WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (August 27, 2013) -- The sounds of horse hoofs clip-clopping across the Arsenal's parade area that borders the last vestiges of the Erie Canal wall brought a sense of nostalgia to some this past week. After all, the 1830s-era horse stables are still in use at the historic Watervliet Arsenal, albeit, for another use today.
But when today's military ride on track and high-speed wheeled vehicles, why on earth would the arsenal bring back horses?
No, it wasn't for a new experimental weapon system, but was for the nearly 50 kids who participate in the arsenal's summer camp program sponsored by the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program. As the summer camp winds down, camp counselors wanted to close out strong and so, the thought of bringing a horse in for the kids seemed like a shoo-in choice.
But never wanting to miss an opportunity to leverage one event to serve two purposes, the horse belonged to the City of Albany Police's Mounted Patrol unit.
According to Alan Columbus, the arsenal's chief of law enforcement and security, his officers coordinated with the Albany police to provide a mounted-patrol team to the summer camp.
"We take every opportunity to have our youth see the police in a very positive light," Columbus said. "And so, by bringing a mounted-patrol team into summer camp the kids were not only excited by the horse, they also had an opportunity to engage patrol officers in a very positive setting."
This activity was just one of many that were offered in the summer camp that ran from June 24 to August 22, said Laurol Bartlett, a senior camp counselor who is on her sixth year at the arsenal.
"This is a great program that has grown from about 25 children when I first started as a counselor to about 50 kids today," Bartlett said. "We don't even need to advertise the program because the word-of-mouth messaging is unbelievable."
Bartlett, who teaches at the Rensselaer Park Elementary School in Troy, N.Y., said that she loves to come back every summer because after six years, the kids seem like an extended family.
Fellow camp counselor, Jennifer Lewicki who teaches at Colonie High School in Albany, N.Y., added that she is very proud of what the summer camp program has become.
"Sometimes it is hard to believe how far we have come in the numbers of children and the value of activities that we have added in the four years that I have been supporting this program," Lewicki said.
The thought of spending the summer with school teachers might be intimidating to some children, however, but that doesn't seem to be the case at the arsenal.
Sarah Gully, who attends Koda Middle School in Clifton Park, N.Y., said that she loves to come to summer camp.
"This is my second year coming to summer camp and if I wasn't here I would spend most of my time playing video games," Gully said. "And so, summer camp has added a lot of awesome activities into my summer and has allowed me to make a lot of new friends."
"By the way, the summer camp counselors are really cool," Gully added.
At a weekly rate that may be as low as $42 to no more than $140, parents can drop off their kids at 6:30 a.m. and pick them up at 4:45 p.m. All activities, to include field trips, are included in the cost. When the kids aren't on a field trip, they are swimming, doing crafts, or playing games. To enter the summer camp program, children must have completed the 1st grade and not have completed 8th grade.
But what may be the best value to the parents is that the kids are at most a 10-minute walk from their workplace. On any given lunch period, parents are often seen having lunch with their kids.
Back to the horse … several arsenal employees attempted to persuade the new commander to keep the horse for history and tradition. After all, the arsenal just celebrated its 200th anniversary last month. But to no avail. As much as the employees were chomping on the bit for a decision, the commander would not make hay with their request.