Program Director Hayley Horton’s Pitcher Plant Research

We recently interviewed one of our 2022 Program Directors, Hayley Horton, who has been undertaking Biological research this summer in Camp Coniston’s very own bog. 

What’s your name, age, hometown, and what did you do at camp this summer?

Hi Coniston, my name is Hayley. I am 20 years old, this my 12th year at Coniston. I am from Chelmsford Massachusetts, and this past summer I was full-time Program Director and part-time bog researcher. 

What did your research entail?

The research I was working on this past summer was in collaboration with a professor at the University of Vermont, which I attend during the school year, specifically working with pitcher plants; they are one of two carnivorous plants found in the bog. What we were aiming to do is get preliminary data on how different antibiotics affect microbial communities within pitcher plants. 

Pitcher plants provide a very interesting mode of research; within the pitchers themselves are their own ecosystems that can be manipulated much easier than a full forest or full ocean when trying to manipulate with something like antibiotics. 

Coniston was one of three sites where research was being done this summer, and I was working with one of three different antibiotics that were being tested. We are hoping this data will lead to the discovery of which antibiotic should be used for a larger trial. Currently we are looking at the data to see the degree to which the microbial communities were knocked down, which microbes were affected and which were still present. 

As for the procedure I was actually conducting over the summer, every third morning for three weeks, I would go out into the bog and dose twenty plants (ten control and ten experimental) with either de-ionised water for the control plants, or with the antibiotic solution for the experimental plants. 

At the beginning and end of the experiment I took morphological measurements, basically physical measurements of the plant, measuring the entire circumference of the plant, from top to bottom and measuring pitcher opening. I also took fluid parameters to see the amount of dissolved oxygen, the temperature, and different traits of the liquid within the pitcher. At the end of the trial we wrapped up by taking that morphological and fluid data again, while also collecting fluid from each pitcher to be analysed in the lab. 

Where did your passion for Biology begin? 

I am currently a Biological Science major at the University of Vermont, and I can really trace that passion for Biology back to my time at Camp. I had always been interested in science at school, but found that at camp I had the space to really be inquisitive and connect closely with nature in a way that education doesn’t often provide. 

Through the Ecology programme area, I was encouraged and excited to be inquisitive and free to question and interact with the nature around me without any looming pressure of grades or deadlines. That really connected me to the field, and has led to where I am today. 

How has Coniston influenced your interest in this area? 

Specifically in the research I have been assisting with, Camp was a huge help in getting my foot in the door. This past year I took a class called ‘Ecology and Evolution’ with the professor I have been working with, and he talked about his past research, a lot of which was done with pitcher plants. Right off the bat, I was very interested given my connection with Camp and my interest in pitcher plants through the bog and through Ecology. 

When I was drafting my email to his asking if I could help with his research, I spoke about how I had learned a lot through this camp and grown a really hearty interest in the system that he was working with. I expressed that I had that hands-on knowledge that maybe other undergraduates wouldn’t have walking into his lab. I was really excited about the prospect of turning this childhood interest of mine into a college prospect. 

What were the most interesting discoveries you made whilst conducting your research this summer? 

The research has already yielded so many interesting discoveries, and will continue to as we analyze the data further, but I would like to focus on two interesting discoveries in particular:

Firstly, I was very interested to find just how alive the inner system of the pitcher plant was. I had never had the opportunity to remove the fluid from a pitcher and actually see what was going on inside; there was so much life which was really cool to see. This very acidic environment that basically acts as digestional fluid still had mosquito larva and flesh flies inside. On top of that, there’s an entire microbial community that is too microscopic to even see, but I knew I would be able to view the data once it had been sequenced. 

One of the more touching discoveries was seeing how excited campers got when seeing this research being done. I was not on Ecology staff this year, but I would hear about the bog walks they would do, and sometimes campers would seek me out after to ask me about my research. 2 campers in Session 1 were really interested to hear about every part of the process, and were so passionate in a way that I recognised in my younger self. It was so cool and very impactful for me to see the research I was doing ignite curiosity with these campers. 

What future plans do you have for this research? 

As for the future of this research, I am taking undergraduate research credits, and assisting with the analysis, planning and write-up for next steps of this project. We are hoping that the data will be solid and that we are able to propose and conduct a full-scale experiment to dig deeper with what we have already found. I, personally, am hoping to pursue an accelerated masters at UVM using this project as my thesis. 

How would you describe your overall experience of being a Coniston staff member this summer? 

Being on Coniston staff this summer was incredible. I felt very fortunate that I didn’t have to compromise both my future aspirations for my career and my current aspirations for camp. I was provided with the opportunity to do both at once. I feel so grateful that the staff and the campers at Camp welcomed my project with such open arms; the Camp director John Tilley was especially excited at the prospect of me doing this research and was so consistently interested in what I was doing, asking some really insightful questions. He was so excited to see what it provided for me as well as what it provided for the campers. 

As for my main job on Camp this summer, I was Program Director, who plans the evening programs and helps a lot with the camper scheduling, making sure the day-to-day fun at camp runs smoothly, including the wonderful programme areas such as Ecology. I loved my job this summer, and how much it allowed me to interact with the staff and how they were each running their own aspects of camp, making sure their little corners of the world ran smoothly, while also being able to plan these big evening events and see how much fun the entire camp had with an idea that Carolyn (my fellow Program Director) spent a lot of time planning. 

I feel so grateful to be both a research assistant this summer and spend the time in the bog, whilst also learning so much through my job as Program Director. There is a lot of overlap in these two jobs; I learned how to work with other people, I learned how to admit that I didn’t know how to do something, how to search for help in those areas. In so many ways these roles bolstered each other, allowing me to have a truly incredible summer. 

If you had a message for budding scientists who are thinking about coming to Coniston, what would it be?

If I could relay any message to budding young scientists who are thinking about coming to Coniston, I would first of all say do it! There are so many great opportunities to become independent, inquisitive, and confident person, all these things that will help you in any career. I would also encourage them to consider where they might find inspiration and opportunities for knowledge in potentially unexpected places. 

You may not think that coming to camp will lead to a scientific career; we focus a lot on fun and friendships and trying new things, which a lot of the time doesn’t seem to naturally pair with science’s pursuit of knowledge and procedure. However, in my experience the fun that I had at camp led me to want to continue having fun and learning through that fun. The friends I made at camp helped me to understand what I wanted out of life and my career, helping me every step of the way when it seemed scary to put myself out there. Trying new things is the root of science, and the root of becoming a person who is comfortable asking questions. Maybe you don’t see learning how to shoot an arrow as the same thing as being able to come up with a new scientific hypothesis, but it all feeds into building a well-rounded person that is capable of doing what the world of science requires in a way that feels fun and rewarding. 

I would encourage anyone to not just consider the traditional paths that might make preliminary sense in becoming a scientist. I didn’t have to attend a Math or Science Camp to get where I am today. I was able to use my experiences at Camp Coniston to find meaning in what I learned, and express that meaning to people who could provide me with opportunities. I am so excited for each and every camper to know that whatever you are interested in, be that the Sciences or Humanities, there is a lot of potential with coming to Camp and I wish them all the very best in their learning. 

Camp Winning Spirit celebrates 25+ years

This summer we celebrated 25+ years of Camp Winning Spirit!

Our annual Labor Day Weekend event, partnered with New Hampshire Childhood Cancer Lifeline, welcomed 28 families who have been affected by cancer. The weekend was full of classic Winning Spirit activities like kickball, pirate night, s’mores and campfire skits! 

On the Sunday, we invited Winning Spirit alumni families and staff to join us for a day of celebration. The day ended with a beautiful firework show to commemorate 25 + years of this special weekend and to honor all of the families that have attended.

George Dorr, Jr. Leadership Fellowship

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to be in the Fellowship position. I was given the freedom to create a program to enhance camp in a way that I wanted. I created a fellowship with the goal being that Coniston is a place where every single person, no matter where they come from or who they are, would feel safe, comfortable and accepted, without having to change any part of their identity for the time they are here. I aimed to create a more diverse and inclusive environment at Camp for both campers and staff.

In doing this, a large aspect of what I did was creating a “gear store”. This “store” consisted of any items that one would want to have at Camp; ranging from hygiene products, to clothing, bedding, bunk decorations, toys – you name it. Any staff member who needed something, or any staff who noticed a camper was in need of something, would let me know and I would discretely get it to them. It was heartwarming hearing how thankful campers and staff were about receiving these items and I felt very fulfilled knowing that I was able to give these kids anything they needed to enjoy their time here. The best part was that they got to bring it home with them to enjoy and maybe even bring back to future summers at camp.

Beyond the store, I worked on fostering this climate through making pronoun pins available to all campers and staff, providing all skin tone bandaids for the infirmary, giving unique facts at vespers about our staff and where they come from, and simply being a resource and listening ear for anyone to check in with.

Another activity that I introduced was camper penpals. Not only was this a great way to ensure that all kids who signed up received letters at mail time but it also created a connection between campers who may not have known each other otherwise. Overall, I feel beyond lucky to have worked in this role this summer and I really look forward to how Coniston continues to move forward in future summers as a magical place for any and every one. 

Annika Randall, Fellow

Noah Kahan performs at Coniston

This summer, we were excited to have Noah Kahan, musician and Coniston alumnus, revisit Coniston and perform for our staff. He was welcomed back with open arms, and all staff were very excited to meet him and see him play live. 

American singer-songwriter Noah Kahan released his first single ‘Young Blood’ in 2017. Since then, his music career has taken off with Noah collaborating with artists such as George Ezra, James Bay and Dean Lewis. He released his first album ‘Busyhead’ in 2019, taking his music on a world tour in the same year. In 2021 Noah headlined his ‘I Am / I Was’ tour, and after releasing his latest song ‘Stick Season’ this year, Noah treated the crowds at Red Rocks to a powerful set showcasing his new music. 

Before his performance for our staff, Noah took a trip down memory lane, exploring the grounds, revisiting his old cabins and spending the last day of Session 2 with campers. Noah joined in on all the traditional closing night activities, including attending John Tilley’s vespers. He was particularly thrilled to walk down the staff trail to Boys Vespers. It was a magical moment when Noah joined us for dinner in the dining hall and the whole of Camp sang one of his songs at the top of their lungs! Noah even attended closing campfire and played guitar while campers sang. He also joined our staff in performing traditional Camp songs at our closing candlelight ceremony. 

Noah performed an acoustic set of his music, featuring songs such as ‘Stick Season’ and ‘Young Blood’, as well as treating the staff to a first performance of an unreleased song. Amidst his lakeside show, he invited staff member Grace Ferguson to join him onstage to sing Noah’s song ‘Hurt Somebody’ as a duet. This was a very special moment not only for Grace, who shares Noah’s passion for music, but for the entire camp, seeing alumni and current staff coming together and giving a heartfelt performance that was met with excited applause from other staff members. 

Noah’s passion for music was clear back when he was a camper from age 8 to 15 (2005-2012), as he often performed in our talent show. On his visit, he spoke about his experiences performing in the talent shows: “My first time I ever played an original song was at the talent show, and it was really cool ‘cause everyone here was super supportive of it… I got inspired to write more.” “I came second place every year to the kid who made car noises”. He was delighted to finally receive the 1st place award staff members had made for him, presenting it to him after his moving performance.

Noah’s music paired with the Coniston scenery created a truly spectacular experience for all, and we very much hope that Noah will be back. His career success is no surprise and we were very grateful he took the time to revisit us here at Camp.

“A Home Away from Home” – Sophie Burleigh, Office Assistant

Throughout school and University, I always felt that things were under control; each step of life was laid out before me and with friends and family around, support was never too far away. However, after graduating, for the first time in my life I had no idea what was next. After some mild panic followed by a Google search for ‘What can you do with an English degree?’, I found myself on a flight to China to start my new job as an English teacher. 

Whilst on the plane, I remember all manner of logistical worries racing through my mind: ‘What will my new apartment look like?’ ‘Did I pack the right clothes?’ ‘How long will my travel to work be?’. I felt overwhelmed, unsure of how I would manage on my own in a culture so far removed from what I knew. I was wrapped up in the ‘How?’s the ‘Where?’s and the ‘When?’s. But what I was forgetting to ask was ‘Who?’. 

On my first day, I met two Chinese co-workers that helped me move into my apartment. On the second, they introduced me to their friends over a picnic in the park. By the end of the week I was FaceTiming my parents telling them all about the friends I had made and the new people I was meeting every day. My apartment was fine, I packed just enough T-shirts, and my route into work took about 10 minutes. The things that seemed daunting and detrimental to my happiness soon became the backdrop for a life-changing adventure filled with people, experience and life. 

I look back on my time in China as finding a home away from home. When I say this, I don’t picture an apartment, house or hotel room. Rather, it’s a feeling that the people around me created. A feeling of being your true self, a feeling of acceptance and warmth. A feeling that all the little problems are just that, little. It isn’t tied to a location and it isn’t measurable. It can’t fit into your suitcase, but it can come with you wherever you go. 

I had never been to a summer camp before this year. I had never been a camper and had no idea what was in store when I enrolled as a staff member for Camp Coniston. But I soon found that what I had learned in China was just as true all the way over in Grantham, New Hampshire; you don’t have to have your name on the mailbox to be able to call somewhere home. 

From the moment I arrived at Camp, met by warm, welcoming people with s’mores in hand, I understood why no one can seem to stay away from Coniston.  It’s a rare gift, somewhere you can be your true authentic self, surrounded by people cheering you on, whether they know you or not. This sense of belonging reached a magical peak when I was invited to run into the lake alongside all my friends (who happened to be fellow international staff members). Coniston campers and staff lined the banks of the lake and cheered us down the hill. I felt truly one of a team, an indispensable part of one big special moment in time. It’s true when people say Coniston is like one big family; It’s a home away from home.


International Staff Run into the Lake

For those of you lucky enough to have been a CIT at Coniston, you know how much of an exciting and important part of your experience running into the lake is. After working together as a group and completing a life-changing trip, whether that was hiking Mount Washington, the Grand Canyon, Mount Katahdin or any of the other amazing CIT trips, running into the lake is the moment where you celebrate with your friends for completing that challenging experience with the entire Camp community cheering you on. It is a moment that you see every summer as a Camper and hope that one day you will get the chance to experience.

This summer we had over 40 international staff members and they were a truly wonderful group of people. We had staff from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia and New Zealand. Our international staff members were not Coniston campers or CITs. For the past six years at Coniston we have worked to help our international staff feel welcome in our community, and to help them feel that Camp is as much their home as it is anyone that grew up as a camper here. So this year we decided it was time to give the international staff their chance to run in the lake.

During our orientation week with these staff members, they were given the opportunity to go to the top of Mount Washington, to give them an insight of what many of our CITs experience. It was a great day and the group loved seeing beautiful views from the top. After working hard all summer and bonding as a group, we put forward the idea of them running into the lake. They were absolutely thrilled. This is something they never thought they would have the opportunity to do.

So on the last day of Session 4, our international staff gathered on the A-Field where we talked about their successes of the summer before all piling into two of our Coniston buses to drive through Girls Camp through to the lakefront. Anxiety set in as we weren’t sure how this new tradition would be interpreted by the rest of Camp, but to our relief all staff and campers were by the lake cheering at the top of their lungs for the international staff!

We could hear the song ‘Don’t stop me now’, by Queen (a song voted on by the international staff to play), being blasted through the speakers. As they got out of the buses and ran down the hill into the lake, the cheers from the crowd were deafening. Other staff members were ready and waiting to hug all of their international friends. Seeing this group of international staff be so welcomed and accepted into the Coniston community during this new tradition was something we will never forget. 

Some other international staff members shared what this new tradition meant to them:

Ale Campomanes, Cabin Counselor from Puebla, Mexico:

Running into the lake was literally my best memory of camp. The connection that the international group created that day was unreal and emotional. I love this new tradition!

Emily Barron, Horseback staff from East Yorkshire, England:

As an international member of staff, being able to run into the lake with all the other international staff members helped make me feel more a part of Camp and a part of their traditions. It made us all feel special and appreciated for the hard work we had put into Camp over the summer. It also definitely brought us all closer and showed how much we all appreciate having one another there.

Daryl Bogues, Overnight Coordinator from Banbridge, Northern Ireland:

For me, someone who was never a CIT, getting to run into the lake was an incredible experience to celebrate the unbelievable work the international staff have done all summer. To do it with a group of friends made it even better. I hope that this tradition sticks on to celebrate each new group of internationals that come to Camp each summer.

Lucy Barham, Cabin Counselor from Worcestershire, England:

The lake run is something that is really important to current staff members who finished their CIT trip, and it’s been a joy all summer getting to watch this years CITs run in, so it was really wonderful to be able to experience that myself and have the American staff be so supportive and excited that we got to do it!

Honor Heisler-CIT Director-Vespers

I’ll be honest, I am a little nervous to be sitting here in front of all of you. The last time that I sat in this exact place giving a Vespers was three years ago in the summer of 2019. So today I want to tell you guys the story of how I ended up back here sitting in the vespers ring, years after my last summer at Camp.

There is a particular conversation or phrase that I hear a lot, which is that one day we will all have to move past places like Camp and enter the “real world”.

One day we will be too old, or need to focus on school or a career rather than coming back to Camp every summer. I’ll be honest, for a long time I told myself the same thing. That Camp was a representation of my childhood and one day I would have to let go of this place in order to “become an adult”. But Camp has always been a part of my life, and a source of comfort for me. The idea of having to let it go was one that weighed heavily on me.

My last summer on staff was in 2019, and it was one of the hardest summers in my life for a multitude of reasons. I was entering the tough transition from high school to college, I had to stop rowing (which had been a dominating part of my life up to that point) and I was still processing the sudden deaths of several close friends and mentors. My life outside of Camp had changed dramatically and I had personally changed dramatically, but I expected myself to be the same person and the same counselor I was the year prior. I left Camp that summer frustrated with myself, feeling defeated and insecure about my abilities. But I knew how much I loved this place and what it meant to me, so I still planned to return in the summer of 2020.

When Camp was cancelled for the summer due to the pandemic, I took it as a sign. Maybe I kept coming back to Camp each summer because it was a comfortable routing, and instead of having to make the difficult choice to stop coming back myself, it was made for me by COVID.

Maybe it was time to start planning for the future and to look for internships and jobs that were more specific to my future career path. So that’s what I did. I spent my first two summers in over 10 years away from the lake. Of course I missed being here at Camp a lot, but I had this idea that because I chose to not come back that my summers at Coniston were over completely.

In the two summers I was away, I lived pretty much an entirely different life. Last summer I had the opportunity to work as an investigative intern for a very small, very understaffed civil rights department within the Colorado State Government. During that time, I was able to do some incredibly interesting and inspiring work. However, even more interesting to me, was how much I looked back at my time at Coniston to help me in what seemed like the polar opposite work environment. The lessons I had learned at Camp pushed me through my internship and helped me in ways I never expected. Again in the fall, I found myself using the skills I learned at Camp when I went abroad to South Korea for 5 months. Never in a million years did I expect to be comfortable enough to be alone so far from home, but I had lived at Camp every summer for 10 years! So why not?

After all that, I wasn’t surprised to find myself sitting down in December, and opening up the application to be a CIT Director this summer. Although I originally believed that the pandemic had ended my time at Camp, it is what actually brough me back here.

In my time away from Camp, I found my love for Camp again. More importantly, I learned how to love myself again.

I realized that to grow and change as a person did not mean giving up or turning your back on the places and experiences from your past. Evolving as a person doesn’t make you someone new, and places like Camp can never just be left behind as symbols of who we once were. I have and will continue to have Camp as a part of myself, just as all my experiences in life have become a part of me. Several years from now, maybe when I choose not to spend my summer on the lake, I won’t see it as me leaving Camp behind. But rather bringing everything that makes this place special and everything I have learned along with me.

And I hope regardless of where you all see yourself in 5 or 10 years, that you will continue to embrace the things that make you who you are. Because there is no difference between “Camp” and “the real world”. They are one in the same.

Daryl Bogues-Overnight Coordinator-Vespers

As most of my friends or anyone who knows me well would know I am not the biggest of public speakers. So writing and delivering a vesper, for me was not going to be an easy job. We all have previous ones that we will always remember. So I decided to look at these for motivation.
Now, I do have a page where I save quotes that I find either enjoyable or motivational to read occasionally. So I decided to use one of these quotes for my vesper.
Some of you may know it; it goes a long the lines of, ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. And that is why it is called the present.’ For me, I feel this is brilliant for camp. We should appreciate what we have with us here and live in the moment.
For most of us our camp experience may only last 14 days each summer.  For some of us it may be our first, third or unfortunately our final year at Coniston.
Camp provides us with so many opportunities that we may not get anywhere else. Where else can you climb the ropes tower; jump off the high dive; paint in arts and crafts; act in the drama show; or even go on an overnight, sleeping around the lake surrounding by the stars, all in one place.
As some of you may know Coniston has a number of different pillars or values that they focus upon, inclusion being one. For me I feel that this is one of the most important. It makes us all feel welcomed and at home here. We all come from different places, all with different personalities. But it is all of us that helps make camp the great place it is. Creating bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Some of my greatest memories have been at Coniston, even though I have only spent three summers here.
Before I got here I knew no one, and it was the first time I had ever been to America. As soon as I got off the bus I didn’t know what to expect, but I was greeted by staff and instantly felt welcomed. I have since met some of my greatest friends here. Most of these friendships have helped create memories that I will never forget. Much as the time in 2018 when Colin had convinced all of camp that it was my birthday, only about 6 months too late. Or even in 2019, the simplest times of kayaking the lake with some of the overnights team; Matt, Izzy or Zoe. It’s these friendships and memories that I hope will last forever. And I hope all of you are able to say the same.
There is still plenty of time left to try new things, live in the moment and create new friendships.
The things we regret most, are the things we wished we had done sooner.

Thank You for Giving the Gift of Camp – Remarks from a Camper

We recently received the letter below from a child expressing her gratitude on receiving a camperships from our annual fund. Gifts of any size are truly changing lives and making a life-long impact. Thank you.

Over the past four summers Coniston has achieved quantifiable success in diversifying our camper population through a combination of outreach, funding, recruitment, and retention described in previous answers. We are most proud of increasing our financial assistance by 125% over the past four years, giving camp experiences to more kids.

At YMCA Camp Coniston we believe that character counts. Building character, confidence, and perseverance under the leadership of positive role models in a safe and encouraging environment is core to our Camp experience. Through immersive outdoor summer experiences, campers gain self-confidence, learn to adapt to new situations, develop life skills, and make new friends. Campers may not realize it all at once, but the benefits of Camp go on forever. What we do is simple, yet transformative.

Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to build and equip the next generation to not only grow, but thrive as leaders in a rapidly changing world. Our efforts to bring the YMCA Camp Coniston Community together from across NH towns, and the world, are worth it. People need connections with each other. Summers together help heal the effects of stress. Camp is bigger than any of us and the impact is life-long.

Gifts can be given to children through Coniston in many ways:

Check or Online
Reoccurring Credit Card Gift
Multi-Year Pledge
Estate Gift
Stock or Mutual Funds
Matching Gifts
Philanthropic Gift
Life Insurance Policies

If additional information is needed to help your gift-giving process go smoother, please contact

Artist in Residence—Reflections from Evan Ruderman

Reflections from our 2022 Artist in Residence, Evan… 

It was such an honor to come back and shoot these images. Going through everything gave me some time to reflect on how special camp has been in my life and how great it was to come back and try to show its magic through images. Super grateful for this opportunity and all that camp has done for me.

At the young age of 8 I began to spend my summers at Camp Coniston and didn’t stop for the next 12 years, transitioning from a camper to a counselor to a director. My time at camp taught me a lot about life, a lot about myself, sparked my love of the outdoors, introduced me to some of my biggest role models, and helped me make some of my best friends to this day. It’s hard to explain the magic of this place without simply experiencing it for yourself but having a chance to return to camp to try and convey its beauty and mission through photos was quite an honor. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my many summers on this lake and to see so many kids sleeping under the stars and playing in the woods without phones or screens or the stresses of everyday life anywhere in sight left me feeling quite happy. Thank you Camp Coniston for bringing me out here to shoot photos and for the many years of good memories.