Building Values for Life
Trail Blazers is an award-winning youth development organization that has touched the lives of thousands of young people for over 130 years. Through outdoor experiential programs, accessible to all, Trail Blazers creates a world where all people have opportunities to go outside and grow within.
Anchored first by the ideas of brilliant, passionate and inspired people, and later by the magnificence of the Mashipacong estate in New Jersey, Trail Blazers has developed into a multifaceted youth development organization that serves thousands of children in New York and New Jersey.
We have always been – and are now more than ever – a program that emphasizes connecting to each other through collaborative outdoor experiences. In a world that has seen growing inequality in recent years, the issue of access is more profound than ever; in a world dominated by screens and social media, Trail Blazers’ philosophy and values are both timeless and timely.
In 1887, 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. He published an appeal for funds under the caption “Three dollars will send a child to the country for a fortnight,” using the Tribune Fresh Air Fund as his vehicle. In this first year, he raised $800 to send 266 children from New York City to the Life Fresh Air Farm in Branchville, Connecticut.
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.
In 1925, a young educator named Lloyd Burgess Sharp became Executive Director. 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.
Lois Goodrich, the camping legend, started at Life 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’.
In 1938 Doris Duke gave permission for camp to use 1,000 acres of land near Sussex County, surrounding 55 acre Lake Mashipacong. Duke willed this incredibly rare and special place to the Nature Conservancy to insure its pristine state for perpetuity; she also provided 99 year renewal leases to Trail Blazers in order to ensure the continuation of our special work on this property.
To read more about our history, Calvin Stillman’s A Century of Sharing: The First Hundred Years of Trail Blazer Camps can be found here.
What Our Alumni Say
A mind stretched by a new experience can never return to its original form … I found it to be true every time I attended Trail Blazers.” ~ Alumna, 1945
“What I most treasure are the friendships that I made. The TBC ethos of respect for and enjoyment of the varieties of people and the variety of the natural world inspired me… and was the reason for my return as camper and counselor.” ~ Alumna, 1945