So many camps offered and only one summer

February 08, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Michael Strawbridge knows his audience.

Standing in the corner of Kahler Hall in Columbia yesterday, he held a large, gray owl on his gloved hand and made his pitch to the children and parents who had gathered to admire the creature.

Come to Maryland's "Outdoor Discovery" camp and you can explore caves, climb rock cliffs, tube down a river, mountain bike for a week or handle birds of prey like the great horned owl, he said.

"They're really cool," he said. "They have the power to crush a human skull."

Mr. Strawbridge coordinates the camp programs for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources State Forest and Park Service. He joined representatives from 54 other day and overnight camps yesterday to promote their summer programs at the ninth annual Camp Expo at the Harper's Choice Community Association Building. Wendy Tzuker, the Harper's Choice village manager, said she expected about 500 families yesterday.

The fair had the feel of a carnival midway, as parents and children milled about the displays gathering brochures, asking questions and watching promotional videotapes.

The camps ran the gamut.

Upstairs were overnight camps that ranged from traditional hiking and canoeing affairs with names such as "Tall Timbers," "Mawavi," and "Puh'tok," to a bicycling camp that offered trips in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Downstairs was a more eclectic array of day camps, including "Will Maier's United Martial Arts Camp," the "Yokohama Academy USA Japanese Language Camp" and "Computertots," a computer enrichment program for children age 3 and up.

At one end of the room, two girls, age 15 and 6, promoted "La Petite Planete," a French immersion day camp at the Trinity School in Ellicott City. They played a board game, rattling questions back and forth in French to demonstrate some of the camp's learning techniques. For $225, children from kindergarten through seventh grade can study the language six hours a day.

"Immersion specialists . . . provide fun and excitement, and the very special thrill of realizing, 'I'm speaking French!'" an information sheet said.

The Expo has grown dramatically since it began with about 16 booths nearly a decade ago. "There are more of these than ever before," said Linda Elengold of Columbia, who represents Pocono Highland Camps.

Many camps rely on the Expo and other fairs in the Northeast to replenish or expand their pool of campers. Ms. Elengold, whose two children attend the camp, said Pocono Highland recruits the majority of its campers through the fair circuit.

Many of the families that came yesterday were just browsing, trying to get a feel for all the opportunities. Sheila Geraci wandered about the overnight camp section, weighing options for her 9-year-old son Stephen, who had already attended day camp.

"We didn't really know what was available," said Ms. Geraci, who cradled a stack of brochures in her left arm and held her 4-year-old son Andrew in her right. "So far, it looks pretty good."

Asked which camp he might opt for, Stephen ran his fingers through his short-cropped hair and considered the two dozen or so booths around him.

"I'm interested in a lot of stuff," he said. "It's going to be a hard decision."

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