it's not just roasting marshmallows and singing songs any longer. Today, any youngster with enough gumption and money can sail the Atlantic, learn hang-gliding or watch grizzly bears in the wild.
Yesterday, several hundred prospective campers -- families in tow -- turned up at the Tysons Westpark Hotel in McLean to question representatives of 40 camps from Maine to North Carolina.
There were farming camps, a magic camp, a horse/computer camp and a mime camp, with an optional job placement program for graduates age 13 and over. Other camps offered miniature golf, roller skating and karate.
The event was conceived by two Virginia mothers, Nancy Soschin and Joanne Wilkenfeld, One day they were discussing how tired they were of the annual phone calls to individual camps, and how perplexed they were by the variety available to their children.
Using organizational skills they had acquired as volunteers for Hadassa, a Jewish women's group, they planned a camp fair. They held the first last year, and it was so successful, they decided to have a second.
One of the 1,200 people who attended yesterday's fair was Maryanne Lauer, a government computer specialist, who wanted a camp for her son. "He's a real nice kid, and he's interested in lots of things," she said.
One camp that held promise: the Legacy International Youth Program of Bedford, Va., where campers can, in a single day, milk a cow, help build a stone wall, climb a cliff, clerk at a store, listen to Japanese koto music and hear a lecture by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States. Also, the diet at the camp is vegetarian, so campers from various religious and cultural backgrounds can eat without restrictions. The tuition is $1,650 for six weeks and $875 for three weeks.
Howard Kelly, who works in research administration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and his wife, Voncile, a teacher, came to find general-interest day camps for their four children. "We don't think they're ready for overnight camps yet -- or, their parents aren't ready for overnight camps," Voncile Kelly said.
One of the most popular displays was that offered by the TIC Computer Camp, located in the District, which specializes in intensive computer work, as well as athletics. "A lot of parents have children who are interested in computers," said director Karen Rosenbaum, "but they don't want them to just sit in a chair all day. They find us and they say 'Oh, thank God -- a camp where they'll also get out there and move their bodies.' "
Craig Neier, producer for The Mark Wilson Magic Camp, also had lots of inquiries. His camp, located on Fiddle Lake in Thompson, Pa., gets campers ages 7 to 70. "Actually, the youngest camper we've ever had was 18 months," he said.
Eighteen months -- did he pick up much magic? "Not much," Neier conceded.
At the Happy Trails camp display, director Rodney Klein was telling children how they could spend the summer searching for eagle nests in Colorado, riding mules to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, white water rafting in Wyoming and fishing in Montana -- all for $3,150. "A lot of times," she said, "the parents will come up to us and say 'Hey -- can we go? I want to go on a trip like that.' "