While reptiles, fish and canoe-dunking rank as favorites among Nature Camp-ers at Piney Run Park, running out of gas on the lake will provide fodder for many campfire tales to come.
"Getting stuck on the pontoon for an hour and calling for help was the best," announced Brian Adams, 8, who was named most enthusiastic by his leader at Piney Run Nature Camp.
Brian recounted his Friday afternoon adventure for fellow campers.
About mid-lake, the pontoon boat sputtered out of gas and drifted aimlessly with its load of life-jacketed passengers. With no radio on board, the dozen or so children resorted to calling "We're stranded" to canoeists paddling by. Rescue and gas arrived in less than an hour.
"They handled the adventure well," said Amy Brown, counselor to the stranded.
As the first week of camp wound down, children swapped fish stories and tales of upended canoes and adventurous hikes along the park trails.
"I liked bear tracking," said Laura Harbold, 7, who knew better than to expect any encounters with bears. Two-legged creatures left bear signs for the young trackers, she said.
"Our group caught 53 fish in two hours," said counselor Mark Quillin, proudly relating his campers' accomplishments. "We also spotted three snakes including one that slithered through my legs."
Janna Ridenour, 8, edged out all the competition with a record 19 catches. Jessica Bowers, 9, caught five -- "all big bass." Meredith Jenkins, 8, pronounced her trout the biggest fish.
"He hardly fit in the bucket," said Meredith, who tossed her catch back into the lake before any official weigh-in could confirm her lead.
"We all wanted to put the fish back," said Jeff Zamostny, 7, a
veteran camper who worried about future fish supplies. "There don't seem to be as many here now as last year."
Janna said careless anglers are the cause of fewer fish.
"Some people catch fish but don't use them," Janna said. "They just leave them on the shore."
Tipping canoes was too big a temptation for many campers to resist.
"We liked flipping the boats over," said Shannon Wajer, 9. "It was really hot out and the water was cold."
Cameron Bosnic, 8, said his crew had just entered deep water -- a tad over his head but not over his counselor's. The crew's enthusiastic waving to a nearby canoe capsized the boat, sending paddlers -- all wearing life jackets -- into "the deep."
"We pushed the canoe to where we could touch bottom," he said. "Then we could turn it over and dump out the water. Nobody was afraid."
Tim Laudeman, 8, is looking forward to returning to the Nature Camp next year, when he will be old enough to spend the night. He said he is practicing by camping out in his back yard.
"Friends, friends, one, two, three," sang 13 children in a camp finale. "All my friends are here with me."
As the younger children left the park, their older friends who were sleeping over piled logs on a campfire and prepared to cook hobo stew.
They would spend the evening listening to more stories around the fire. After a night hike, they would retire to their tents for lights out by 10:30 p.m.
"Gunnar is going to put worms in my tent," said Chloe Etzler, 8, to her mother, Constance, the camp director. "I am going to collect bugs and put them in his tent."
To stem the tide of pranks and help the children burn excess energy, the college-age counselors organized nature's own Olympic games, such as spider-web roll and Canada goose egg toss.
In the three-toed sloth race, six pairs of racers were off to the Maypole with their ankles tied together. One pair dragged the starting line, including bucket anchors, with them and another tripped on the sidewalk. Jeff Jordan and Matt Moynihan emerged victorious and still tied together.
"Easy," declared Jeff, 10. "I've done this before."
Corey Alcorn, 10, one of the trippers, entered the goose egg toss worried about spending the night with egg clinging to his only clean shirt.
"I want hard-boiled eggs," he said.
"Don't worry," said his counselor. "It will wash off in the water balloon contest."
The young adult counselors appeared everywhere as the campers moved around the park.
"This is not like a contained classroom," Ms. Etzler said. "We have better than a 1-to-5 ratio of counselors to campers."
Camp for the fourth- and fifth-grade children continues this week. Another two-week session begins July 26.
Sessions for children who have completed kindergarten through third grade form today and again next week. A few openings are still available. Information: 795-3274.