- Associated Press - Sunday, August 3, 2014

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) - As Thursday evening wore on at the YMCA’s Mountain Mist Day Camp campgrounds, piles of sleeping bags grew steadily, while the smell of grilling food and the buzz of excitement filled the air.

Campers, ranging from 6- to 14-years old, reunited with friends, played carnival games and dove into snow-cones in anticipation of Thursday’s overnight camping session.

The second of the year, the overnight camping program is one of the most anticipated of each two-week sessions, Camp Director Tom Oliveira said.

“It’s a totally unique experience, sleeping under the stars,” Oliveira said. “Plus out there in the woods, it’s like a whole other world. It has kind of a calming effect on the kids.”

Mountain Mist Day Camp is a series of two-week sessions throughout the summer. Children ages 3 through 14 can participate in traditional camp activities through the YMCA, or more sign up for more specific experiences, such as musical theater camp and sports camps. Oliveira said that 474 children and teenagers participated in the current session, though not all choose to partake in the overnight program, which happens at the end of each session. Campers starting at age 6 can opt into the overnight portion at the campgrounds on High Hill Road, at the base of Mt. Beseck.

Leading up to sunset, activities such as a carnival, stage performance, and a parents’ night culminate two weeks’ worth of work and play for the campers, before they trek out into the woods, to sleep in groups under the stars.

“We don’t use any tents here,” Oliveira said, “just sleeping bags and the open sky.”

And despite the calming effect Oliveira mentioned, many campers and councilors alike said Thursday that they weren’t expecting to get much sleep.

Diana Adams, a councilor in her first year at Mountain Mist, said that during the last overnight program two weeks prior, “I got about an hour of sleep.”

“It’s so fun, though,” she added.

Campers and friends Caroline Reardon, 10, Abby Murphy, 11, and Tricia Richardson, 10, said that most of the fun was staying up as long as possible.

“I don’t want to sleep at all,” Murphy said, adding that she didn’t want to miss anything.

“I love how fun it is, going in the woods,” Reardon said. Richardson said she was especially looking forward to the evening’s performance of “Cinderella, Jr.,” a musical staged entirely in the past two weeks by the musical theater campers.

The three soon dissolved into babbles of excited plan-making, discussing s’mores logistics and night swimming in the pool on the grounds.

The excitement was just as apparent for councilors Amy Brazauski and Erika Longden, both 20.

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