With help from friends, alumni, girls again camp at Little Notch
FORT ANN When Gabrielle Tayac found out her childhood was being sold she was heartbroken.
For 70 years, Camp Little Notch was owned and run by the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York. But in 2009, the organization put the camp up for sale because it had a more modern camp just 15 miles away, and did not need both.
“It was absolutely devastating,” said Tayac, now 45. “It is like somebody is taking your childhood.”
Ellen Tuzzolo, 34, another camp alumna, felt the same.
“Camp was a place that gave me a voice,” she said. “That experience is something that is common amongst a lot of the alumni.”
The alumni did not let heartbreak stop them, though. Instead, they turned that heartbreak into action. Together they saved Camp Little Notch.
Tuzzolo helped establish an organization called Friends of Camp Little Notch, which she is now the executive director of, and it partnered with Open Space Institute, a land conservation group in New York. Friends of CLN convinced Open Space to purchase Camp Little Notch, a 2,300-acre property.
The agreement became that Friends of CLN would buy Camp Little Notch back from Open Space when it acquired enough money to do so. Open Space purchased the camp in 2010 and entered into a lease with Friends of CLN. Now, while paying Open Space, Friends of CLN operate Camp Little Notch.
“We don’t yet own the land,” Tuzzolo explained.
Tuzzolo said Friends of CLN started out as a very small alumni community organization. But with passion and heart fueling them, they grew into a nonprofit, and have already raised more than $500,000 toward buying back the camp.
“Camp Little Notch is a very beautiful, pristine wilderness area,” Tuzzolo said. “Incredibly beautiful.”
Reopened in 2012
From 2009 to 2011, Camp Little Notch did not host campers. It reopened in 2012 with its popular Program for Girls, which will return this year.
Tayac attended Camp Little Notch 30 years ago, but the memories she made while a camper in the Program for Girls have always stayed with her.
“It is really a place where I think that I was able to come into my own confidence,” she said. “To begin a relationship with the natural world. And to see what is possible for women to achieve.”
Last summer Tayac sent her 11-year-old daughter to the Program for Girls when it reopened.
“There is something very unique about the camp,” Tayac said. “She loved it. She did not want to leave.”
Tuzzolo, who began attending when she was 8, also fell in love with Camp Little Notch.
“The girls’ program is what inspires so many alumni to come together to form the organization that is now running Camp Little Notch,” she said. “It is the heart and soul of what we do.”
The Program for Girls will be held this year from July 20 to 26. Tayac said her daughter has been looking forward to returning to the Program for Girls all year long. The program is open for girls ages 7 to 17; they stay right on-site in platform tents or cabins. Most of the platform tents have a perfect view of the 80-acre private lake Camp Little Notch sits on.
“A lot of people will sleep with the tents rolled up to see the lake,” Tuzzolo said. “The land and the space is so magical.”
Throughout their stay at Camp Little Notch, girls participate in a variety of activities, including canoeing, hiking, swimming, yoga, arts and crafts, creek walking, music, and a camp favorite — the high and low ropes course.
While Camp Little Notch does the typical camp activities, Tayac said, it also provides much more for the young attendees.
She explained that the camp has always been very progressive, and when she attended, she realized for the first time in her life she could be anything she wanted to be.
“When you were there it all made sense,” she said.
Tuzzolo said the Program for Girls really supports empowering women. It does so by having good role models for the girls and encouraging spontaneous fun. The staff helps girls plan their own schedule and encourages them to be themselves.
“When someone gets inspired to do something … we really encourage that,” she said.
Tuzzolo brags that the food at Camp Little Notch, cooked by Deirdre Kelly, is also great.
“We have an amazing, amazing woman who owns a catering business called Freestyle Catering,” she said “She is our cook during the summer.”
The camp is able to accommodate different diets such as gluten-free, meat-free and dairy-free.
The Program for Girls is dedicated to promoting diversity, acceptance and harmony, Tuzzolo explains. It invites young girls from all economic and social backgrounds to come together. And the staff members who oversee the Program for Girls are also very diverse.
“Our staff comes from many, many different backgrounds,” she said. “We developed a relationship with Skidmore. Through that connection we have been able to get a lot of really incredible young people from Skidmore.”
The camp staff this year is made up of alumni of Camp Little Notch and people from all across the country, including California and New Orleans.
But Camp Little Notch is not just for young girls, it is for everyone, according to Tuzzolo. This summer, it will offer a variety of events including a women’s retreat, community camping, a reunion weekend and a stewardship weekend. Throughout the year, Camp Little Notch also offers its space for family events, retreats, corporate events and solo camping.
Both Camp Little Notch and Friends of CLN live by the mission: “Providing opportunities for all people to practice living in harmony with nature, each other and themselves.”
Tuzzolo explains that the three-part mission centered around harmony is the core of everything Camp Little Notch does.
• The first part of the mission — living in harmony with nature — has a lot to do with the environment. Camp Little Notch promotes sustainable and low-impact living, Tuzzolo said.
“There is no cellphone service,” she said. “So it is this incredible opportunity to just unplug in nature.”
• The second part of the mission — living in harmony with each other — is something Camp Little Notch really instills during its Program for Girls, but also encourages with other groups. They try to really emphasize breaking down barriers between people.
“Celebrate each other’s differences and similarities,” Tuzzolo said. “People are so busy, it is so hard to get quality time with family and friends — especially unplugged time.”
• And lastly: living in harmony with oneself. Camp Little Notch offers yoga and meditation and encourages visitors to journal and spend time alone. They believe Camp Little Notch is the ideal place for people to self-reflect.
“Get a little space from the world,” Tuzzolo added.
One of the most popular activities at Camp Little Notch is hiking. Located adjacent to the Lake George Wild Forest, campers can hike any of the major peaks in the area, such as Buck Mountain and Sleeping Beauty. Two peaks are on the Camp Little Notch property: Challenger and Hope.
On Saturday, Camp Little Notch will host an open house from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The address is 744 Sly Pond Road, Fort Ann.
“The open house is a chance for people to sample all of the incredible things Camp Little Notch has to offer,” Tuzzolo said. “We really just want to show off how great Camp Little Notch is.”
Staff will be on hand to answer questions about Camp Little Notch, including the Program for Girls and programming opportunities for this summer. Visitors will also have the chance to canoe, swim, hike and participate in the ropes course.