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March 20, 2013

Day camps gear up to get kids outside for some fresh-air fun

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Day camps gear up to get kids outside for some fresh-air fun
Day campers at Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center could get the chance to paddle a 34-foot replica of a French Voyageur canoe this summer.

With winter on its last legs, it’s not surprising that cabin fever is starting to kick in for anxious children across metro Detroit. Though warmer weather is still a ways away, now is the time to find the perfect summer camp that can offer youngsters plenty of fresh air and fun in the sun, once the school year ends.

That was what Lorraine and Arnie Fisher had in mind 45 years ago when the couple opened up Willoway Day Camp in Milford. As career educators, the Fishers designed the camp to give kids a chance to have all the fun and stimulation of a top-notch summer camp, without the pressure of harsh competition.

“We wanted to provide a camp for noncompetitive fun that was the best that it could possibly be,” said Lorraine Fisher. “It’s a very structured camp, based on building relationships and growth in children.”

Each day, eager campers are transported to Willoway by the camp’s own transportation service, which can pick up children ages 5-14 from homes or at designated express stops, such as the Birmingham-Bloomfield-Franklin stop at Maple and Telegraph roads. Fisher said the camp, which sits on 16 acres, boasts 6-to-1 camper-to-counselor ratio, with trained camp counselors to guide children through the day.

While safe transportation and qualified counselors are a selling point to parents, kids are more concerned with the seemingly endless list of camp activities to choose from, including sports, art, storytelling, go-carts, swimming, paddle boarding, campfires, digital photography, fencing and so much more. As Lorraine Fisher said, there’s something to satisfy the interest of any child, with most of the activities designed to take place outside — for good reason.

“We think children should be outside during the summer, playing and having a good time,” she said, adding that the expansive camp has plenty of indoor facilities, as well.

Mixing the outdoors with a little bit of learning is what day camp is all about at the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center in Shelby Township. According to Park Interpreter Mark Szabo, the center holds two sessions of the three-day camps each summer, and the staff packs as much outside fun as possible into the brief stints. 

“The one thing that makes our camp special is the kids learn about natural history and cultural history, from the Great Lakes Indians to the French Voyageurs,” said Szabo. “We have a tractor-pulled wagon ride, fishing, paddling, canoeing, Native American activities. The mechanism we use to teach them is the 34-foot Voyageur canoe — that’s how (the French) came to this area to trade beaver furs. We let the kids paddle it out onto Stony Creek Lake.”

The center is only able to admit 20 campers per session, which is why the two sessions, scheduled from June 17-19 and July 15-17, are expected to fill up fast. Those who do attend, though, will get a Great Lakes adventure that will get them moving and learning at the same time.

“We like to link natural history and cultural history together. It’s all connected to the outside world, and it’s what shaped our civilization,” he said.

At Camp Mirage in Plymouth, parents can choose to enroll their youngster in one week of camp or a whole summer’s worth, depending on the child’s interests.

“We have 36 different camps for kids ages 4-15, and they’re all weeklong programs,” said Camp Director Cara Prost. “Some kids sign up for say, a weeklong Harry Potter program for something fun. But, then, a lot of parents also use us as day care.”

Camp Mirage has specialty camps ranging in interests from fashion to LEGOs, Harry Potter, street hockey, jewelry making and more. Though the camps are held during the day, the structure of Camp Mirage is much like an overnight camp, with a bonfire each morning and a rivalry game of Color Wars — a tradition at many overnight camps. 

While the theme of the camp might change from week to week, Prost said that they all have one thing in common — they’re all designed to get the kids up and moving around the camp’s 5-acre space.

“The kids leave here, and they are exhausted. They’re in school during the year, where they’re cooped up in classrooms, and it’s nice for them to get out and get out that energy,” she said. “And we let them do things they wouldn’t be able to in school. We encourage them to be messy — we do ice cream slip and slides and play pranks on the counselors. They have kind of a crazy experience here, and the kids really love it.”


• Willoway day camp has an average cost of about $400 a week, with sessions ranging from 2-9 weeks. For more information, visit www.WillowayDayCamp.com or call (248) 932-2123. Willoway is located north of Pontiac Trail on Old Plank Road in Milford.

• Day camp at the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center in Shelby Township is $95 per child and includes lunch. For more
information, visit www.metroparks.com or call (586) 781-4242. Stony Creek Metropark is located at 4300 Main Park Road in Shelby Township.

• Camp Mirage costs an average of $135 a week, per child, with some camps costing more, depending on the activities. For more information, visit www.CampMirage.com or call (734) 420-4655. Camp Mirage is located at 39500 5 Mile Road in Plymouth.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.