July 7, 7 a.m., 2017. 120 miles northwest of downtown Milwaukee, in Wautoma, Wisconsin, about 110 people are shrugging out of sleeping bags, skirting the still water of Little Hills Lake, and readying themselves for their first full day of summer camp.
Now in its second year, Camp Halcyon bills itself as “a summer camp for real adults,” according to Drew Griswold, who co-founded Halcyon with his father in 2016. It’s a place where the 21-plus crowd can channel the best of childhood without sacrificing the best of adulthood.
Minus the morning mimosa bar, each day at Halcyon begins much as it would at a traditional camp. Time is set aside for activities like archery, ax throwing, canoeing and arts and crafts.
After lunch, the “adult” part of “adult summer camp” becomes more pronounced. Campers waddle away from a mess hall-lunch for an afternoon of decidedly grown-up pursuits, like beer making and wine tasting. They’re also welcome to wander over to the fully stocked on-site bar as soon as 3 p.m.
This potent cocktail of classic camp experiences and, well, cocktails, is appealing. More than a third of the campers who attended last year are coming back again this year, and many of them are bringing friends. Halcyon has become so popular, in fact, the Griswolds have to turn away potential customers. “There’s an application process,” he notes, explaining that he and his father carefully reviews hundreds of applications each year.
Halcyon attracts people from around the world – one camper is even flying in from Japan – but the majority are locals. And that’s just fine with Griswold. “I’m a born and bred Milwaukeean,” he says. “I see the camp as an opportunity to showcase the best of what Wisconsin has to offer, the best bars, the best restaurants, the best local business.”
In that spirit, Griswold reached out to Bay View cocktail connoisseurs Boone and Crockett, inviting them to create a boozy campfire lounge and cocktail bar open each afternoon and evening. Other Wisco sponsors include Stone’s Throw Winery, the Nobleman, Bass Bay Brewhouse, the Explorium, Wander & Co. and Pour Inc.
For a flat fee of $459, the four-day camp and its sponsors provide guests with three meals a day, an after-hours food bar, a nightly s’mores bar, unlimited drinks, lodging and a special gift bag. Griswold hopes that campers enjoy the all-inclusive offerings enough to keep coming back for years to come.
“My dad and I both worked as counselors on these grounds for years – 53 years in my dad’s case – before we founded Halcyon,” he says. “Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”