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Why Isn’t My Kid’s Camp Open?

June 24, 2020

We have learned a lot about summer camp during this pandemic – from the joy it brings to young people, to the comfort it brings to parents, to providing 1st time jobs to counselors and for being the economic engine for the surrounding community.  I believe that the camp industry may in fact be among the hardest hit by the COVID crisis, but we are determined to survive, thrive and come back roaring in 2021.  For now, an explanation as it relates to 2020…

I cannot begin to tell you how many calls I have received from anguished parents asking, “Why isn’t my kids’ camp open?”  Kids love camp.  And parents love what camp does for their kids – from offering them a safe haven in which they can grow, become independent and develop lifelong friendships to just being a place to have fun.   Let’s not underestimate the importance of having fun when you’re young. We believe that kids need fun.  We believe that kids need camp, and we don’t believe that you will find a Governor in any New England state who does not agree with that. Yet, at the same time, the state’s reopening committees made the regulations so difficult, opening became nearly impossible.

So, what happened? As with all industries, the New England region did not have a standardized approach to opening. Each state government created their own rules and regulations, and some were simply untenable for camps to work with.  It truly became a case of “Too Much, Too Late.”  Camps begin preparations for the summer back in the fall of the previous year. The additional guidance, requirements and restrictions put forth by the states proved to be too much and too late for many camps to take on so late in the season.

For example, here’s a peek at a sample of what camps learned they would need to change just weeks prior to their originally scheduled opening dates:

  • Avoid activities that involve singing, cheering or yelling (Maine)
  • Residential camps are not permitted to operate (CT)
  • Nasal swab testing requirements: 3 per staff member and 2-3 per camper (NH)
  • Field trips not permitted (MA)
  • 14 feet between all groups (RI)
  • Daily health checks for all staff and campers upon arrival (VT)

So, to answer the question, “what happened?” – this is what happened. Without enough time and available resources for camps to fully comply with all their states requirements, most camps were forced to make the impossible decisions to suspend their normal operations this summer.  I am sad to say that currently less than 10% of overnight camps in New England are open for business.   Day camps are at about 50% but of course far from normal operation.  The economic damage from camps being unable to open is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  And this does not include the economic ripple effect on communities that are home to camps and depend on their restaurant, shop or Inn revenue from camps and parents visiting camps.

There’s only one word for it all – devastating.

After all, the camp industry is formidable.  Some national facts:

There are 15,000 year-round and summer camps in the U.S.
There are 26 million campers annually
Camps employ 1.2 million staff
Gross revenues exceed $20 billion
This results in extended economic impact of $26 billion

The pandemic has resulted in:
the loss of $16 billion
19.5 million young people will not be served
More than 900,000 jobs are lost
$4.4 billion in lost wages

Yes. This uniquely New England and American industry is under existential threat   But please don’t give up on us.  Camp will be back.  Camp has survived for more than 150 years and we will be around for another 150.  If the pandemic has had any positive effect, it has certainly reminded us all of how beloved and important camp is.

See you next year and that’s a promise.

Bette



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