Spotlight on LACES

This week I interviewed Christine Brayfield, a full-time school teacher in Boston, a graduate of Springfield College and our Camp Director for a new partnership program we’re running in Springfield called LACES.

(Our new hero) Christine and I talked about how LACES started, where it is today and where she sees it going in the future. Read on to learn about a program that is making a tremendous impact on a community that desperately needs its help.

Our hero Christine (right) and a LACES student at BOC in 2012

Christine Brayfield (right) and a LACES student at Berkshire Outdoor Center in 2012


BOC: So LACES, huh? Like shoes and corsets?

CB: No, no, nothing like that at all. It stands for Leaders in Academics, Community Engagement and Service and is a program that reaches across all the areas of a kid’s life: school, after-school and summertime. In Springfield especially, there is a need for consistent oversight, accountability and enthusiasm in the lives of school kids.

BOC: How did LACES begin and for what purpose?

CB: Well, in the spring of 2005, Ted France (Associate Professor of Physical Education at Springfield College), Dale Allen (former Director for Community Relations at Springfield College) and Brenda Marsian (former Director of Development at Springfield College…now working next to you!) began this program in order to connect Springfield College students with the needs of the youth of Springfield.

Springfield College prides itself on community engagement and this is by far their best idea. Back in 2005, it was called Springfield Leaders of Tomorrow and gave the youth of Springfield an opportunity to spend 2 weeks on a college campus.

Leadership, Academics and Community Engagement through Service in action!

One Leader in Academics and Community Engagement through Service in action!

BOC: Wow, so it’s changed a lot over the years, hasn’t it?

CB: Yes, well, it started as a program that was focused on providing experiences to Springfield College students with the added benefit of positively impacting children in Springfield. The original purpose was for Springfield College students to create a such an effective, desirable program that it would be replicated in cities all across the country.

As we got into delivering the program itself each year, we made some changes to improve our impact and others so that we could continue to support the kids regardless of how much funding we got or who it came from. This is how we came to partner with Springfield Parks and Recreation, too.

Over the past two years, Parks and Recreation has come to our aid with funding from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. With these funds, we were able to keep the program running, providing jobs and student scholarships after Springfield College’s funding tapered off.

As the life of that grant has dwindled, Ted and Brenda put their heads together and got Berkshire Outdoor Center involved. The idea was that you could help us by applying for a new grant to keep the program running, but that you could also learn the ropes and address the program’s original purpose of duplicating LACES in other communities in need, like Pittsfield.

So between you guys, some funding from Springfield Parks and Rec and a smaller grant from the game company Hasbro, we’re able to offer 75 Springfield kids another LACES summer experience this year. You should hear the relief and enthusiasm from the kids and parents about this!

So since all of that came through earlier this year, your BOC staff have been working with Parks and Rec staff and teachers in after-school programs. Children who participate in those sessions get to go up to Becket for a retreat each semester. Now that they’ve done a couple of them, they’re getting to be a really big deal!

LACES + BOC 4ever!

LACES + BOC 4ever!

BOC: Tell us what’s at the heart of LACES. Why is it so important?

CB: LACES gives our Springfield youth the opportunity to meet and build close relationships with other students in the city in addition to working with committed adults who mentor them year-round. Students develop leadership skills, communication skills and trust among one another, all things that can help them achieve greater success as they grow.

BOC: This summer, you’ll return as the director for the 5 week Summer LACES Program. Tell us about that!

CB: Yes, it’s so exciting! During week one, our 75 students will be placed into groups based on their age. Students will work to build relationships through name games, small and large group games and other exercises.

During week two, we’ll introduce trust activities including prop initiatives, activities that require a relationship with others in their group and with their staff members.

Working together to get the job done!

Working together to get the job done!

Week three will be focused on communication and students will spend time at Springfield College using the low ropes course. This week celebrates two things: being on a college campus (something exciting and new to many children in Springfield,) and that after building relationships and trust, students will be able to successfully navigate challenges while building camaraderie with their friends and our staff.

This leads us into week four, which is all about positive risk taking. Here we will take the students to up to Becket for the high ropes course! Students will take a positive risk to step outside their comfort zone and climb! If you think being on a college campus is an eye opener for them, wait until you see their faces the first time the encounter the high ropes.

This is what we've been working toward!

This is what we’ve been working toward!

This is what we’ve been working toward!   During our final week, we will put their newly-minted leadership skills to the test. Students will identify a community based problem and will work together to solve it. Then, they will create a professional presentation that they will share with the rest of the group as well as invited friends and family members.

BOC: What are the biggest and best outcomes from the LACES summer program?

CB: The biggest and best outcomes of our program by far is seeing graduates and hearing about their accomplishments. These kids really go on to achieve! It also gives me so much joy when I hear students say they want to come back and work as a LACES counselor. It is after they tell me this that I realize we have done our job by creating a leader in each of these children who in turn will mentor their peers.

Support, camaraderie, personal challenge and fun intersect here!

Support, camaraderie, personal challenge and fun intersect here!

BOC: What is your favorite aspect of the program? And now that you’re no longer a Springfield College student, what keeps you coming back?

CB: Honestly, I cannot think of a better way to spend my summer than back with the youth in Springfield. I have realized that these children have a significant need and while they may not realize the opportunities in front of them at the moment, I know they will look back on their time with us as good, helpful and positive on some future day.

BOC: What were the biggest highlights from last summer?

CB: We had a great summer last summer. One of the most memorable things for the kids was probably the day we took them on a field trip to the ocean. Springfield isn’t far from the coast but so many of the kids had never even seen it, let alone gotten in, so we ordered a school bus and made it happen.

It was a hectic-but-great day! We put our toes in the sand, some of the kids waded in, we played a little beach-side mini golf and ate ice cream. Teachers who work with the kids who went on that trip still report that the ocean is a dominant theme in their creative writing assignments, so we know that a trip that is typical for a lot of us made a significant impact and really broadened their horizons. That feels good.

Lovin' LACES!

Lovin’ LACES!

BOC: What are you excited about for this coming summer?

CB: I am very excited to build on the partnership we have created with everyone at Berkshire Outdoor Center. I think it is amazing that we have a similar vision and want to provide these children with the best year-round experience. I am happy to have returning staff back at our summer program because we can build on what we accomplished last year, make changes and provide new experiences for everyone.

As you guys already know, we’re building on the success of last year’s ocean visit and are instituting Friday Fundays, which means we’re taking the kids somewhere new every Friday!

BOC: Where would you like to see LACES in 10 years?

CB: Many of our staff from the past couple years are now working in youth programs, in the teaching field or in the youth development/counseling field. It would be wonderful to be able to expand LACES and allow our previous staff to establish the program in their district, town/city or state.

We have created the vision and it is up to us to continue to deliver the program to youth, both inside and outside of Springfield. I’m so hopeful that our partnership with Berkshire Outdoor Center will really expedite that outcome. It’s exciting.

Changing Lives for Good...

Changing Lives for Good…


What a coil can tell you

Hello and welcome to Rope Coiling 101. You didn’t know you were enrolled, did you?

We have the largest educational challenge course in all of the Northeast. Can you believe it? We have more than 30 high (belayed) elements and another 30+ low ropes elements between our two campuses.

Snowy High Ropes at Chimney Corners

Snowy High Ropes at Chimney Corners

High Ropes Course at Camp Becket

High Ropes Course at Camp Becket

Alpine Tower at Chimney Corners

Alpine Tower at Chimney Corners

I don’t want to get bogged down in the numbers, but running that big, beautiful course requires least 85 carabiners, around 40 trango jaws and something like 95 helmets. All that gear, plus ropes, pulleys, SRDs, harnesses and rescue gear has to be taken care of in order for things to smoothly, perfectly out there.

And running our courses safely is our number one priority; one that we take very seriously. In everything we do, we look for signs that our staff are paying close attention to details and are doing the right things consistently.

One of my favorite indicators of thought and care in our high ropes gear sheds is how ropes are coiled. It’s a funny thing to choose to look for but it’s a telling feature – coiling a rope isn’t hard but it is probably the 37th thing you learn to do at the end of your first day of belay training and we like to make sure everyone working is on-point, right to the end.

In order to help new belayers learn their roles more thoroughly and absorb myriad (important!) details, we charged our winter staff with improving our Challenge Course Training Manual.

Below is an excerpt on coiling ropes. We think it’s interesting but of course, this whole post could be one big snoozefest to some of you.

However, others of you, like us, are fascinated by the hard-skills, the technical aspect of what our Berkshire Outdoor Center staff do. If so, welcome to class! Check out the 8 images below for a little “how to coil like a champ” tutorial with Will:

Step 1: gather both ends of the rope into one hand

Step 1: gather both ends of the rope into one hand


Step 2: Hold the rope so the two ends are dangling just above the ground. Drape the next section of rope across your back.


Step 3: Use both hands to continue distributing the entire length of the rope across your arms and shoulders. This part is tricky – try not to get tangled up!


Step 4: Finish distributing rope across your back to end up with two “lobes” of rope; one on each side of your body, with only the two original ends still dangling above the ground.

Step 5: Drop the rope so it hangs down and lift it off of your shoulders. Keep the lobes tidy and in tact.

Step 5: Drop the rope so it hangs down. Keep the lobes tidy and in tact.


Step 6: Take the rope off of your shoulders, holding it in the middle so that the two lobes fall evenly on either side of your grasp.


Step 7: Using the two ends you’ve been so careful to leave dangling just above the ground, wrap around the two lobes, making a tight coil upward, toward your hand.


Nice work, Will. That’s perfect!


Step 8: Put a loop of rope (called a “bight” in the climbing world) through the top of the bundle of rope.


Step 9: Now pass the ends of the rope through the bight you just created. You’re almost there!


Step 10: Admire your handy work. You just coiled a rope perfectly!

Well folks, now you know! Have a great weekend. We’re kicking off Spring Work Weekend here and can’t wait to see all of our BCCYMCA friends and family helping get our campus ready for the busy spring, summer and fall!

We are way behind

During my senior year of high school, Mr. Mundy taught my first period class, which began at 7:25 am. I was frequently 2-5 minutes late and he eventually told me, “come on time or don’t come at all!”

His proclamation translated to me being on time all but once, in which instance I took myself to the coffee shop and bought him an “I’m so sorry” coffee to underscore my heart-felt apology.

What I’m saying is that I owe this blog more than one coffee and if anyone wants to swing past 748 Hamilton Road, I’ll gladly buy you a cup of Joe, too.

But if you want to know why I’ve neglected my blogging duties, read on. We have been busy. Let’s break it down by what I should have posted as time went by:

Sometime in February I owed you a post about Winter Resident Camp. It was fabulous. We had snow. The kids were hilarious. Saratoga South (the talent show) was out of this world and the Iron Chef secret ingredient of Twizzlers forever changed how I’ll see food. Here are some photos as proof:

Memory Card Dump - March - Pre South America 401Memory Card Dump - March - Pre South America 403

Or click here to see the video that made my personal Top 10 for reasons I love my job…talk about confidence, people. I love everything about this.



In March, we had cool things afoot every weekend. During the first week, in addition to working with our neighbors at Becket-Washington Elementary, we also hosted a handful of groups who had our favorite attitude: Winter? We don’t care. We want to use that gorgeous challenge course.

On belay? Belay is ON!

On belay? Belay is ON!


In March we also hosted the Association for Experiential Education’s Northeast Regional Conference. They brought more than 250 educators and learners from universities, middle schools, summer camps, sports leagues and corporations together for workshops, lectures, round-tables and some general fun. They filled all the beds in our lodges and even offered a special rate for people who wanted to camp on our property! (Surprise! We still had snow on the ground! They “camped” in cabins instead.)

Jill and Sarah, our program coordinators, getting coordinated, of course

Coordinated Coordinators!

Look, learners!

Look, learners!

AEE Fun Run Runners!

AEE 5K Fun Run Runners!

Our BOC staff ran the AEE "kidference" and one camper capitalized on her famous instructor!

BOC staff ran the AEE Kidference and one camper capitalized on her famous instructor! Hey Andrew, can I get your autograph, too?











In addition to the inspiration we found working alongside the AEE team, we also had a blast partnering with the Western New England University Diversity Mentors and our very own BCCYMCA Alumni Council.

WNU Diversity Mentors, hollerrrr!

Mentors, hollerrrr!

Winter Session with the Alumni Council!

Winter Session with the Alumni Council! (I wish we could read their posters, don’t you? If you’re curious, email John Anz ( to find out what they say!)

The truth is, we’ve been up to more than all of this. We’ve had Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Youth Groups and families on site; school groups, Nature’s Classroom and staff training too. We’re prepping for spring which will bring weddings, family camp, pond ecology, orienteering, barbecues, black flies, mosquitoes, more staff, more guests, more training, more food, more fun.


No, literally, some of us can’t wait.

Poor Kristina. She's from Virginia. She things it should be spring by March!

Poor Kristina. She’s from Virginia. She things it should be spring by March…

Stay tuned. Next week Will Malcolm will show you how to coil a rope in 6 simple moves. What a teaser! Happy almost-spring, from all of us in the Berkshires.

Good Neighbors

For the past year, Berkshire Outdoor Center has had the pleasure of working with students from Becket-Washington Elementary School, just four miles down the road, for regular science-based field trips and good old fashioned get-outside-and-play time.

Four Winds Nature Institute has joined our partnership, providing us with seasonally and locally-relevant curriculum to teach to the kids, which we have added to our repertoire of skills for helping people learn about and love the natural world, especially while here, on our gorgeous 1,400 acre campus!

Becket-Washington Elementary School students on the frozen Smith Pond

Becket-Washington Elementary School students on the frozen Smith Pond

When Berkshire Outdoor Center is crawling with guests (May, June, August and September,) we go see the students at their school, but in the late fall, winter and early spring, the children come to us. Since March is relatively quiet here in Becket, they were just here this past week and we had the distinct pleasure of teaching them about the beloved, historic, local tradition of maple sugaring!

Will drills a guide hole for a tap while his curious friends look on

Will drills a guide hole for a tap while his curious friends look on

Watching the kids learn to tap trees, examine and taste sap, sample different types of syrup and ultimately connect the dots that what happens outside their doors each winter is pretty amazing reminded us of what a unique and rewarding partnership we have with our neighbors!

We love that we’re building local relationships:
Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA is a life-changing organization, deeply loved by generations of people all around the world, but you’d be surprised at how few folks in the Berkshires even know we exist, let alone what we could be contributing to their youth, families, businesses, teams and schools…

As the year-round department at BCCYMCA, Berkshire Outdoor Center has huge potential for reaching local populations every season. Over the course of the last two school years, our staff have become recognized, beloved figures to the students, teachers and administration at Becket-Washington School.

"Everyone say PANCAKES!"

“Everyone say PANCAKES!”

Our staff are a mystery, neither teacher nor parent nor peer, and the children bask in the attention of these quasi-adult leaders who are passionate about building relationships between the kids themselves and between the kids and their environment. In nurturing all of those relationships, we are making a tremendous positive impact in a place that matters to us, our home town.

We love that the children GET OUTSIDE:
In the ongoing debate about what’s best for school kids, reading, writing and math frequently trump science, music, art and physical education – it’s a tough topic and sometimes it feels like a “no win” situation for kids and parents alike.

Through this partnership, we are meeting real needs at the Becket-Washington school. With our help, our community has affordable and abundant access to hands-on educational experiences in science, nature, leadership development and a fun, physically active context.

Healthy, active students on top of the world!

Healthy, active students on top of the world!

We love learning from the Four Winds Institute: 
A week before we see the Becket-Washington kids, our staff go to a training session with the Four Winds Nature Institute. There, we delve into the next week’s topic, studying a curriculum outline  and choosing what to incorporate during our time with the students.

The Four Winds training is a huge help, they supply a vast amount of background information and a variety of tools for teaching: puppet shows, games, activities, puzzles, crafts, songs and more. In addition to giving our staff an in-depth education on the selected topic, they help us develop new teaching strategies while exposing our staff further to the wide world of environmental education curriculum.

Checking out the big sap collector our other neighbor (Berkshire Berries) uses for his Maple Sugaring business.

Checking out the big sap collector our other neighbor (Berkshire Berries) uses for his Maple Sugaring business.

In this school year alone, the Four Winds Nature Institute has trained us to teach about Insect Life Cycles, Birds & Migration, Animals’ Winter Ways, & Maple Sugaring.

We love that it inspires our staff:
Winter is our quietest season here at Berkshire Outdoor Center. Our weekends are full but mid-week, we can get a little stir crazy; however, the Becket-Washington visits are a welcome break in the wood splitting, paper collating and program supply organizing we do to keep busy otherwise. We’re always excited to put some extra energy into making the Becket-Washington experience special but our staff outdid themselves during this last session about maple sugaring.

Happy snow shoe hikers exploring the woods with us

Happy snow shoe hikers exploring the woods with us

They put together a taste-test of “Pancake Syrup” (high fructose based syrup) and maple syrup. They whittled their own taps out of sumac branches and took the older students snowshoeing to actually tap trees themselves.

One BOC staff member, Chris, took the container he was using to collect sap away from the tree and let the children stand with their open mouths under the tap, catching sugar maple sap. For the kids, it was magic. For the staff, sharing their passion for the outdoors with these bright, open, young minds was satisfaction itself.

Sap straight from the tree!

Sap straight from the tree!

We’re looking forward to springtime and our next topic with the Four Winds Nature Institute: bees and honey. Since we learned that a lot of the kids confuse honey with maple syrup, the topics should flow nicely from one another. We can’t wait to see our neighbors up here again and are eager to continuing sharing the wealth of sweetness and beauty that our staff, our facility and nature itself all have to offer!

Deep Thoughts with Shawn: a Winter Day Camp Retrospective

Shawn Kaufhold is 6 years old and just finished a week of Winter Day Camp at Berkshire Outdoor Center. All in all, he had a super time. Shawn doesn’t mince words, so when you ask him what his time was like while at Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA in the middle of February he’ll likely just give quick thumbs up.

We firmly believe that PIRATE DAY is the best way to kick off any program. Arrrr!

We firmly believe that PIRATE DAY is the best way to kick off any program. Arrrr!

But if you pry just a little bit he’ll share some bullet points:

  • I liked the ice skating. I am a lot better at it than when I was three. I can stand on the skates and I only fell a few times. But the best part was the fire they made at the rink. We ate S’mores.
  • We played capture the flag. I think my team might have won, but I am not sure. I think the score was 8 to 0.
  • I really liked snow shoeing on ice. We went on a pond and the ice was thick enough to hold us. My snow shoes kept falling off so next time I might wear my sneakers so they stay on better.
  • The food was good. I ate the taco shell, but it was empty. No, I did not put anything in it. Yes, I took some fruit and two baby carrots. Yes, I had enough to eat. You can get one scoop of everything and then if you want more food after you eat it you can get more.
  • Yes, all the kids are nice.
  • Yes, all the counselors are nice. I had a boy counselor and a girl counselor. No, I can’t remember their names. One of the girl counselors had an Australian accent. She thought I looked like the boy in Home Alone and asked me to put my hands on my cheeks and scream.
  • I liked pajama day and we got to watch a movie and bake brownies.
  • On Camouflage Day we hid behind or under something and if one of the counselors finds you, you have to help the counselor find other people. They painted our faces like camouflage too.
  • My favorite part of Camouflage Day was broom hockey. It’s similar to hockey and soccer but you have a broom and a ball.

Thanks for the thumbs up, Shawn. We think you’re pretty great, too! We hope you’ll join us for April Day Camp, where winter meets spring with fabulously muddy results. 

Thriving, not just surviving; yes, even in 7-degree weather!

Today’s guest post is from Brenda Marsian, our very own Chief Development Officer. As a first-time Women’s Wellness Weekend attendee but a self-professed “non-outdoorsy person,” she graciously offered to share her experience with all of us. Thanks for choosing us over the spa, Brenda! 

I met my good friend Mary in 1989, during my junior year in college while we were both working at a large insurance company.  We were English majors at neighboring colleges getting a “real world experience” that turned out to be a two year sentence sharing a small cubicle, filing, collating, stuffing and running errands.  Mary was the silver lining to an otherwise gray and boring place.

Nearly a quarter century later, speckled with daffodil bridesmaid dresses, baby boys (one for each of us,) and husbands to boot, we remain friends and I feel fortunate to share her college friend Susan who has joined us on many laugh filled adventures.

Brenda, Mary and Susan at the Tubing Hill!

Brenda, Mary and Susan at the Tubing Hill.

At heart, we still feel twenty years old and we like to celebrate our remaining youth with an annual spa weekend complete with outlet shopping, a hotel stay in a new destination and a mandatory afternoon of mani/pedis, body scrubs and massages.

This year we tried something new: Berkshire Outdoor Center’s 2013 Women’s Wellness Weekend.  For Mary and Susan, there were a few concerns when I said the experience would be “rustic.”  No terrycloth bathrobes with satin stitched monograms and matching slippers, no purified water with floating cucumbers, and no bed service with chocolates on the pillow at bed time – what were we signing up for?

Instead of extreme pampering, while we were still recovering from the frenzy of the holidays and trying to combat the melancholy of winter settling into our souls, we experienced near perfection in the Berkshires.

Winter sunshine on the Chimney Corners Dining Hall - aka Women's Wellness Weekend HQ

Winter sun on the Chimney Corners Dining Hall – aka Women’s Wellness Weekend HQ.

At Women’s Wellness Weekend, we found ourselves in a 1,400 acre winter wonderland. There were groomed snowshoe and skiing trails, a frozen lake to gaze and reflect upon and a sledding hill for adults only. We chose from a variety of workshops encouraging us to explore something new – from yoga to pottery to African drumming and beyond.



For two days and two nights we felt like the campers who converge here for a month each summer: we had the run of a place made to cultivate our spirit, mind and body.

Each morning we awoke for a 6:30 a.m. session.  Mary and Susan went to yoga and morning meditation, reporting back that the classes were “life changing,” while I went snowshoeing at sunrise. A Berkshire Outdoor Center facilitator guided us around Smith Pond, detouring so we could meet a beaver couple and see their amazingly constructed dam. We rounded the corner of Smith Pond just in time for the sun to rise through pine tree branches.

The sun comes up over day two of Women's Wellness Weekend!

The sun comes up over day two of Women’s Wellness Weekend.

The remainder of the weekend was bliss: ice skating by a hand built fire, grinning and squealing like six year olds on the tubing hill; Belgian waffles with strawberries, perfectly grilled salmon, fresh chop-salad, and chocolate cake filling up the calories we burned while cross country skiing.

None of us are fans of winter, but The Women’s Wellness Weekend has converted us into snow bunnies, adventure seekers and partakers of fun during the darkest days of the season. For a weekend, we no longer wished the cold months away, but celebrated 7 degree weather, toasting chilled glasses of wine to the frosted lake and the big blue sky’s winter sunshine.

Women’s Wellness Weekend is a time to regroup with friends in a setting that simultaneously allows you to be you and reminds you of the person you used to be and can still be.  Mary, Susan and I will now be like the 165 other women who visited the Berkshires for the weekend — annual trekkers to a place that understands how the outdoors, camaraderie and exploration can fill you with what really matters in life.


We’ve been in the woods. You?

Hi. Happy 2013 to one and all.

It’s late, I know. But just as I believe in spreading birthday celebrations out over the course of a week, I don’t mind wishing anyone a happy anything a little beyond the usual deadline. We all need to celebrate the good things more, longer, better, don’t we?

YES! And we have been celebrating the snowy woods here since ringing in the new year. Our lovely Berkshire Outdoor Center Winter 2013 Staff have been in training – learning to identify trees without the helpful hints provided by their leaves (!) learning to help squirmy kids buckle on snow shoes and learning how to teach a cross country ski lessons credibly even after having personally demonstrated a level IV wipe-out.

These are some serious skills, folks.

Since we know that Becket usually has a metric ton more snow than everywhere else in the world, we thought we’d share our outdoor adventures with those of you who are now down to a dingy inch of city or suburban snow. We’re not bragging. We’re celebrating – both our lovely campus and our acquisition of new teaching skills!

'Shoeing and learning!

Stephanie, Jess, Sarah, Andrew, Erin, Dom and Stevo doing Tree ID, winter tracking and mobile teambuilding!

Kelsey demonstrates the principle of “credibility after a fall” and teaches us about the Grey Birch, which is a pioneer species that grows quickly in newly-opened areas and has marks that look like black mustaches where the branches meet the trunk!


Molly teaches the gang about “her tree,” the Eastern Hemlock which grows in groves, has needles high in vitamin C and bears seeds in its tiny cones. Did you know you can brew tea from its needles?

Jake says "this is a big ash tree!" and explains that baseball bats and hockey sticks are traditionally made from White Ash and that its the first tree to lose it's leaves in the New England Fall.

Jake says “this is a big ash tree!” and explains that baseball bats and hockey sticks are traditionally made from White Ash. It’s also the first tree to lose it’s leaves in the New England fall and the last to grow them in the spring. Lazy? Maybe. Smart? Certainly.

Sarah teaches us about the Black Cherry Tree, which is valued for it's beautiful timber and is often used in the creation of musical instruments and furniture but is threatened in the Northeast by the Peach Bark Beetle.

Sarah tells us about the Black Cherry Tree, which is valued for its beautiful timber and is often used in the creation of musical instruments and furniture but is threatened in the Northeast by the Peach Bark Beetle.

Over the river and through the woods, right?

Over the river and through the woods, literally.

Andrew tells us about the Balsam Fir, New England's only native fir tree! Moose and red squirrels eat it's oil can be used as a non-toxic rodent deterrent. Handy!

Andrew tells us about the Balsam Fir, New England’s only native fir tree. Moose and red squirrels eat it and its oil can be used as a non-toxic rodent deterrent. Handy!

Jess's tree is the Striped Maple, also called Moose Maple, Duck-foot Maple or toilet paper tree! When young, the striped maple has a gorgeous bright green and white striped bark.

Jess’s tree is the Striped Maple, also called Moose Maple, Duck-foot Maple or toilet paper tree for its large, distinctively shaped, soft leaves! When young, the striped maple has gorgeous bright green and white striped bark.

Stephanie tells us about the Eastern White Pine, New England's tallest and longest living trees. The British Navy used them for masts on their ships and Maine names them as their state tree.

Stephanie tells us about the Eastern White Pine, New England’s tallest and longest living trees. The British Navy used them for masts on their ships and Maine names them as their state tree.

Trekking back to camp through Senior Unit, we were all excited for Mik's lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup...just like Mom used to make!

Trekking back to camp through Senior Unit, we were all excited for Mik’s lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup…just like Mom used to make!

We hope you enjoyed your virtual nature walk – come see us sometime, we’ll show you the real deal!

When you can touch the black cherry’s bark (feels like burnt potato chips,) smell the needles (Christmas!) hear the sap cracking in the trees (yes, you’re safe,) and taste the birch beer flavor (if that’s your thing, then yum!) the woods truly become a place to celebrate.

We are grateful that our celebration is just beginning!

True Holiday Spirit

Today’s post is from Jill Begin, one of our lovely, warm, hard-working Program Coordinators. She writes about coordinating a family program around Thanksgiving. As we, the year-round BCCYCMA employees, head off to our annual Holiday Party, she reminds us what a privilege we have in working here and how much we have to be grateful for this season!  

I couldn’t count on two hands the reasons why I love working at Berkshire Outdoor Center.  I thought I had a grasp on how special this place is. I thought I understood the power that we, as coordinators and instructors, have to impact and shape the experience of a group of people.

Then “Happy Thanks-Val-ing” bowled me over.

Val, in green, and friends.

Val, in green, and friends.

Emily* contacted us this past summer seeking a space to hold an event for her mother, Val. Val has been fighting her second bout of cancer since June 2011. As a charismatic and openly loving woman with a circle of friends wide enough to fill an ocean, she can’t visit with all of her loved ones as she battles her illness. Happy Thanks-Val-ing was Emily’s ingenious solution to this dilemma. This would be a time to celebrate her mother and best friend, while giving their community a space to shower healing love upon their dear friend, Val.

*A word about Emily: what a woman! Organized, creative, detail-oriented, and filled with joy to boot. It was a pleasure coordinating this event for her and I actually looked forward to emails from her at work.

On the day of the event, with the help of Emily and Val’s friends, we prepared the Chimney dining hall for Val’s surprise potluck dinner. Under the guise of a “Bluegrass Thanksgiving,” 200 people poured into our dining hall, set out their delicious, homemade goods and prepared for Val’s arrival. Excitement was in the air.

That moment that Val realized all of these people had gathered for her was almost as tear-jerkingly beautiful as the hour that was spent passing around a microphone, sharing stories about her. The BOC staff and I stood in silent amazement, listening to person after person express their love for Val. By old friends and new, a picture was painted for us of a woman that touches the life of everyone she knows. I won’t lie; I cried.

Emily and Val

Emily and Val

It was an honor to be a part of Val’s special night. It’s people like Emily and Val that remind me what a beautiful and exceptional place Berkshire Outdoor Center is. And it’s moments like those that I find myself profoundly thankful for the decisions and circumstances that led me here.

Winter is (getting) here

Winter is on the way!















As Program Director for Berkshire Outdoor Center, conversations like the ones that follow are not uncommon:

As I’m jogging down Hamilton Road, just past camp, about a month ago… 

Me: Hey neighbor!

Becket Resident: Oh, hi! What are you doing here? Summer’s been over for months!

Me: Yeah. We’re open year round. We run programs every season. I’m a year-round employee.

Becket Resident: Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. (He actually said this.)  I had no idea you guys were here for more than just summer.

Me: It’s true. I’m proof!

An approximation of this very conversation has occurred in a variety of locations, both near Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA and far from it, including at the dinner table when I go home to visit family.

Uncle Benji: So you work at a summer camp?

Me: Yes, that’s part of my job.

Uncle Benji: But you do it year round? What do you do after summer?

Me: About 85% of my job, actually. Summer is BOC’s  lightest season. Strange, right?

Uncle Benji: But what about winter?

Me: Oh, we’re open!

So, Uncle Benji and Co., this post is for all of you. Here’s what we do in the winter. Get excited. It’s pretty great.

One of Berkshire Outdoor Center's fabulous Dining Halls

We run special programs (and don’t worry, there will be future blog posts elaborating on some of these fantastic winter adventures.)

Our New Year’s Eve Alumni Gathering brings  friends of camp who are 21 years old and up to play in the snow and recreate the summer magic

New Years Skier









A week-long residential Winter Camp including a ski day at Butternut! (President’s week)


A blizzard of fun snowy activities happens at Winter Day Camp (also during President’s week)


Women’s Wellness Weekend brings mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins and friends to our site for healthy activities for the body, mind and spirit

lean to girls

School trips – Riverdale Country School, for example, comes for a 4-day bonanza of bonding, winter science and challenge activities to kick off their second semester the best way possible


Conference groups and family programs alike gather here to talk, reflect and sip hot cocoa in front of the fire, walk in the snowy, peaceful woods and recharge themselves to return home with pink cheeks and a new energy

When we’re not running these one-of-a-kind, memorable, fun experiences for our guests, friends and community, we’re reviewing the past year and finding ways to make the coming year even better.

“How do we make the jump from 4-star to 5,” is the question we ask each other again and again, and between answering that question, our fast-growing winter programs and the challenge of adequately utilizing (enjoying!) the 1400 pristine, snowy acres that is our backyard, well, winter sometimes feels like the busiest season of all.

photo (6)

The Women of Winter

Women’s Wellness Weekend was my first love as Program Director for Berkshire Outdoor Center and as such, it holds a special place in my heart.

It was December of 2009 and my supervisor had charged me with “sprucing up” a few programs each season – starting with Women’s Wellness. We had about 25 women registered, were expecting around 40 to attend, and needed to boost our numbers for 2010 or risk closing down one of our oldest annual events.

If we fast -forward to the end of the story, you’ll learn that we already have more than 75 women registered for the event (which is still 11 weeks away!) and are expecting more than 200 women to attend the January 25-27 event. So you can stop holding your breath, this is a story with a happy ending.

In planning the weekend, I try to take a broad approach to wellness. Wellness is more than cardio, lean protein and yoga, after all. If you think about it, are you truly well if you can run a 10k but feel spiritually empty? If you are a wiz on the clean eating circuit but don’t have leisure time? If you endure winter by running from the car to the house but never actually enjoy the snow, clear air or bright sky?

So at Women’s Wellness Weekend, we make an effort to address all the facets of health and well-being.

Does your mind need a stretch, a shake up, a challenge? Come to our book club (reading material to be announced in December, stay tuned!) Attend a lecture on art and travel, learn some new dance steps, start a dream journal or create some art.

Does your body need to shake off those winter blahs? Learn to cross country ski, join our Zumba dance party, climb a rock wall, cruise the skating rink or whiz down our tubing hill.

Could you use a little peace and quiet? Read a book by the fire, sign up for a massage, take a nap in the middle of the day or join us for a sunrise snowshoe hike through the snow covered woods.

What about your spirit? Come and make new friends, reconnect with your sister or giggle in your bunk at the end of the day with your friends. Join a tea-tasting session and share stories or join us for yoga or mediation.

I have the pleasure of putting together a fun, challenging, healthy, creative line up of presenters and workshops each year but in truth, it’s the women who attend the weekend who make it so wonderful.

They come with open hearts and a spirit of fun. They try new things. They make new friends. They laugh at themselves, they challenge themselves, they learn new things and they share their knowledge with others.

So if you’re a woman, dig out those snow pants, find the book you’ve been half way through all year and bring a friend to a weekend of laughter, relaxation and hot food (you don’t have to cook or clean up!)

If you know of a woman who could use a weekend to rekindle her spirits, consider surprising her with a voucher for Women’s Wellness Weekend. If you have an idea for a weekend workshop, send me an email at I’d love to hear your thoughts!