Calleva puts a little adventure in summer

Kids let loose and relax as they learn at Poolesville camp

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Camp counselor Fred Barton, 19, of Bethesda simulates rapids in the Potomac River for 9-year-old camper Katie Kidney, also of Bethesda.

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Garret Weintrob, 7, of Bethesda, swings off a rock-climbing wall at Camp Calleva.

See-saw? Puh-leaze. PlayStation 2? Whatever. Dolls? You’re joking, right?

‘‘My favorite is when you get flipped over and you have to get out,” said Greer Turner, 8, of Takoma Park.

She was talking about when the kayak instructor at Poolesville’s Camp Calleva intentionally flips the kayaks upside down so new boaters learn how to get out from under the water — in about 3 seconds.

By noon on Greer’s first day of camp a couple of weeks ago, she had made three new friends, learned a camp song and played some neat games.

At Calleva the campers are on the go all day. About 250 campers fill the main site off Riley’s Lock Road each week. Many adventures take campers to other Calleva sites for horseback riding and exploring on an island on the Potomac. Some head to the caves in West Virginia. The Markoff brothers — Alex, Matt and Nick — own and operate the camp. They estimate more than 1,000 campers ages 6 to 16 will enjoy their little world near the Potomac River this summer.

‘‘It’s easy to forget that we’re 20 minutes away from one of the busiest beltways in the country,” said Alex Markoff.

Calleva has entertained campers since 1994, and now employs 90 staffers.

On a recent day at camp, groups of kids were engaged in a kayaking lesson on Seneca Creek, scaling a 30-foot-tall climbing wall and doing some general goofing off.

Alex Meyer, 13, of Bethesda, is in his second week at Calleva’s kayak program. He learned kayak safety, how to paddle in a straight line and ‘‘how to go over some pretty cool rapids.”

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Camp Calleva offers year-round programs, including weekday and overnight adventures. For details, visit
‘‘It’s nice to be outdoors and go out on the river,” he said. ‘‘You make new friends.”

Farther up the creek, a group of 6- to 9-year-olds was learning safety techniques.

They got oddly quiet as Alex Markoff approached.

‘‘Alex is a stinkyhead!” a chorus called, quite loudly.

He could only laugh.

‘‘The kids come here on Monday, they’re just too cool for school, and on Friday it’s really neat to see what a staffer can do with a group of 12 kids,” Markoff said. ‘‘By Friday they’re hanging out, singing songs arm in arm, and that’s what camp is about right there.”

The kayaking instructor who led the group’s stinkyhead-chorus has a long history with Calleva.

Fred Barton, 19, of Bethesda was a Calleva camper for six years and has been a staffer for the past four.

Alex Markoff was the first instructor he ever had.

‘‘My friends ask me why I don’t get a real job, but I think that I have more responsibility here,” Barton explained during his lunch break. ‘‘Like, if you work at Starbucks, you’ll be making more money, but you’d only be responsible for someone’s coffee. Here you’re responsible for people’s lives.”

Barton’s time at camp has taught him about ‘‘people’s limits.”

And how to give a good noogie.

While Barton described his Calleva experience, kids tossed him extras from their home-packed lunches –– a mustard packet was just one of the generous offerings.

Then the group’s counselor, Erica Neville, 16, of Poolesville asked if the kids wanted to change the name of their group from Red Robins to Red Pirates, as some had suggested.

As expected, the group screamed ‘‘Yeaahhhhh!”

‘‘OK, now we need a sign,” Neville said.

‘‘How ’bout a hook? Arrrrrrg,” one camper suggested.

‘‘With one eye closed!” offered another.

They all practiced.

‘‘Ok, that’s our sign, I like it, I like it,” Neville said, clapping.

‘‘How about a ‘glug glug’ and a bottle of rum?” one mischievous boy offered.

‘‘No, I don’t think so,” she said.

Shortly after that, Barton gave Neville a noogie.

Bet his friends can’t do that at Starbucks.