Who Invited the Mosquitoes?

The New York Times

By Bethany Kandel

August 12, 2007

SOME people really take summer camp to heart. On Tuesday, after the last Camp Takajo boys have headed home from a summer of boating, baseball and barbecues, two of their counselors, Priscilla Croft, 27, and Jeff Cunjak, 41, will take their wedding vows on the camp’s lakeside beach in Naples, Me.

HAPPY CAMPERS Eric and Carrie HughesMarrying at camp was a “logical conclusion” for the couple, said Mr. Cunjak, the head basketball counselor, who was a camper at Takajo for 7 years and has been on the staff for 12. They met 8 years ago when Ms. Croft, a Canadian, was hired as Takajo’s learn-to-swim director. They dated in the summer of 2001, but broke up when fall came.

“I was heartbroken” recalled Ms. Croft, who in the off season now teaches first grade in San Jose, Calif. They revived their relationship at camp in 2005, and last summer were engaged.

“Camp is where we started our life together,” said Mr. Cunjak, a math teacher, also in San Jose. “We never thought of getting married anywhere else.”

Camps are “a new twist on destination weddings,” said Kathleen Murray, deputy editor of The Knot, a wedding Web site. “There is something about hosting a wedding at a camp that brings out the kid in everyone, and couples are looking to add more fun to their wedding weekends. Not only are many camps set on beautiful pieces of land with lakes and scenery but it gives guests and family the opportunity to truly bond together.”

Camps, naturally, welcome the business. Many sleep-aways that traditionally welcomed children for only seven to eight weeks in the summer are finding they can rent properties that once sat vacant in late spring and early fall — longer if buildings have heat.

Day camps are also cashing in. Unlike sleep-aways, they are typically available on summer weekends, and they, too, can offer a full schedule of activities for guests.

“Camp weddings are definitely on the rise,” said Adam Weinstein, the executive director of the New York office of the American Camp Association, an organization that accredits 2,400 camps nationally. Many camp directors are reporting a growth of their wedding business over the last five years “of between 100 and 300 percent,” he said.

Carrie Hughes, 31, was married June 9 at Johns River Valley Camp in Collettsville, N.C., where her husband, Eric Hughes, 35, went as a child. “We didn’t just want a wedding day, we wanted an entire weekend,” said Ms. Hughes, a graphic designer from Greensboro, N.C. In the rushed atmosphere of other weddings, she said, “the bride and groom only get to spend about 30 seconds” with each of the guests. “We got to have meaningful conversations, jokes and fun with our friends and family over three days.”

That included watching a movie under the stars, a scavenger hunt, a touch football game and a dress-up barbecue with Asian spareribs, rosemary lemon chicken and asparagus, she said.

Not everyone has a camp connection. Raminta Flynn, 31, a nursing student from Portland, Ore., married Jeff Flynn, 33, an engineer for Xerox, last Sept. 16 at Camp Namanu, an hour east of Portland, which they discovered while kayaking. “We’re both outdoorsy,” she said, and so they wanted a wooded setting with miles of hiking trails and fields to play boccie, volleyball and croquet. “There was a lot of organization,” Ms. Flynn added. “But all of our friends and family stepped up and took one responsibility and made it happen.”

Even with the added expense of feeding guests for two to three days, such events can cost less than the average American wedding (which is $27,852, according to the 2006 Condé Nast Bridal Media American Wedding Study) largely because couples have to do a lot of the work themselves, from cleaning cobwebby cabins to renting and setting up tables and place settings.

The Flynns’ wedding cost about $15,000, including $5,000 to rent the camp and $8,000 for the catered reception dinner. And the extras can add up. While the Hugheses would not provide a total for their “epic affair,” they said they absorbed about $5,000 for items above and beyond what they would have faced at a standard in-town site in their part of the country. Besides the $1,200 camp rental, the additional lunches, dinners and breakfasts for their guests over the three days ran about $800, and it cost $2,250 to rent and deliver the tent, grill, china and stemware.

One place to find camps that put on weddings is Niche Directories, which has a Web site, www.RentMyCamp.com, that lists hundreds of possibilities.

For couples who want it to look, smell and feel like camp but with amenities, Club Getaway in Kent, Conn., is a “camp for grown-ups,” as its owner, Victor Fink, describes it. Its bunks have heat and air-conditioning, private baths and daily housekeeping. A reception, plus six meals, alcohol, staff and activities costs $175 and up per person, and rooms are another $79 a person, a night. “We do everything from organizing color war and family softball games to offering cooking lessons and wine tastings,” Mr. Fink said.

One thing to consider is how to dress. Ms. Flynn sent this advisory to her guests: “Anything too fancy isn’t recommended (heels, especially!) for a multitude of reasons: the ceremony is up a semi-steep trail/hill a short distance, the dinner will be served under tents in a grassy field. We love you. We don’t care what you wear.”

Of course, being in a remote location causes the occasional mishap. At the Hughes wedding, the electricity went out just hours before the ceremony. And not all the guests were prepared to rough it. “I never went to camp as a kid so I had no idea what the bunks were going to be like,” said Lynn Rolls. “I did question my sanity. Mosquitoes are fine. It’s the spiders I was worried about. But Carrie supplied bug repellent in the gift bags.”

There’s no rain plan for Mr. Cunjak’s wedding this week. If the forecast is bad, he and Ms. Croft can wed in the camp’s new dining hall, or use the 500 umbrellas the camp had imprinted with “It never rains on Camp Takajo.” But that’s a last resort, he said: “Right now we’re just doing a lot of praying.”