TRAVERSE CITY -- The screen door opened with a creak and closed with a thwap.
Inside the Trailside Lodge a canoe hangs from the rustic ceiling, campers tie-dye a craft project and a driftwood sign bears the motto "Each for all, all for each."
It's time for summer camp. Those days of bunk beds, campfire songs, swimming and mosquito bites.
Here, at the YMCA Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha, and at camps throughout northern Lower Michigan, adventure calls from high atop ropes courses, among pine trees and in cabins where new friends are made. The YMCA girls' camp is located on Arbutus Lake southeast of Traverse City. Three wooden signs posted on trees along the driveway explain what this place is all about. "For a great summer!" reads the first sign, "your camp experience," continues the second, "begins here," promises the message.
Girls aged 8 to 16 come with expectations for a few fun summer weeks and leave with something more.
"(Campers) go home with more independence," said director Amanda Macaluso.
The camp offers two and four week stays and this year will draw a record 537 girls. Campers hail from Cincinnati, the Chicago area and around Detroit. Girls also trek from California, Mexico, France and "really all over," Macaluso said. A two-week stay costs $995 to $1,320, depending on age and program, while a four-week stay runs around $2,000 or more.
Michigan's economy has had some impact on camps, but directors said attendance is still good.
"Our waiting list is a little smaller this year," said Camp Daggett's John Guirey.
There have been more requests for financial aid to help pay for the camp, located on Walloon Lake about seven miles from Petoskey. Daggett offers one week, co-ed sessions that cost $365 for kids who live in Charlevoix and Emmet counties and $600 for out-of-area campers. About 1,000 campers will go to Daggett in the summer.
Larry Stevens, a director and owner of Camp Walden near Cheboygan, said camps increasingly are becoming a "competitive business" with "so many options" for children to choose from.
There are 84 camps in Michigan accredited by the American Camp Association and 2,400 accredited camps in the United States. Michigan ranks ninth in the country for the number of accredited camps. California has the most. The ACA evaluates safety measures, staff training, health care, programs and other components of camp life.
Nationally, a week at a residential camp costs between $325 to $780, the ACA reported. Theresa Walker, executive director of ACA Michigan based in Grand Rapids, said Michigan camps seem to be holding steady, despite economic woes.
"Parents are not traveling outside of Michigan; so they are choosing camp over (a family vacation)," she said.
Area directors said camp teaches children how to get along with different kinds of people, lets them experience the outdoors and learn new skills. At Daggett, the motto is "The other fellow first."
"I think the primary benefit for children is to venture out to a new environment, away from their family structure, so they get to feel some independence," said Guirey. "They are away from home..., but we still provide a very safe, nurturing environment."
At Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha, girls practice canoeing, archery, horseback riding and take on a ropes course, scale a climbing tower and create arts and crafts.
Margo Dyer, 12, of Cincinnati, Ohio said her mother went to the same camp. This was Margo's third year, and she likes the fact that all of her cabin mates "want to be friends." On a humid July morning, she prepared to tackle the ropes course, a feat that requires strength, balance and a little courage.
"Hey, I made it. I'm not dead," called one girl from a high platform in the trees.
Margo, who planned to spend four weeks at camp this year, waited for her turn.
"I've never been up; it's my first time," she said.
In addition to on-site activities, the camp offers excursions to the Porcupine Mountains, Sleeping Bear dunes, Les Cheneaux Islands, Isle Royale National Park and Alaska.
At the boys' YMCA Camp Hayo-Went-Ha on Torch Lake, kids can sail, scuba dive, kayak and play disc golf all while building self-esteem and learning wilderness skills, said senior director Dave Martin. The camp has operated since 1904 and is "the oldest YMCA boys' camp on the same site in the world," he said.
Camp Walden wants its campers to develop good attitudes and learn how to get along with one another, said Stevens. Their unique programs include fencing and digital photography in addition to water sports and athletic programs. By the end of camp, kids should have "a little better sense of who they are," he said.
Groups from Camp Daggett can travel to Canada or go "island hopping" in Lake Superior, Guirey said. But children stay plenty entertained back at camp with special programs such as the Super Hero Night.
"The whole staff will be dressed up as super heroes," said Guirey, who was kept up until midnight once sewing a costume.
Traditions abound at the Arbutus girls' camp, where the squeals and giggles of young girls rang across the hilly landscape. Colorful beach towels dried from fences. Three red canoes paddled about the lake. This is Catherine Tanner's home for a month in the summer. It's the fourth year at camp for the 13-year-old from Washington, D.C., and Catherine has made some "really good friends."
"Final banquet, closing campfire -- it's a bit teary because most of us don't get to see each other for a year," she said.