​Adult camps: A rite of summer for your inner child

Camp Wandawega, in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, looks like a place where childhood memories are made - except there aren't any kids here. Welcome to adult summer camp!

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ADULTS ONLY may strike you as a bit of an odd policy for a summer camp -- until you realize those adults are actually just kids at heart. Our Cover Story is reported by Luke Burbank:

Camp Wandawega, in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, looks like a place that time forgot -- a place where childhood memories are made. Except for one not-so-minor detail. There aren't any kids here, and "Reveille" plays at the crack of ... 9:30? Which still seems kind of early for many campers!

Welcome to adult summer camp, where your inner child meets your outer grown-up.

"We were just hanging out here with our other friends who didn't have kids, and we used to joke about it," said David Hernandez. "It was like being back at summer camp, except the camp counselors were gone and we had the keys to the liquor cabinet."

Hernandez and Tereasa Suratt bought Wandewega 10 years ago for a song. David grew up coming here when it was run by Latvian priests.

"It was just a place where kids could be kids," he said. "You can wander off into the woods, and take a boat out, and go swimming, and do the kind of things that you just can't do growing up in the city."

By the time Hernandez and Suratt bought it, it was in need of some serious TLC. "My idyllic childhood memories were a little different than the reality of the place," Hernandez laughed.

"It was like 'Blair Witch,' all these abandoned buildings," she said. "I was so freaked out!"

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A restored bunk house at Camp Wandawega. Cabins and tents are also available.
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Today, Wandawega campers can kick back, canoe, shoot arrows, or learn to use a tomahawk.

For camper Kristen Olsen, it's not so much about reclaiming fond childhood memories as it is about replacing them.

"I did go to Girl Scout Camp once and it just did not go well for me," she said. "So I think I just swore off camping in general."

"Is this camp going better for you?" asked Burbank.

"This is going much better for me, yeah!"

Hernandez says it's a place where people can disconnect, "to reconnect with the simple pleasures of simpler times."

Well, disconnect, kind of. Burbank asked one camper, "How many times have you checked your phone since you've been here?"

"Like every ten minutes," she replied.

"Which is sad," another woman added.

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Luke Burbank meets a trio of campers roughing it at Camp Wandawega.
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"You have no idea how many mobile phones there must be in the bottom of the lake," laughed Hernandez. "It's Mother Nature's payback, for them to lose their cell phones in the lake."

"That lake is just full of sunglasses and cell phones," added Surratt.

An estimated one million adults sent themselves away to camp last year. Answering this new demand: A variety of offerings -- camps where grown-ups can learn to breathe (such as the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass.), to sift through the sands of time (Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colo.), or even to run away from zombies (at a Zombie Survival Camp).

For Jeremy Schwartz, camp is about living his childhood fantasy of playing in a rock band. "I first picked up the bass a year ago July," he told Burbank. "And I thought, what the heck, why not, why not give it a shot now? You know, you're only 42 once!"