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Copper Cannon's Free Summer Camp

Copper Cannon Camp is tucked away in Franconia Notch on 128 acres of White Mountain National Forest.  In some ways a typical overnight camp with sing-a-longs at night and archery during the day, Copper Cannon is unusual in one respect.  As Sean Hurley reports, it's one of only a handful of co-ed camps in the country that's absolutely free for kids of low income families. 
I'm only at Copper Cannon Camp for 30 seconds when Zach and Rob, two eleven year old boys, spot my recorder and come racing over.

Sean: How's camp going? Rob: Good. Hard to sleep. Sean: Hard to sleep? Why is it hard to sleep? Rob: Because you're away from home. Zach: Not me. I'm used to it. Heck, it's my ninth time. Sean: And what is it about the camp that you like? Zach: It's just outdoors. I rarely get to go outdoors cause I'm having to help.

It's because of kids like Zach - who rarely get outdoors cause they have to help -  that Tony Marshall decided to become a counselor here.  

It gives the kids a break. It gives the kids an educational experience that's amazing. And I'm envious of this camp because we don't have anything like it in Scotland whatsoever.

Camp Director Peter Christnacht says this year's international contingent includes counselors from England, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. 

We have both American and International staff. All of the American staff grew up in the program. They are former campers. Now counselors who are in college.

Boston College student Adrian Tetreau is the camp's resident Arts and Crafts director. 

I always had this dream actually of becoming the arts and crafts director ever since I started going to day camp, ever since here, that was always my dream. So I guess now I'm living it!

Christnacht takes me on a tour of the grounds. There's the archery area with slouching hay-filled targets. Totem poles and little cabins in the woods with names like Abenaki and Chippewa. 

Camps are throwbacks. We do the same thing at summer camp that they did 75 years ago at camp. And it's just as new and fresh for these kids as it was then. We still do sitting around the campfire singing songs.

But Christnacht says this year is extra special because Copper Cannon is celebrating its 50th anniversary providing free summer camp.

The founder, Ham Ford, had a chance to go to summer camp in northern Minnesota. Changed his life and he said someday he was going to give back. And in 1963 he began by bringing orphans up to his ski lodge outside of Franconia.

In 1969, the camp became the state project for the New Hampshire Elks.

Christnacht: About half the kids are referred through the Elks lodges. And if a child calls us from Manchester for example or Nashua, we'll say "Contact such and such at the Nashua Elks, because they provide transportation." Sean: Now you said kids call you? Do kids ever call? Christnacht: We will have children call us. Part of it is the kids having to take that initiative. They might live with grandma, they might live with a relative. We do have some, I hate to say it, that live in their cars...

Lunchtime and Allison and Lydia from the Huron cabin invite me to sit at their table. 

Allison: Would you like some chicken noodle soup? Sean: What are you going to have? Allison: Chicken noodle, it's really good. Lydia: Now there's a problem. Dad, if you're listening, you forgot to tell them I'm a vegetarian. And there's ham.

Christnacht handles the situation and soon Lydia is dining happily on salad and a cheese sandwich. 
Less easily solved is the larger difficulty of keeping the camp afloat. Christnacht spends most of the year raising money any way he came. There are fundraisers, raffles. He applies for grants, makes phone calls. But it's getting harder every year.

That's why I have gray hair. I didn't have gray hair before this job and people in radio land can't see that gray hair, Sean. Every year I'm nervous because this is our 50th summer and I want at least 50 more.


Sean Hurley lives in Thornton with his wife Lois and his son Sam. An award-winning playwright and radio journalist, his fictional “Atoms, Motion & the Void” podcast has aired nationally on NPR and Sirius & XM Satellite radio. When he isn't writing stories or performing on stage, he likes to run in the White Mountains. He can be reached at
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