Mike Mattson is the current director of Birch Rock, a position he has held since 2002. Before that he was the assistant director to Rich Deering for four years starting in 1998. He was also Head Counselor for four years beginning in 1995 and was the Waterfront Director for three summers. Mike's camper years were spent mostly on the field and at the Nature and Campcraft areas. He also loved Instructional Swim and was often first in the water. The 2019 season was his 37th summer with BRC.
At the Chip Ceremony in the early '90s, Mike said, "...and for those of you who are wondering if I will be back next summer, I tell you this, Mike Mattson never leaves Birch Rock!"
- 1 Life Before Birch Rock
- 2 Camper Years
- 3 Counselor-in-Training Year: 1986
- 4 Staff Years
- 5 Director Years
- 6 Family Life
- 7 Biroca Blast Photo Books
- 8 Plaque Work
- 9 Mike's Summers at the Rock
Life Before Birch Rock
After attending a few day camps and one sleep away camp in New York, (the camp in New York being the camp that Mike's father attended for many summers and was the Head Counselor of in the '60s) Mike's parents continued to search for the right camp. In the winter of 1983, David Weeks and Doug Dickey were recruiting a lot of campers for Birch Rock around the Baltimore area. Mike's brother Ron Mattson and step-brother Dave Jenkins wanted to attend because many of their school mates were going. Mike however, at age twelve, was not interested in trying the camp experience anymore but was sent by his parents anyway, for the full six-week season. He was off to camp fussing the whole way.
Summer of 1983
Mike arrived at camp with a negative attitude but after a few days of homesickness his cabin counselor Paul Voss had him completely entertained. He enjoyed swimming with instructor Mike Herzig and archery taught by Joe Curry. In fact, he signed up for archery almost everyday and was awarded best archer at Birch Rock for 1983 at the awards ceremony along with the first seven archery badges. Although he had fun, he decided not to return to BRC in 1984 because his family was moving from the Baltimore area to the Philadelphia area in the summer. He definitely regretted this decision.
Summer of 1985
The next summer, 1985, was one of Mike's favorites. He was a Senior Camper in Cabin 7 with Paul Voss again, back then cabin 7 & Cabin 8 were often used as the Senior Camper cabins. This time Mike went badge crazy earning many more badges on the field including 7 more archery badges, he also earned his loon and seal and earned the Wilderness Adventure badge, which was the equivalent of the top nature and top campcraft badges combined. One of Mike's fondest camper memories was building a watchtower up on the field using long tree trunk and branch poles all lashed together with rope. The tower could hold two and was tall enough to look offer the basketball court fence. It was the final piece to earning the Wilderness Adventure badge and a happy moment.
During Cabin Competition in 1985, Mike's creativity showed up during the Animal Imitation round with a stunning imitation of an amoeba with gas. Mike would perform this imitation upon request for many summers to follow.
The Senior Campers went on two big trip in 1985, one on Moose River and the other a hike up Mount Washington. The Moose River trip was led by Scott MacGregor and Toby Brewster with counselor Paul Voss from Cabin 7. Mount Washington was led by Ryck Birch with counselor Seth Wheeler from Cabin 8. These two trips were highlights in Mike's short camper career.
Counselor-in-Training Year: 1986
It was during Mike's CIT summer that he realized how much he loved summer camp. In the summer of 1986, Mike was a little nervous about being a counselor-in-training and working with campers, but he was also excited. On Opening Day, when the youngest camper in camp arrived at camp, Mike keyed on him. This boy was an eight year old named Josh Pincus who was obviously a little homesick and also a real spitfire. Mike spent as much of his day as he could hanging out with Josh. They went everywhere together. Josh quickly went from a homesick guy to a life long Birch Rocker and would later become one of Mike's key administrators on campus. Mike learned, even at age 15, he could make a difference in a camper's summer.
His CIT year is also the summer Mike got his 15th archery badge. The badge archery guidelines are based on campers 7-15 years old. Since Mike was 15, Birch Rock decided to let him go for it. Counselor Rob Christie stayed up on the hill with Mike after Evening Activity a few times and by the third try Mike was an official American Archer. There are fewer than ten Birch Rockers who have ever earned the 15th archery badge.
Summers of 1987-1989
Mike spent his first three staff summers as the cabin counselor of Cabin 1 and loves that age group (ten to eleven) to this day. Mike taught Archery, Baseball, Basketball, and Swimming; and in 1989, Mike and his step-brother Dave created the Volleyball activity at Birch Rock. Mike loved teaching on the field but had a stronger bond to the swim area, the hub of all camp activity.
Just like in his senior camper and CIT years, Mike loved being in the kitchen and worked in the kitchen as often as possible. He was always in the kitchen during the end of the year banquet. It was during the 1988 banquet when the camp lost power and the dishes needed to be washed by hand. Mike loved being in the kitchen and especially working with Head Cook Janice Walker.
Mike and a few of the other younger staff formed a rap group in 1988 and performed two raps for Campfire. Mike was the "Beat Master" and did the beat box with his mouth while Adam Whinston, Marc Chase and Dave Vincentsen rapped. They called themselves Def Con 4. Def Con 4 did a performance for the parents on visiting day and another one for Scott MacGregor after his bike ride accross the US.
Summers of 1990-1993
Mike was the Waterfront Director and Senior Camper Counselor in 1990, 1992, and 1993. He was in Pete's Palace in 1990 and Cabin 8 in '92 & '93. These were the lean years of Birch Rock, prior to its resurgence with the reconstruction of the lodge in 1994-'95.
During the summer of 1990, Mike and five campers were in a major car accident while returning to camp from the St. Croix River trip. The accident happened towards the end of the season and Mike was determined to get right back to camp. So after a couple of days rest, Mike was back down on the waterfront teaching swimming. Mike was featured in the new camp video shortly after the accident with scars on his face. This video was the camp promotional video for almost ten years.
From 1987-'90, many campers would beg to be on the Mattson team during Cross-Camp Capture the Flag. Mike and his brother Ron would often serve on a team together and went undefeated when paired for five consecutive seasons during every Cross-Camp game. When Mike returned to camp in 1992, his brother Ron decided to make them heads of the opposing teams. Ron's team won two out three games. Mike was "shot" off the catwalks by his brother for the first time since joining the staff ranks five summers earlier.
In 1990, Mike was a Campfire MC with his step-brother Dave Jenkins. Dave and Mike brought back the Zambini Brothers skit that has been a part of Birch Rock for almost 40 years, and even added the 'mirror push-ups' piece to the Zambini show. The two also performed a Saturday Campfire over at Waganaki(during Waganaki's final season) where both camps performed skits and Mike and Dave MCed and performed the Zambini Brothers.
Sometime in the winter of 1991, Mike and Evan Farmer adventured up to Maine from Baltimore. The visit brought them to Rich Deering who took them up to Birch Rock for a snowshoe trek around camp. Mike was amazed to ring the bell with no one around and to swing down into the counselors swim tent which was almost buried under feet of snow. It was during that trek to Maine that Mike decided he was going to move there. A year later Mike moved to Portland, Maine to be closer to camp and has been there ever since.
Summers of 1994-1996
In 1994, Director Brad Smith hired Mike to work as the Program Director and move into the Directors Cabin. Mike's job was to plan and help run the program with Head Counselor Josh Church. This would end up being Josh's last summer.
Mike became Head Counselor for 1995 and 1996, but in 1996 at the age of twenty-five, Mike announced to Director Rich Deering that he was ready to move on. Shortly after his announcement, Rich Deering approached Mike with an offer of a year-round job as the Associate Director. This marked the beginning of a team that is still in place to this day.
Mike wrote many of the staff skits for Campfire from the mid-90s through 2000. This included the Prince of Biroca in 2001, a skit performed on a Sunday afternoon in the old rifle range turned outdoor theatre. The Prince of Biroca was a prince and dragon type of skit with elves, witches, knights, etc. He also wrote with help (Captain Cream of Wheat and) The Hot Cereal Federation, The Tickle-Me-Elmo Abduction, Xfiles (comes to Birch Rock), the Thesbian Puppets and performed with others in a Birch Rock percussion band called Spirit World. But Mike's all time favorites were the Avid Readers with Josh Church in 1992 and Robin Hood and His Morose Men in 1994.
Summers of 1997–1999
And so it was that by the end of the summer of 1996 Mike was now working year round as the Associate Director. This was also the time period when Birch Rock was planning for the American Camping Association's accreditation visit in 1997, the first visit from the ACA since the early '80s. Mike and Rich worked closely on the ACA standards, staff training, and many new ways to improve and strengthen the camp. Camp was on the rise.
Mike continued to act as the Head Counselor during these summers and in 1999 worked closely with Thomas Joyce as he moved into the Head Counselor role. It was around this time that Mike brought the single ding style of bell ringing to announce Tree Talk on Sundays, a signal to the campers that it's time to settle down. 1999 was the first summer of the new seven week season.
Summers of 2000–2001
At this point, Mike and Rich were working more as equals. Mike earned a co-director role and was starting to become much more responsible for the full day-to-day activities at the Rock. In fact, during this time period Rich was concurrently working in downtown Portland during the summer. Starting in the summer of 2000 Birch Rock had more than 100 campers coming through campus every summer, nearly twice as many as BRC had ever had from 1926 to the late '90s.
The Daily Journal, now called the Birch Blog, was started up by Mike on Birch Rock's new website. An idea that was spawned from finding a stack of old daily journals Chief & Onie used to fill out during the summer. Chief would write about the weather that day, what special events were happening and what the key staff had going on that day. The Daily Journal has become an important link for the parents to know what's happening at camp day to day, and has also turned Mike into camp's photo journalist. Since 2000, Mike has been one of Birch Rock's key photographers.
Summers of 2002-2009
With Birch Rock bigger then ever and much maintenance work still to be done, the Board of Directors decided to promote Rich into an Alumni Director and Development role. Mike was offered the Camp Director position. Mike and Rich continue to be the perfect team with Rich's marketing skills and Mike's program running experience.
In 2005, the Director's Cabin, Mike's home for ten consecutive summers, was torn down and a new cabin named Chief's Cabin was built in its place. The new cabin was the first insulated building on campus but it would stand for only four summers. It burned down four days before Opening Day of 2008. Mike moved into Lion's Den for the 2008 summer. It was the first time he lived somewhere on campus other than right on the driveway since the summer of 1993, fourteen years prior.
During the summer of 2007, Rich Deering led the camp in celebrating Mike's service with "Mike Mattson Day", a day that ended in a plaque for Mike on the wall in the lodge. The plaque was placed on the wall right by the table that Mike has been the head of for many summers. Mike had been dreaming of one day earning one of those plaques for most of his time at camp, so this was certainly a major moment in his camp career, and such an honor.
The new Chief's Cabin, reincarnated in the same insulated glory as in 2005, returned Mike to his perch along the driveway for the summer of 2009.
Summers of 2010-2013
For the summer of 2010, Mike wanted a special surprise for the campers as often as possible. The idea was to not repeat anything done in recent years like Backwards Day or Geronimo Pep Rallies. The Program was to have the stuff be new to everyone even the senior camper who's been around for the last six summers. The staff also moved a couple things forward into the first session so the first session guys would get to see them too, like the flour cake. Mike's best ideas for 2010 included setting up a battle between 3000 tan army men and 3000 green army men in Pete's Palace, while the boys were on their trip, (here's a link to video: ), the BRC ice cream truck with happy 50's ice cream guys using words like "kiddo" and "swell", and le Lodge, which was about transforming the lodge into a five star restaurant with menus and everyone in character, and so much more. The BRC Ice Cream truck was extremely popular. Mike and Ryan played a Caribbean version of "The Entertainer" while delivering snacks with an overly happy attitude, just perfect!
In the spirit of 2010, the next two summers had a lot of tremendous energy and creativity. There were a number of different themed dinners and specialty days. These special moments kept the kids excited to play and allowed the regular schedule to flow easier for everyone. With this new program plan of constant creative fun and surprises, Ryan Massey and Mike decided to start promoting longer stays at the Rock with the campers. Many campers were starting to extend and we were starting to see a real increase in full season campers. As long as there was plenty of new fun for the boys to enjoy and keep them entertained enough, they were in. They love it at the Rock! 2011 and 2012 were the transition years showing real growth. Growth coming from the staff and a very strong program.
The big highlight in 2012 was Geronimo Weekend. An amazing weekend of good times focused entirely on Ryan Massey's Geronimo game. There was a whole story and plan of events, games and learning lessons formulated and executed by Mike and Ryan. The staff did an amazing job and this one weekend had everyone PUMPED for BRC for summers to come. The campers loved it. Mike also planned a Quest day for the senior campers that weekend. He took them on a whole riddle quest that had them marching all over the hillside. The boys were dressed as the Barbarians of Geronimo, so they roamed campus in face paint and their proud white color. Geronimo Weekend was one of Ryan and Mike's best collaborated pieces in their time working together.
Mike came into the 2013 staff orientation with a plan for the big program meeting. He showed the staff the 1926 brochure and Chief's own words for what he wanted Birch Rock to be. Chief wanted a place where a boy can grow and learn how to live and be happy in the outdoors. It was about making boys "campers". Mike explained to the staff that he wanted the target theme of our program to be about outdoor living skills. This placed activities like Nature, Campcraft, Canoeing, Archery, Riflery, etc. as our big players. Mike told instructors of acitivities like Soccer, Basketball, and Tennis to focus on skills needed to be a good "camper". Skills like teamwork, endurance, building up strength, speed, balance, etc. It's not about the competitive edge in a sport like Soccer. It's about endurance, teamwork, communication. Mike told the staff in 2013 to plan the entire program with making them great "campers" in mind.
Summers of 2014-2017
In 2014, Mike focused much of his energy on the Nature program at Birch Rock. He spent a lot of time bringing in items and redesigning the Hatchery (the ole "Fish Hatchery" or the original "Allen Kearns Library" on the waterfront), bringing in a 55 gallon fishtank and a few other tanks, books, homemade posters specific to Lake McWain, tree ID displays, etc. After 2014, in the off-season, Mike decided to take a closer look at the Nature program and perhaps rewrite it to better fit a new direction for the activity. The focus for Nature was going to be on learning to observe. Campers will observe, gather data (using nature journals, writing or art), research, identify and then eventually present to the camp. The aim will be to get campers more excited and fascinated by what's living around them. The focus will be on what lives here on campus.
Establishing the BRC Arboretum at camp has been a dream of Mike's for almost 2 decades. In 1997, Mike watched as Dick Penley arranged for two Sugar Maples to be added to the lodge area post reconstruction, in memory of his parents. Mike was amazed by the thought of these two small trees growing into giants before his eyes. This triggered Mike down the path of planting his own trees at BRC, so he got on the phone with Ryck Birch and started talking about establishing an arboretum of trees, bringing as many varieties of trees to the camp grounds as possible so the kids can observe, identify and enjoy. After years of planting different trees, protecting them with a fence in their early years and then watching them grow large enough to have that fence removed, it was time to announce the arboretum to the community and begin tracking specific trees of specific species as they grow over the years. This data gathering, observing and care will fall to the Nature program. As the Arboretum gets promoted more and more, children will get more involved and want to plant their own trees around camp. In 2015, Jeffrey NK planted the first Larch at camp, near Pete's Palace.
Identifying all the species on campus and accumulating the data into a file in the Nature building is another dream of Mike's. To know what lives HERE at camp and everything we can about these creatures is plenty of research for campers for many years to come and teaches them to put their head where there feet are. When the Minks were found on the waterfront and researched it was learned that they spray a musk much like skunks but not with the same accuracy, when we found the Ringneck Snake and researched it, we learned that they are constrictors who live in the leaves and underbrush eating salamanders and slugs, or when Marcos caught the huge Fallfish, we learned that the Fallfish is one of the largest minnows in North America and can get up to 20" long. Nature is all around us all you have to do is look.
In 2017, Mike started ordering Tree ID signs from Voss signs out of New York. These signs will be distributed all over camp to the Arboretum trees. They will help the Junior Maine Guide candidates and Nature campers learn to identify the trees around them. Interest in the variety of trees growing on campus will grow as well. The Nature program is really taking off thanks to the spark Mike put back into the program and of course the hard work of all the staff members who teach Nature on a regular basis.
Summers of 2018-2020
Mike's a family man now. He is a very proud father of two boys, Simon & Reid, and absolutely loves when they comes to visit him when he's at camp during the summer. The young men of Birch Rock have been wonderfully welcoming, giving Simon high-fives and fist-bumps and always so happy to see Reid. They also love to call Simon the "Prince of Biroca" which is a very cute reference to a popular repeat staff skit that Mike wrote. Simon at this point sort of just wanders around the lodge following one parent or the other. He also loves Uncle Dicky (Rich Deering) and spends a lot of time visiting Onie's Cabin. We cannot wait to see Reid at Birch Rock this coming summer.
At camp, Mike devotes much of his time to the Nature program, trees on campus and the camp arboretum, the homesick campers (this is Mike's specialty), and mentoring and managing the staff. Mike also spends time tracking and managing the behavior management at camp through communication, sit downs with campers, notes from staff, and data collection. Mike enjoys puzzles, and the cabin lists and table lists are his puzzles. These assignments of where a camper has to be, who they have to live with and relate to, and who they will be seeing every day are carefully thought out and planned. Trying to the get the campers in the right cabin, with the right staff members can be a very difficult juggling act and cabin assignments are precisely thought out on many levels.
Mike is also an ideas man and loves to use his years of experience at camp to help the younger staff come up with fun ideas for staff skits, program planning, new games, cabin parties, and general sideshow spontaneity. Daily meetings with other admins on the hillside keeps the place always alive with activity and good times.
Mike was not at camp for Leadership Camp in 2020 because of COVID-19. He spent the summer at home in Windham, helping Rich run BRC from afar. With his two boys so young, he felt it best to not tangle with the pandemic. Mike spent much of the summer thinking about 2021 and preparing for his return to the hillside.
On September 17, 2016, Mike married Rebecca Brophy (Becca worked at Birch Rock for four summers from 2008-2011) in Otisfield, ME about a half hour from Birch Rock. Then everyone drove over to camp for a beautiful reception. There were many Birch Rockers in attendance including: Ron Mattson, Dave Jenkins, Brian Roskow, Rich Deering, Dave Weeks, Seth & Toby Brewster, Janice Walker, Cathy Roland, Erik Joelsson, Mike Herzig, Ryan Royalty, Jonas Mikolaynuas, Josh Pincus, Josh Church, Seth Wheeler, Jared Levine, Ryck Birch, James Nelson, Thomas Joyce, Charlie MacDonald, Jacob Brophy and DJ Lenza Latendresse. Lenza did an amazing job DJing and the lodge dance floor was active all night.
The lodge was decked out with lights and paper lanterns and there was a large tent out in the grove. The weather was perfect, the music was grand, the drinks were flowing and a good time was had by all. The Mattsons are forever grateful that the Brewsters allowed the wedding on campus. The camp had not had a wedding celebration on campus in many years. Loyalty has its privileges.
A year later on September 8, 2017, Mike and Becca gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and future Birch Rocker, Simon James Mattson. Simon's first outfit in the hospital was a custom made Birch Rock onesie. Many have asked Mike when Simon will be moving into Hilton. Mike's response, "Hilton? Simon will be living in Chief's at age two if I have anything to say about it. After all, I make the cabin list." It will be great to have a baby boy on campus. There will be plenty of "Big Brother" babysitters.
During camp, summer of 2019, as Simon was on the verge turning two, his brother arrived! On July 23, 2019, Reid Gregory Mattson was born. Reid was born at the start of week 5 of the season, just a few days after second session's opening day. Mike was off campus for a few days and then back in the action as a proud father of an almost 10 pound baby boy. Another Birch Rocker is born. While Simon was a pretty calm baby himself, Reid is just sweet as can be.
Mike's hoping the Mattson boys will love their summers at the Rock and will one day work along side him in the staff ranks. But I guess we have a few years to go before that happens.
Biroca Blast Photo Books
In the summer of 2014, Mike started working with Picaboo books to make photo albums of the camps memories. The idea being that while the old Biroca Blast was great for memories that fact that the books were made of simple paper meant that they were often falling apart on people or getting lost in stacks in their attic. These new photo books are more expensive but should last much longer and are less likely to be lost. Mike has done every book from 2014-2018. In 2019, Peter Brewster took on the photo book and did a wonderful job.
In 2005, Mike joined a few other staff members in working on the plaques for the lodge wall. Mike added the woodburned animals and a few painted plaques. The 2005 and 2006 group headers were animal woodburns and offered a look that was a new addition the lodge walls.
The 2007 Header plaque was a dedication to Birch Rock as a whole. Note the small birch on the Rock at the base of the tree, which is symbolic of a rebirth and new beginnings for the place (there is currently a small tree on the Rock).
The 2008 Header speaks more of the 2008 summer directly. On the left side of the plaque are the two dogs (Kiko & Gritz) who perished in the fire just before the first session started. They stand down by the bell and behind them there is an empty space where Chief's had been. The right side is a picture of the new Brewster Health Lodge, built just before the 2008 season.
We decided to put the 2011 plaques in an unusual spot in the lodge. Every inch of space in the lodge is becoming valuable real estate for plaques. It was decided to have a nice 2011 Header in the point of the triangle. Mike decided to have the Birch tree grow right up through the number one in 2011.
The 2012 Header and the plaques themselves are connected entirely to an amazing Geronimo weekend during Week 3 of the summer. The Header is from the Friday night pep-rally that started the weekend going. The spirits can be seen on the edges of the group. The activity group header plaques were painted in a Haida art style to go with the Geronimo theme. And the four spirit words go around the border of the plaques.
In 2014, the staff were called Knights of Biroca, and Ryan Massey offered a new game for the campers called "Battle for Biroca". The Header plaque has a shield and sword in memory of the Knights.
During the end of the summer in 2019, Matt Rotman asked if Mike wanted to add something to the last piece of wood on the plaques, since there was an extra board. Mike painted out the animals in the activity group names walking in harmony together; Bears, Raptors (Eagles, Buzzards & Owls), Wolves, and Otters.
Mike's Summers at the Rock
|1983||Cabin 5||Camper||with Counselor Paul Voss|
|1985||Cabin 7||Senior Camper||with Counselor Paul Voss|
|1986||Pete's Palace||Counselor-in-Training||with CIT Director John Mason|
|1987||Cabin 1||Junior Counselor||Basketball, Archery, Swimming|
|1988||Cabin 1||Counselor||Basketball, Baseball, Archery, Swimming|
|1989||Cabin 1||Counselor||Volleyball, Baseball, Archery, Swimming|
|1990||Pete's Palace||Waterfront Director||Senior Camper Counselor|
|1991||skipped||missed it||visited & helped out for 6 days|
|1992||Cabin 8||Waterfront Director||Senior Camper Counselor|
|1993||Cabin 8||Waterfront Director||Senior Camper Counselor|
|1994||Director's Cabin||Program Director||Program With Head Counselor Josh Church|
|1995||Director's Cabin||Head Counselor||Program|
|1996||Director's Cabin||Head Counselor||Program|
|1997||Director's Cabin||Associate Director||continued as Head Counselor|
|1998||Director's Cabin||Associate Director||continued as Head Counselor|
|1999||Director's Cabin||Associate Director||Program with Head Counselor Thomas Joyce|
|2000||Director's Cabin||Co-Director||Ran Camp with Rich Deering|
|2001||Director's Cabin||Co-Director||Ran Camp with Rich Deering|
|2002||Director's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2003||Director's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2004||Director's Cabin||Camp Director||Director's Cabin torn down in fall '04|
|2005||old Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||old Chief's built in winter '05|
|2006||old Chief's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2007||old Chief's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2008||Lion's Den||Camp Director||old Chief's burned down in June '08|
|2009||new Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||new Chief's built in winter '09|
|2010||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||birth of the BRC Ice Cream Truck|
|2011||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2012||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||(Haida themed) 2012 Plaques|
|2013||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2014||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||extra attention to Nature program|
|2015||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||Established the BRC Arboretum|
|2016||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director|
|2017||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||New Tree ID signs|
|2018||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||Simon's first summer at camp|
|2019||Chief's Cabin||Camp Director||Reid is born during camp|
|2020||Managed Camp from home in Windham||Camp Director||Leadership Camp, summer of COVID 19|