Camp Abnaki celebrates 40 years of service


2010 staff of Camp Abnaki from left: Max Post, Nate Dodge, Jessica Pafumi, Uhlendorf, Dave Marryat, Maggie Dana, Dan Schwartz, Zach Johnston, Hillary Seel, Kat Higgins, Chad Koenig, Ben Edmonds, Micah Jankowski, Professor Brad Moskowitz, Nate Bliss, and Mason Rachambell.


The Johnson State College Camp Abnaki Program, which began in 1972, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring. A commemorative celebration is planned for Wed., May 16, in the middle of the week-long course.

Every year for the past four decades JSC students have run the outdoor education program, and every 6th grader in the public school system of Grand Isle County attends. The camp is part of the county’s standard elementary school curriculum.

The program is a collaboration among JSC, the Burlington YMCA/Camp Abnaki, and the Grand Isle Supervisory Union, which is comprised of the five elementary schools on the Champlain Islands, North Hero, South Hero, Grand Isle, Alburgh, and Isle La Motte.

Camp Abnaki sits on the picturesque shores of Lake Champlain in North Hero, and is owned by the Burlington YMCA, which in turn rents the facility to JSC for the week.

During the week, JSC students in the Outdoor Education Program get the chance to practice skills that they’ve learned in the classroom in a real-world setting.

“Our Johnson students teach them a wide range of activities having to do with the outdoors,” says JSC Professor of Outdoor Education Karen Uhlendorf. “We do canoeing, camp craft skills, outdoor living skills, fire building, outdoor cooking, shelters…”

Also listed as activities on the program’s website are outdoor survival, environmental and nature studies, team building, a ropes course, nature arts and crafts, music and rhythm, and Native American studies.

According to Uhlendorf, the true beauty of the program is in its reciprocity. “Both the 6th graders and the Johnson students are learning experientially,” she says. Our students are learning how to plan a curriculum, how to plan lessons, how to evaluate learning, and assess what’s going on with themselves and the learners.”

The program, through its longevity, has had a major impact on hundreds of JSC students as well as generations of Grand Isle residents. Because there is no area high school, upon graduating from elementary school, the children of Grand Isle County disperse to any of a number of available high schools. The initial reasoning for the Champlain Islanders’ participating in the Camp Abnaki Program was to allow the area youth to spend a week all together, establishing bonds that most towns take for granted, afforded to their children by nature of a common high school.

As a result, the program has a special place in the hearts of Grand Isle residents. Many of the parents of this year’s attendees were campers there once themselves. The Camp Abnaki Program has become part of the fabric of the community for Grand Isle County as well as for JSC, and this is why the partners plan to mark the milestone and to try to catalogue the history of the program.

“We’re trying to get people to tell us what impact it had on them,” says Uhlendorf. “Whether they were a college student who were the instructors for the program, a sixth grader, or a parent of a sixth grader who attended the camp, we’re trying to get people to talk about the importance of the event.”