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Happy camping

  • For the past 56 years, the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp has welcomed young musicians to rehearse, play and sleep amid some 33 acres of redwoods straddling Austin Creek. EDWARD CALDWELL

For many of us, some of our fondest childhood memories are of summer camp — canoes on the lake, the archery range and scenic nature hikes, preferably without poison oak.

A quick Web search suggests that the concept of summer camps in America dates back to the 1860s. One scholar traces the origins of the summer camp tradition to an overnight campout in 1861 in Connecticut, led by a private-school headmaster and his wife.

As summer camps proliferated, they also specialized, so that now, kids can sign up to do anything from rock climbing to juggling. For working parents, day camps offer a convenient alternative way to keep the kids busy and still have them home at night.

This summer's crop of camps in Northern California demonstrates just how varied and ambitious the formats have become. For example:

The Cazadero Performing Arts Camp not only offers musical instruction but prepares kids to put on a public concert.

At Transcendence Theatre Company's Broadway Kids Camp at Jack London State Historic Park, young performers learn a song and appear in the troupe's family show.

Kids can train a dog, hug a bunny, feed a cat or pet a reptile at the Sonoma Humane Society's Adventure and Education Camp.

Aviation Summer School at Santa Rosa's Pacific Coast Air Museum offers a classroom introduction to the principles of flight.

Originally a hunting resort, Cazadero evolved into a logging town over time and still boasts a working lumber mill and woodsheds for storage.

But few people know about another kind of woodshed here: the proverbial kind, visited by aspiring musicians as they practice their way to perfection.

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