Summer camp shut down

Officials fear how much closing sleepaway camps will harm our economy

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 6/30/20

REGION — When the New York State Department of Health closed sleep-away camps to slow the spread of coronavirus, that affected dozens of camps in our region alone. 

But camps are about …

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Summer camp shut down

Officials fear how much closing sleepaway camps will harm our economy

Posted

REGION — When the New York State Department of Health closed sleep-away camps to slow the spread of coronavirus, that affected dozens of camps in our region alone. 

But camps are about more than the kids who stay there. They’re economic powerhouses for the region, officials and camp owners say. That makes them another part of the overall balancing act between rebuilding the post-lockdown economy and keeping the virus at bay.

Nobody yet knows what the financial hit will look like for local businesses. But in a 2002 report on summer camps (focusing on Wayne County, PA), Shepstone Management outlined ways camps contribute in good times. Expenditures ranged from $800,000 to $6 million, with an average of $2.2 million... and this was 18 years ago.

Sure, camps hire local people, whether as regular staff or as contract workers (like artists) who work directly with the kids. But they also hire plumbers, electricians and builders. They take kids to local activities like movie theaters and the Carousel Water and Fun Park in Beach Lake, PA. They go canoeing and rent those canoes locally. They buy food and supplies. 

And the money paid out to local businesses and workers goes back into the community.

“Their impact is enormous,” said Marc Baez, head of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development. 

“This is going to be hard for the towns,” said Beth Schaefer, co-owner of the French Woods Performing Arts camp in French Woods. Camps, she said, contribute a significant share of income for small businesses and in sales tax. The French Woods camp, for one, is “very deeply invested in the community.” 

Day camps are different. At the June 22 Town Hall in Sullivan County, Sullivan County Public Health Director Nancy McGraw reported that day camps can open but have to operate under New York’s reopening rules, using physical distancing and appropriate procedures. 

Sleepaway camps are more complicated, the state health department has said. It’s harder to maintain social distancing and prevent infection. 

In addition, “20 to 30 temporary residences applied to operate as day camps,” she said. That category includes hotels, motels, bungalow and cabin colonies that 11 or more people occupy for up to half the year. 

That decision is up to the Department of Health. 

Not all camps have closed. Early on, French Woods started making plans. 

“We paid attention to honoring our original concept—focusing on arts—with focusing on what’s practical and possible,” said co-owner Beth Schaefer. “We had to do what’s safest for our population.” 

That turned out to be an online camp, offering activities from theatre to dance to magic to cooking in two sessions, and the new format will allow for more individualized attention, Schaefer said. But their focus on arts allowed them to pivot. “We may be situated very differently. To try to replicate the residential camp experience... online, it’s not the same.”

What losing other camps, even for a year, will do to local economies is still being worked out. But don’t underestimate it, said Baez. “We need to seriously consider what that impact is” and prepare for the result. 

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