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Westport Y keeps the summer fun going despite Mahackeno construction

Published 6:51 am, Thursday, March 21, 2013
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The Westport Weston Family Y faced a years-long, sometimes contentious, process to win approval to build a new home on its Mahackeno property in the northern part of town.

That 54,000-square-foot complex is now under construction, with a projected completion date next year.

But few questions have arisen about the Y's traditional summer camp at Mahackeno, even though it will be displaced by the construction project.

Instead, the Y is joining forces with Earthplace, the nature center, for summer activities at the Earthplace preserve on Woodside Lane.

On Wednesday night, Mahackeno's camp director, Meg George, and two representatives of the YMCA's Camp Hazen in Chester, came to the Y armed with information about the new co-sponsored summer camp for the coming season. Only one family showed up, however, for the two-hour question-and-answer forum.

"We knew that we would have fewer people than in the past, (but) there aren't a lot of programs here that run from 9 to 4, rain or shine, with extended hours," George said.

The new program, she said, will provide a valuable service for working parents, who need to have arrangements for their children once the academic year has ended.

"Our goal was to make sure we were taking care of the working parents," George said.

Earthplace usually has about 100 campers at its summer program, George said, "and this year we're going to have about 150. It's really an adventure for both of us."

Meanwhile, Kath Davies, camp director for Camp Hazen, and Alex Learned, program director, had information about that sleep-over camping program.

"We've got a bunch of families from Westport specifically," Davies said.

Opened in 1920, Camp Hazen has long been the YMCA's official overnight camp in Connecticut.

"We served last year just under 1,000 in our residential camp," she said, "but we have 250 at a time."

The camp offers a four-to-one ratio of staff to campers. Many of the campers return year after year, and then become counselors themselves.

Hanna Ahlgrim, 19, of Westport, and her sister Callie, 17, are two examples, having started as Hazen campers seven years ago and now they are camp counselors.

"That just goes to show that they love that place," said their mother, Sarah Ahlgrim, whose son, Sam, 15, has also been attending for four years.

Following a high-pressure year in what Ahlgrim said is a competitive high school atmosphere, her children seem relieved by getting away from it all at Camp Hazen. "It's a local, down-to-earth camp," she said. "They have all just expressed such a love of the place (and) mainly the friendships they have made."

Marco Degl'Innocenti, 11, of Norwalk, meanwhile, has had equally rewarding experiences closer to home at Mahackeno, which he has attended five years.

"It's one of the funnest places because all the kids come back," he said. "It's kind of like a reunion place and you can just go crazy. It's a summer camp!"

"It's been great for us," said his mother, Lara Degl'Innocenti. "I run a business in town, so it's just really convenient for us."

Learn more about the Westport Weston Family Y's new summer program here: http://bit.ly/WM2MJK

Information about the YMCA's Camp Hazen is here: http://camphazenymca.org