THIS IS REALLY ROUGHING IT," chorus members of Girl Scout Junior Troops 1686 and 21 as they survey their camp -- not a Girl Scout retreat, but a rustic treehouse at the 19-acre Maple Tree Campground on South Mountain in Gapland, Md., an hour west of the District and 10 minutes from Harpers Ferry. There is no heat, no electricity and no running water. Shower and restroom facilities are a short hike away.
"We enjoy being out in nature," says Cheryl Dougherty, a leader of the Fallston, Md., group. "Our guys were tired of the same old thing in platform tents. They have no free time at Girl Scout camp because every 15 minutes are planned, like school. Here they can socialize and hike, paint friendship sticks and make s'mores and bluebird houses." "You don't need activities here. People watch sunsets and look at the stars," says Phyllis Soroko, who ran a youth club in Britain and directed summer programs at a Girl Scout camp in Maryland before buying Maple Tree.
The campground's eight summer "cabins" are seven feet above ground, hugging good-sized tree trunks that the Scouts chase each other around for amusement during rainy spells. Substantial wood pilings provide support; strong stairs with railings give access. The treehouses go for $24 a night for four, plus $6 for each additional person, with a two-night minimum on weekends. For $40 a night, four can move up to one of the heated cottages, which are elevated on stilts but not built around live trees.
For Janet Johnson -- who moved to New Carrollton from California's Sierra Nevada with husband Chuck and their five children -- a three-day stay in a tree cottage is "like being at home."
"I've lived in the woods almost all my life," explains Michael, 10. Andrew, 8, pipes in, "I like it here 'cause there are trees." Chere, 12, says the best thing about this treehouse motel is that it's "away from traffic and the air is clear."
But there are always a couple of guys with development on their minds. Says Andrew: "I've been helping Michael cut wood to build a log cabin."