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EYE ON EDUCATION: Campers build forest phone

August 9, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Boys and girls moved about the workshop, sanding wood, sawing boards and making measurements. One boy, dressed in a long apron and a large face-mask, pushed a chisel into a rotating lathe. Wood chipped off and flew in all directions.

Summer camp tends to bring up images of hiking, swimming in a lake and pickup softball games. While that does exist at Camp Treetops, a summer camp affiliated with North Country School, there is also a robust wood shop and crafting program.

This year, for a large project, the campers and their counselors built a forest phone. Picture a giant wooden megaphone, and that's essentially the idea. It amplifies natural sound and is also just a cool place to hang out.

Article Photos

Forest phone at Camp Treetops
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

Tom Clark, who's worked in the camp's wood shop since 1966, said the project was inspired by a group of architecture students in Estonia who were studying acoustics. The students placed three forest phones in the wood facing the same point and experimented with sound.

Clark said a good amount of the work went into designing the forest phone. It couldn't be an octagon; otherwise, two sides would face each other directly and cancel sound reverberation, so the campers made it a nonagon with nine sides.

"A lot of what we had to do was get things at the right angle, which was tricky," Clark said. "There are 450 20-degree angles in just the frame of that thing. So it's pretty amazing. And it's made from local wood."

After four weeks of designing, measuring and building the end result looked like an oversize shuttlecock. Camp counselor Kristin Moore said campers like to go inside the forest phone with their guitars and ukuleles because the sound is so unique.

Clark pointed out some other projects the campers tend to build throughout the summers.

"Most children work on projects like canoe paddles," Clark said. "You can see some there on the porch. A little chair like that which folds up and you can put it on the bus is nice - many checkerboards, cutting boards. The children love working on the wood-turning lathe and making wooden bowls. We've got four or five baseball bats, which are actually harder to make than you think."

Moore walked around the grounds and checked out some of the other major woodworking projects campers have built in the past: A giant Adirondack chair, a large Mancala board and a portable Ga-ga ball pit. Ga-ga ball is a variation of dodgeball. Players stand in a pit, normally made of wooden boards, and try to slap a ball at each others feet. It's big in Israel and Australia.

In the shop, the campers use minimal power tools. So while the kids may cut wood with a radial saw, they're mainly using hand tools such as hammers, chisels and screwdrivers.

"We even have a foot-pump lathe," Moore said. "That can get pretty exhausting."

Robbie, a camper and North Country School student, helped build the forest phone. He's also done some personal projects such as a cutting board and dish rack. Robbie said woodworking is both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

"I kind of like it as a fun hobby," Robbie said. "I'm not sure if I would continue woodworking in the future, but I have definitely learned a lot here, and I think these skills will go with me for the rest of my life."

Clark agreed with Robbie.

"We feel very strongly about the arts here at camp and at North Country School as well," Clark said. "You learn more. You make all kinds of mental connections by working with your hands. That makes you a better math student, makes you a better history student, makes you a better Spanish student. Working with your hands is a key, and art in general is a key thing to the learning process for kids, especially at this kind age when they're really developing quickly. There's nothing quite like working with your hands. A lot of schools don't have shop anymore. We still have it, and we're proud of it."



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