Our 130 Year History

"A mind stretched by a new experience can never return to its original form - I don't know who said that but I found it to be true every time I attended Trail Blazers" - Alumna 1945
Building Values for Life
Since 1887

We are an award-winning youth development organization that, for 130 years, has touched the lives of thousands of young people from New York and New Jersey. Through outdoor experiential education and adventure programs, Trail Blazers helps people of all ages build the values and life skills essential for productive citizenship.

In 1887, John Ames Mitchell, editor of Life magazine, raised $800 to send 266 children from New York City to the Life Fresh Air Farm in Branchville, Connecticut. Since that first summer, Trail Blazers has sponsored thousands of children to take part in outdoor adventures where learning happens experientially – by living and playing together, and experiencing the challenges and opportunities the natural environment offers. Today, over 750 children attend Trail Blazers’ programs each year. In our play-based, outdoor-focused and diverse learning spaces – our overnight camp, day camp and Under One Sky after school programs – small groups of children engage in exciting experiences, guided by our caring staff.

Today, Trail Blazers remains the second oldest summer program in existence in the United States, and the first to offer environmental education.

The Mashipacong Estate

Trail Blazers' summer programs operate on the Mashipacong Bogs Preserve, 1000 acres of beautiful natural land leased to Trail Blazers and managed by the Nature Conservancy of New Jersey. Each year, over 500 campers travel to this pristine environment to enjoy outdoor programming at its best.

Pioneers in Outdoor Education

The present philosophy of Trail Blazers began in 1925, when L. B. Sharp became Executive Director of Life’s Farm. A well-known Columbia University educator, Sharp pioneered modern concepts regarding outdoor recreation and education.

The Value of Camp

Sharp described in 1928 what we believe today: ``The individual camper should have experiences in adventure and exploration that are only possible in a wholesome camping environment, and are not repetition of the forms of recreation that are available in the city.``

Lois Goodrich

Lois Goodrich, the camping legend, started at Life's Fresh Air Fund in 1931. She renamed the organization “Trail Blazers” in 1953 and served as the Executive Director until her retirement in 1980. During her tenure at Trail Blazers she wrote the perennial educational classic 'Decentralized Camping'.

Unplugged but Connected

We have always been – and are now more than ever – a program that emphasizes connecting to each other through collaborative outdoor experiences. At Trail Blazers, there are no electronics or screens – ever.

Award Winning

Throughout the years, Trail Blazers has received numerous awards for our unique approach to educational programming, most recently the Harold Breen Award for creative programming and the National Excellence in Summer Learning Award.

Select a topic for more information:
Life's Fresh Air Fund

The beginning of decentralized camping and outdoor education – Life’s Fresh Air Fund: Trail Blazers’ decentralized summer camp program is the outcome of many years during which ideas from a number of sources evolved into an integrated philosophy.

This process began in 1887 when John Ames Mitchell, the original editor of Life magazine, founded the Life’s Fresh Air Fund to take underprivileged children from the summer heat of city slums to the clean air and sunshine of a country farm. With $1,000 raised through solicitations in Life, Mitchell was able to send 20 children to a 10-acre farm in Branchville, Connecticut, during the summer of 1887. Railroads cooperated by offering the children reduced rates. By 1918, nearly 40,000 boys and girls had spent two weeks in the country, at a cost of $6.92 each. In 1923, the program received fresh impetus when James Cox Brady offered his family estate near Pottersville, New Jersey, as the site for a second Life’s Farm. At both the Branchville location and the Brady Estate, boys and girls participated in a centralized, departmentalized program.

OUTDOOR RECREATION PIONEER AND EDUCATOR L.B. SHARP

The present philosophy of Trail Blazers began to develop in 1925, when L. B. Sharp became Executive Director of Life’s Farm. A well-known educator associated with Columbia University, Sharp was a pioneer in the development of modern concepts regarding outdoor recreation and education. Sharp changed the name of Life’s Farm to Life Camps. At this point, the children were segregated by sex. The Branchville property was designated Life Girls Camp, and the Brady Estate became the site for the Boys Camp and was named Camp Raritan. Sharp and his staff fully grasped the educational potential of the camping environment and immediately began seeking ways to create a more meaningful camp experience. Camp programs were reorganized along educational lines, with the emphasis placed on the individual camper. This is still central to the Trail Blazers philosophy. The new program, while still centralized in approach, stressed out-of-camp, outdoor activities, especially trip camping.

More About Trail Blazers’ History

A summary of Calvin W. Stillman’s ‘A Century of Sharing: the First Hundred Years of Trail Blazer Camps’ ,can be found here.

Our Alumni

Since our inception in 1887, we have impacted thousands of youth. Alumni are an essential part of the Trail Blazers family, ensuring our connection to tradition as we continue many more years of excellence in outdoor education and summer camp.

Stay Involved

If you were a camper or counselor reconnect with fellow alumni and see what we’ve been up to here on our Facebook page or connect with us on LinkedIn here.

Be sure to check the Events page for upcoming events.

The Mashipacong Estate

In December 1991, Doris Duke donated land to The Nature Conservancy, in an effort to protect it for future generations. Located in Sussex County’s Montague Township, the land became known as Mashipacong Bogs Preserve. At 996 acres, this illustrious land lies within the Conservancy’s Kittatinny Ridge and Valley Priority Conservation Area, nestled between High Point State Park and Stokes State Forest. Today, this area remains in pristine condition, the ecological integrity of local species and natural communities, as well as rich historic elements, are preserved through consistent land management.

History

In the late 1600s, the land that would become Mashipacong Bogs Preserve was owned by the East Jersey Board of Proprietors, a real estate corporation. Originally targeted for development, the majority of this region was divided into one-square mile lots by the corporation, called Great Lots.  These allotments were initially intended to bring in revenue to its owners, the East Jersey Board of Proprietors, through rent payments and charges for logging privileges.  ‘Great Lot #15’ (or Mashipacong Bogs Preserve) is the only Great Lot to have never been subdivided from its original size.  Such tenants of the property included the Decker surname, linking a connection of the land with the historic Deckertown Turnpike that is a landmark on this preserve. The intention of this land evolved over time and was eventually planned to house a number of summer cottages. This plan seemed lucrative due to the addition of Mashipacong Pond, which resulted from a man-made dam constructed around 1848. However, the economic crisis of the time and the country’s rapid transition to rail transportation, made ‘Great Lot #15’ undesirable and it remained untouched.  The development at Mashipacong Bogs was restricted to the addition of a historic camp site that was originally leased by Doris Duke to Life Fresh Air Camp, today known as Trail Blazers.

Ecology

The preserve represents the best remaining example of a Northern boreal bog ecosystem in New Jersey.  The preserve contains two glacial bogs with a surrounding black spruce swamp and several small streams that drain from the uplands into the wetlands. These wetlands and the surrounding forest allow for many flora, fauna and natural communities of special interest:

Flora:

  • Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia glaucophylla), Dwarf Mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum), Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), Pale-laurel (Kalmia polifolia)

Fauna:

  • Northern Goshawk (bird of prey), Solitary Vireo (songbird), New England Bluet (damselfly), Pepper & Salt Skipper (butterfly)

Natural Communities:

  • Glacial Bog Ecosystem, Leatherleaf-Sphagnum Boreal Dwarf-Shrubland Ecosystem, Black Spruce Swamp Ecosystem

The preserve is home to many other endangered, rare and common species such as bobcat, black bear, beaver, waterfowl and songbirds.

The Nature Conservancy’s Involvement:

The Nature Conservancy manages the land to protect the fragile communities on our preserves.  Management includes actively monitoring and removing invasive species (see Calendar of Events for Volunteer Workdays at Mashipacong Bogs).  Community volunteers are essential to this work, and include young and old alike. Special thanks to staff and campers from Trail Blazers camp, located on the preserve’s land leased from the Conservancy, who continue to help supervise the health and the threats of the ecological communities, while learning about the area’s unique ecological features.

Our Scholarship Fund

Fundamental to all we do is the accessibility to and affordability of  our programs, made possible by our Scholarship Fund. Whether participating in one of our camps or at an after school program, families receive support as needed to bring the program within reach.

Find out more about our scholarship program here.

Lois Goodrich

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Additional Reading

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