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CAMP GUIDE: Camp Texlake gives Girl Scouts a weeklong getaway

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CAMP GUIDE: Camp Texlake gives Girl Scouts a weeklong getaway





Here, activities are both rustic (canoeing, riding) and modern (massage, scuba).


By Pamela LeBlanc


Saturday, February 24, 2007


Both my older sisters made trips to Camp Texlake when they were Girl Scouts in the 1970s. Me? I flunked out at the Brownie level.


I was denied a week in a hot cabin. I didn't get to taste that famous Girl Scout stew made by dumping a can of soup contributed by each camper into one big pot. I didn't get to sing silly songs by the campfire, get attacked by mosquitoes or sit around all afternoon in a damp swimsuit.


Until last summer.


I rolled into Camp Texlake just in time for lunch: hotdogs. The Lone Star Council of the Girl Scouts runs eight week-long sessions of summer camp at this 455-acre encampment at Pace Bend on Lake Travis. Each session is targeted to different interests, from horseback riding to water skiing or caring for barnyard animals. About 1,400 girls sign up each summer.


"It's really a good way to get away from mom," says 2006 camp director Jayne Van Osten, a 17-year veteran of Camp Texlake who retired after last season. "It's a special place where girls can be girls."


Like other staffers here, she goes by a nickname: Tweedle. Before long, I also meet Jellybean, Tiki, Butterfly, Pepper and Moo.


Camp Texlake opened in 1949. Last summer, organizers unveiled new air-conditioned cabins for the older girls and a new dining hall with picture windows that overlook Lake Travis. Campers eat off plates decorated by scouts and pound their fists on the tables during chants at the end of each meal. There are also singing sessions under the trees after lunch and dinner.


Though some things are the same, the addition of air-conditioning isn't the only change. Camps of yore didn't have a high-altitude ropes course or offer cheerleading, scuba diving or competition based on the television program "Survivor." At the modern version of Texlake, kids can even sign up for a "Chill Out" session, with classes in yoga, massage, make-up and nail care.


After lunch, I head to the arts and crafts cabin, where I wad up a T-shirt, wrap it in rubber bands and squeeze bottles of turquoise and pink dye over it. I have a fabulous tie-dyed shirt to show for it.


Raleigh Taylor, 12, a third-year camper from Austin, likes tie-dying for just the reasons I do: "The colors are all mixed together and they're swirly and pretty and you get all messy and you work with your friends."


But I'm hot, so I head down to the beach to check out the kayaks and canoes. Do you have any idea how much fun it is to sink a boat? I do.


"It's fun to hang out and be in the country," Bethany Kondik, 11, of Dripping Springs, tells me as we haul our paddles up to the flatbed trailer that will carry us back toward the cabins. "And another good thing you meet new people."


All this activity calls for some relaxing. Campers are allowed a couple hours of unstructured time each afternoon, so I plant myself on top of a bunk bed in Cabin D, where the older girls are staying.


Emily Doran, 12, wearing a pink T-shirt, perches on a bunk wrapped in pink sheets, where a pink towel, pink backpack and pink teddy bear are carefully arranged. She roots through her suitcase, where a stack of plastic bags are neatly labeled: "Monday's Clothes," "Tuesday's Clothes," etc. She pulls out her journal, ready to write about the day's activities.


But wait. No time for that now.


"Emily, go clean the showers. You have to do your chores," someone hollers.


Emily drags herself up. Then, a scream. "Oh my God! A huge grasshopper!"


After a hoopla, someone shows up with a broom and valiantly carries the bug off. Then the rescuer returns, triumphant, declaring, "The bug is demolished."


Now nine girls scurry around the cabin, sweeping, making beds, emptying trash cans. They want the tidiest cabin award.


They won't get it.


Across the cabin, two girls are having a discussion. "I think you watch way too much TV," one says. "It's good that you're out here."


The topic turns to the difficulties of life in an air-conditioned cabin made of cedar logs.


"Maybe it's just me, but I think it's better to know what it's like to not be civilized no cell phone, no air conditioner, no mall," says Julie Arnold. "If you grow up with all that, you don't get to know what it's like being in nature. I would have been just fine staying in a tent."


Between talk about the pool party planned for the evening, a lot of giggling, some hair-braiding and a demonstration of how to use a hair brush as a microphone for a rock 'n' roll concert, comes a knock at the door.


Mail time. Even though these girls are gone just a week, they get stacks of letters and packages. For now, though, I want to know what the little ones are doing.


So I head to the Treehouses, where the Brownies are dressing in superhero costumes for the evening meal. One is wearing a long-sleeved shirt, with paper stuffed in the sleeves to make faux muscles.


These cabins are elevated 15 feet above ground on cinder blocks. They are not air-conditioned.


"It's hot in here at night," one girl whimpers.


Victoria Taylor, 10, of Pflugerville, doesn't care. "It's Texas; expect it," she says. Then she explains why camp "rules." "There are lots of nice counselors and lots of fun things to do and there are good beds. Plus, there are no boys here," she says.


Ah. This is a sentiment oft repeated.


"Camp is fun because you get away from your troubles and your annoying brother," says Devynn Montoya, 11, of Pflugerville.


With that, it's off to flag ceremony, a solemn lowering-of-the-flag occasion held just before dinner. Then it's a mad dash to the dining hall. Tonight, it's spaghetti, salad and garlic bread, followed by cups of vanilla ice cream. (Where's that Girl Scout stew I heard so much about?)


There's another round of singing before the girls break into groups. I join the younger ones, who head to the barn, where they plan to use a couple of horses as canvases. The counselors pour neon green, pink, blue and yellow paint into trays. The girls dip their hands into the goo and smear it over the horses' flanks. The horses don't seem to mind. The next day, another group of girls will practice their equine-washing skills on the furry paintings.


"I have never painted a horse before," says Mackenzie Heldstab, as though she's been cruelly deprived all of her seven years. "Touching the horse's fur felt really good and wonderful. Just to smear paint on . . ."


After they help the counselors feed the horses, they return to their cabins, where they change into swimsuits for the night's pool party. Which turns out to be a sight to behold counselors in grass skirts, inflatable alligators and killer whales drifting around in the pool and dozens and dozens of squealing kids. At one point, the camp director leaps into the water, fully clothed.


It's a wonder anyone has any energy left for breakfast the next morning, but they do. They just don't bother to change into clothes. Or maybe that's because this meal has been designated the official Pajama Breakfast. And apparently, fashion here doesn't dictate that you shouldn't wear cowboy boots with PJs.


I just have a few hours left in my visit enough time for another trip down to the lakeside, where I swim in a cove and think about how fast the time has gone.


It's like one of the campers told me earlier: "The first day you miss your parents; then you realize how much you like it and it goes fast."


pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994


Find your way to Camp Texlake


Camp Texlake, on Lake Travis outside Austin, is for girls ages 6 to 17. Eight one-week sessions are offered, starting June 3. Themes range from cooking to scuba diving, music, sailing or spa. Cost varies from $150 to $350; financial aid is available. Girls who are not registered Girl Scouts must enclose a $10 membership fee. For camp schedules and applications, go to www.girlscouts-lonestar .org. For more information, call the Lone Star Council of Girl Scouts at (512) 453-7391.

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