Explaining Skylake Magic

Camper and counselor at bass lake

Is it possible to put Skylake Magic into words? Though the magic may vary from person to person, at the roots it’s likely the same. After decades of experience at Skylake, starting at the age of 9 and working through college years on staff and then a Director and parent, I think I finally might be ready to give this a try, to explain Skylake Magic.  

During a day at camp, during the heat of any summer, during any session, any year, there is a flow, a vibe, a sense of fun and freedom.  The smell of manzanita bushes creates that familiar “Skylake smell”.  Bass Lake can be seen through the trees from camp, often boats can be heard towing skiers on the lake.  Tall trees and hills surround camp.  Yosemite National Park, while it isn’t front of mind always, is only a short distance away with endless trails and a magic of its own. 

Walking through camp, campers are making friendship bracelets, cooking up a quesadilla at Outdoor Cooking, playing tennis or climbing the Rock Wall, throwing pottery on the wheel at Ceramics, while still others are heading up to the Ropes Course or playing Basketball on the Upper Court. Some will be found making their  way out of camp on a mountain bike or atop a horse to ride the trails around camp.  In the Lodge or on the Lakeside Porch, campers are playing board games, ping pong, or foosball.  Campers are also heading down the Swim Trail to get to the lake. Skylake’s private docks are waiting, it’s hot, and they can’t wait to jump in the water and enjoy some time on a paddle board, kayak or just relax in the sun with their friends. The Skylake docks are always beckoning, campers and staff alike. Being able to experience so many new activities at camp really allows us to grow and try out things we might not try at home. 

The steady movement of campers and staff coming and going to various spots around camp to enjoy all that camp has to give, Skylake Yosemite Camp is a classic summer camp setting. The cabins, the lake, the activities, it’s all here for all of us to enjoy, year after year.  The setting is often described as story book, cabins on a hill with the lake below, surrounded by national forest with Yosemite and Ansel Adams Wilderness beckoning in the near distance.  

Every step we take at Skylake, every activity, every friend, every connection, every trip, every meal, every campfire, every late night pow wow topped by a once a week donut delivery, every dip in the lake, and every song sung…memories are constantly being made and friendships are growing, we are growing. We grow without realizing it. We experience emotions and learn how to cope without realizing it. We grow our internal strength and widen our horizons, without realizing or knowing we are changing. 

Campers are responsible for themselves.  Though they have boundaries, have rules and guidance, none of it is imposed directly by their parents. This is key, time away from parents. Campers flourish, become well rounded and grow with this style of independence. 

Skylake Yosemite Camp has been a summer camp for over 75 years.  Camp has been important for many generations.  But it’s today’s children and even staff that seem to experience an added gift from camp, a chance to unplug from technology. Coming to camp for some is like a digital detox, sometimes even a shock to their system. Counselors too experience this break from tech, without a cell phone in reach, their full focus is on “the now”, it’s on the campers, and their fellow staff members. There’s nowhere else to be, or at least that’s the way it feels for a few short weeks or months every summer.  The Skylake bubble is a reset, it’s a powerful feeling of being present and enjoying what is right here, right now. 

Skylake has become a place many generations now call their home away from home, the place we all have wanted to get back to, because it’s our home. It’s a place hundreds of children count on year after year, they look forward to it, they think about it, many end up writing college entry essays on the very topic of Skylake Magic. 

Skylake offers activities as varied as our campers.  Lake opportunities, sports, drama, art and ceramics, guitar and ukulele, campfire, horses and ropes course, off site trips, small cabin groups, all camp meals, loud songs, and excited and well intentioned counselors!  Always an option to be active or still, always someone to turn too when you’re up or down. There really is something for everyone at Skylake. The pace of the days at Skylake allows campers to choose their own direction, to pick the activities they want to attend. Small cabin groups allow counselors to form a family unit, allow campers to connect and helps to assure that no campers fall under the radar. 

At the end of it all, it’s the connections and experiences we have at camp, they shape who we become, it’s the powerful joining of generations, it’s being part of something bigger than any one of us.  Skylake has become a part of many of our collective childhood memories.  Each summer it’s these experiences, these friendships, this place, the similar stories through the generations, that all become part of the magic. The magic rests in all of us.