of summertime bliss heard in the wooded playground of the camp’s surroundings.

For you, the more familiar sound is of children laughing, playing, and building skills at the camp’s waterfront. For your lakeside neighbors, though, it might be a delicate balance, bringing mixed emotions about sharing the water with your program.

A staple of camping for more than 100 years, waterfront programming is often the image conjured up when one reflects on camp. While fishing, boating, and swimming are basic tenets of camp, so is having neighbors.

If your camp hosts aquatic activities in fresh water, you have probably been faced with questions of how to effectively manage a waterfront program while respecting the shared use of the lake.

Clear And Friendly Signage
Take some time to walk down to the waterfront, get into a rowboat, and survey the area, including the path or roadway, water-access points, docks, and structures.

By having a secure entrance with signage (an ACA requirement), you are notifying the public that the waterfront is private property and only for use by campers and staff. Make the signage clear, but consider making it friendly, as well, by posting your website and contact information.

The couple who wants to use your waterfront for the backdrop of their holiday card could become a donor or future camper family, so take advantage of the opportunity.

Best Foot Forward
Be sure that the area you use on the water gels with the typical fishing spots of others. Also, consider the appearance of storage sheds, boathouses, and docks. Are they safe? Do they need a new coat of paint? The first impression of your camp does not always come from the road.

Do your best to keep the appearance of the camp attractive without infringing on others’ property or obstructing anyone’s views.

Successful Scheduling
Next, take a look at your camp schedule. Are there times you use the waterfront for “non-traditional” programming (e.g., sandcastle-building contests, end-of-session closing ceremonies, perhaps a drive-in movie viewed from a paddle boat)? If so, chances are you have neighbors who either:

  1. Appreciate those activities and view them from their docks or rental cabins
  2. Do not enjoy them as the cheering from the waterfront has interrupted their evening cocktail and campfire
  3. Are a combination of the two views.

However, don’t immediately delete those activities from the schedule. Instead, pass along that schedule with a brief explanation as to why you and 200 of your friends are singing in the darkness once a week.

While shaking hands and distributing schedules, listen to the neighbors’ feedback and share it with your team. You and the camp staff have a responsibility (and, in certain cases, a legal obligation) to adapt your waterfront program to create a healthy relationship with the folks next door.

Welcome Wagon
Unless your neighbors bought or rented their properties without checking into who else might live on the block, they may be unaware that a camp exists nearby. Like any good neighbor would, invite them over.

Provide a tour of the camp to the locals (with their kids on-site, if allowed), detailing what they can expect from the program. If timing and policy allow, include visitors in some programming so they have a hands-on understanding of the camp.

Many camps offer open houses or “open to the public” days that highlight the camp programs, offering guests the opportunity to try the ropes course or ride a horse.

At the end of the tour, give the guests contact information regarding the people who will handle any future interactions. Hopefully, these interactions will be positive, but in the event they are not, at least the neighbors will know whom to contact. Some examples follow:

  • Camp/property ownership--concerns over property lines, traffic flow, real-estate opportunities
  • Camp leadership--interactions with staff and volunteers, noise complaints, program suggestions
  • Employment and volunteer recruitment, and service group staff--interest in volunteering or referring a candidate, assisting with a “camp clean-up” day
  • Development and fundraising team--interest in providing financial support to the program.

Ultimately, the efforts you and your team make towards creating and maintaining a partnership with the neighbors will impact the success of a waterfront program and camp in general. Donors, volunteers, supporters, and critics are right next door, so go and say hello!

John Lefner is the assistant director of operations at the Double H Ranch, a year-round program for kids diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, located in Lake Luzerne, N.Y. For information on the Double H Ranch, visit www.doublehranch.org .