The beginning of summer typically means the start of summer camps for many children. But much like schools, camps will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ben Fulcher, camp manager at White Mills Christian Camp, has been working there for 15 years, and said this new territory is unprecedented.
He said the camp staff had a recent meeting to discuss plans and decided to cancel June programs.
However, he said they will meet again this month and see if it is possible to have activities in July. He said in terms of state government, there has not been much guidance surrounding summer camps.
“We hate to throw the towel in for the whole summer,” Fulcher said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does have considerations for summer and youth camps on its website.
The guiding principles to consider for camps, according to the CDC, includes the number of campers, whether or not there is interaction, how diverse the group is in terms of geographical location and the spacing of campers.
It also wants camps to promote certain behaviors that reduce spread including masks, hand hygiene, cleaning hands and facilities, modified layouts, food service and preparedness if someone gets sick.
Fulcher said the biggest challenges for the camp if they were to open in July would be the social distancing and mask wearing for younger children.
He said even if guidelines allow camps to open, distancing guidelines probably would be a dealbreaker since it would greatly impact the experience of campers.
“That would just not be a good experience we feel like,” Fulcher said.
He said the camp has between 1,400 to 1,500 campers every summer, with about 300 campers during the week at a time. This doesn’t include the 500 volunteer workers.
He said camp management still is evaluating, making plans and readjusting in case any new guidances are released.
“Right now we’re still hopeful,” Fulcher said. “But we know there’s gonna be a lot of things that we’re gonna have to do that are different if we’re allowed to open back up for July.”
To make up the difference of the cancellations, Fulcher said nearly 60 churches are supporting to help maintain the camp so it can function at a basic level.
Severn Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown hosts the annual WinShape summer camp.
Christa Clark, children’s minister at Severns Valley Baptist Church, said it was “very sad, but not surprising” the WinShape organization canceled all camps around the country.
Last summer, WinShape at the church had about 308 campers. This summer, Clark said they were expecting their biggest summer ever between 350 and 400 campers.
“It was looking really, really good. People were really excited about it. And we’re a little bummed. I think a lot of people are,” Clark said.
She said they returned all money collected from families for camp this summer, but decided not to give back the money from WinShape to use for WinShape 2021.
“Hopefully that momentum will continue next year and even get a little bit more excitement because I think people are really gonna miss it this summer,” Clark said.
To make up for the cancellation, WinShape has created a virtual summer camp experience for campers, which Clark said is similar to their virtual vacation bible school.
She said the virtual program has about six hours of content every day and includes a package which contains a shirt, art supplies and a supply list.
However, the virtual program is $99 per child, so Clark said they are not able to provide this to the families.
She said during the week of July 19, there is a project being planned called the Next Door Project where eight churches are partnering to create block parties of week-long bible lessons which teach the idea of “blessing your community.”
Clark said she hopes this also makes it up to the community because of the loss of the WinShape event.
Fulcher said White Mills is currently developing an idea called “Camp-in-a-Box” to help make up the loss of the June programs.
For $40 not including $10 shipping, the box would include five days of lessons and devotions focusing on the armor of God, hands-on activities and crafts, and has an online element, but Fulcher said they’re trying to limit that aspect. The package also comes with a camp T-Shirt.
“I think everybody needs to keep the camps in our prayer. Camps are great for families, a great need for our communities,” Fulcher said.
All activities at Camp Nikao in Elizabethtown for the month of June have also been canceled.
Carol Baker, rental manager at the camp for the past 15 years, said groups, especially churches, all over the state rent the property for week-long camps.
She said the campground is waiting for Gov. Andy Beshear to bring in different guidelines that could possibly lead to the camp continuing operations for July.
Baker said close to 2,000 campers come in and out of the grounds during the entirety of the summer.
Despite cancellations, Baker said they’ll continue to maintain and take care of the grounds, but there will be considerably less noise than usual.
“There will be quietness that we’ve not been used to in the month of June,” Baker said.
Dozens of sports camps held at high schools also have been canceled.