Trail Blazers’ decentralized summer camp program is the outcome of many years during which ideas from a number of sources evolved into an integrated philosophy. This process began in 1887 when John Ames Mitchell, the original editor of Life magazine, founded the Life Fresh Air Fund to take underprivileged children from the summer heat of city slums to the clean air and sunshine of a country farm. With $1,000 raised through solicitations in Life, Mitchell was able to send 20 children to a 10-acre farm in Branchville, Connecticut, during the summer of 1887. Railroads cooperated by offering the children reduced rates. By 1918, nearly 40,000 boys and girls had spent two weeks in the country, at a cost of $6.92 each. In 1923, the program received fresh impetus when James Cox Brady offered his family estate near Pottersville, New Jersey, as the site for a second Life’s Farm. At both the Branchville location and the Brady Estate, boys and girls participated in a centralized, departmentalized program.
Outdoor Recreation Pioneer and Educator L. B. Sharp
The present philosophy of Trail Blazers began to develop in 1925, when L. B. Sharp became Executive Director of Life’s Farm. A well-known educator associated with Columbia University, Sharp was a pioneer in the development of modern concepts regarding outdoor recreation and education. Sharp changed the name of Life’s Farm to Life Camps. At this point, the children were segregated by sex. The Branchville property was designated Life Girls Camp, and the Brady Estate became the site for the Boys Camp and was named Camp Raritan.
Sharp and his staff fully grasped the educational potential of the camping environment and immediately began seeking ways to create a more meaningful camp experience. Camp programs were reorganized along educational lines, with the emphasis placed on the individual camper. This is still central to the Trail Blazers philosophy. The new program, while still centralized in approach, stressed out-of-camp, outdoor activities, especially trip camping.
The Concept of Decentralized Camps
It is impossible to say precisely when the idea first occurred, but in 1928 the concept of decentralized camps with small groups of campers was attempted for the first time.
As Sharp described:
It was in the mid-season that we tossed overboard the traditional type of centralized camping program and quickly got rid of all forms of regimentation, artificial competitions and the like. With the change there was one theme: that the individual camper should have those experiences in adventure and exploration that are only possible in a wholesome camping environment, and are not repetition of the forms of recreation that are available in the city.
The first step was to establish outposts at both the Girls and Boys Camps. These outpost camps, between 1928 and 1934, were the sites for experiments with two counselors living with a small group of youngsters in a primitive setting. Out of these emerged the standards that serve as a model for decentralized camping.
Eli Wallach describes camp for the 100th anniversary