The Camp Manitou welcome sign greets campers Wednesday at the entrance to the camp in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Many summer overnight camps in the Waterville area plan to operate this summer despite the coronavirus pandemic, while others have decided not to open their doors.

Those planning to open, including Camp Modin, in Belgrade, and Camp Manitou, in Oakland, Camp Somerset for Girls in Smithfield and Camp Runoia in the Belgrade Lakes, will follow guidelines of the Maine Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, according to Ron Hall, executive director of Maine Summer Camps, a nonprofit organization based in Portland that represents 147 camps in Maine.

Children who come to camp from outside Maine must quarantine before and after arriving, Hall said Wednesday.

“The pre-camp check list includes parents quarantining kids at home and taking their temperatures every day, monitoring any signs of illness and completing a form,” he said. “Should any camper arrive at camp and show any signs, they will be turned away.”

Hall was asked by many camp officials to speak for them during this busy time when they are preparing to open and receiving calls from many national news organizations because of the pandemic, he said.

“Basically, they asked me to be a spokesman for them,” Hall said Wednesday. “I’ve done that before, but not to the extent of this year. This year, it’s been a bit crazy.”

Phone messages left Wednesday at Modin, Manitou, Somerset and Matoaka were not returned, but Hall said all but Matoaka plan to open. A woman who answered the phone at Runoia referred questions to Hall, saying that there are a lot of moving pieces regarding summer camp openings and things are changing every day.

Camp Caribou on Pattees Pond in Winslow, which started operating in 1922, will not open this year, leaving the equipment for traditional activities unused. Morning Sentinel file photo

Bobby Lerman, a camp director at Camp Caribou in Winslow, said Caribou will not open this summer for the first time since 1922. The camp, he said, draws 250 youths from all over the country and the world.

The Camp Caribou welcome sign greets campers about a mile inside the entrance to the camp in Winslow on Wednesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It was a super tough decision, and it’s not something that is easy for us,” Lerman said Wednesday, “and it’s not something that’s easy for our people because everyone wants to be at camp. But we’re trying to put the well-being of our campers and staff before finances.”

Lerman, whose family owns Caribou, said a lot of people have their own schools of thought on the issue, and it was a tough decision for Caribou officials to make.

“It’s sad,” he said. “We’re broken up over it. It’s unthinkable. It’s not something that’s easy to do.”

In making the decision, Lerman said he and his family took into consideration everyone involved.

“We felt kind of a responsibility to the local community in Waterville and Winslow to not do anything that might increase community spread, so that’s another thing that went into our decision,” he said.

 

‘DEVASTATING FOR SUMMER CAMPS’

Hall said the coronavirus pandemic has presented a tough situation for camp owners.

“Financially, this is a devastating summer for camps, whether they open or don’t open this summer,” he said. “Every camp is going to be losing money, and it’s going to take years for camps to recuperate and, unfortunately, there will be camps that won’t survive this.”

Camps planning to open have worked hard to try to ensure the safety of both campers and staff, according to Hall.

“They’re ready for it,” he said. “They’ve been working for months. Camp directors and owners generally are very thorough and very creative and very adaptable to situations.”

Hall said there are 175 licensed camps in Maine, both day and overnight camps. About 60% have decided not to open this summer, about 20% have decided to open, and the remainder are making final decisions, he said.

This summer, parents will bring their children to camp and they will be met at the gate for camper check-in, according to Hall. Families must bring their pre-camp check list with them, which camps sent out ahead of time to ensure campers have no sign of COVID-19, he said.

“Parents will leave and not come onto camp grounds,” he said. “The next two weeks, the campers will be in quarantine in a family unit and there will be about 10 per ‘cohort’ and they will be together, social distancing.”

The largest group that will be allowed at camp after that is 50, and the camp can have multiple groups of 50 as long as they are not interacting, according to Hall.

Staff must arrive at camp two weeks ahead of time and quarantine also, he said.

“After two weeks, if there’s been no positive cases, then the group size can begin to change a bit, with more interaction,” he said. “Camps will be, basically, in a situation where once campers arrive, they don’t leave the camp and the same with staff.”

Competitions between camps are also canceled. Here Camp Caribou’s Zach Brandeis, 11, pitches to a Camp Manitou batter during a game in Winslow in 2007. Morning Sentinel file

The exception, according to Hall, is if campers take a foray such as a wilderness trip.

He said the largest camp in Maine has about 450 campers and about 150 staff, but it wouldn’t be able to operate at full size because proper social distancing would not be possible.

“I would say about all of the camps will operate at lesser capacity,” he said. “This also means there won’t be any parents’ weekends, and camps will not be able to participate in sports or other activities with other camps.”

Hall said camps that decided not to open did so after much deliberation and thought about how to provide safe experiences for staff and campers and whether they had facilities to deal with a possible outbreak. Many felt they didn’t have the capacity to do that.

“For all of them, I think it was the toughest decision they ever had to make in their life,” he said.

He said very few campers will come to Maine from foreign countries because the CDC is not allowing a lot of travel.

Camps for only Maine children and Maine staff will not be required to quarantine, he said.

 

PINE TREE CAMP

Pine Tree Camp on North Pond in Rome, which serves children and adults with disabilities, is using creative ways this summer to ensure camp experiences.

The camp’s website says that, for the safety and health of campers and staff, all traditional camp sessions have been canceled this summer. But camp spokeswoman Erin Rice said it will offer a remote camp experience for Maine people with disabilities.

Andrew Artrip, left, and camp counselor Alex Schofield confer before entering the water at Pine Tree Camp in August 2016. This year Pine Tree will offer remote camp experiences for Mainers with disabilities. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald file

Rice issued a release Wednesday that says a series of six remote summer camp sessions, each a week-long, will be held. Each week will revolve around a theme such as nature, drama or science. Registered campers will receive a curated activity box containing everything they need to participate in daily activities, and they will come together via Zoom to connect for group activities and take part in self-guided activities at their own pace. Those activities will be delivered through paper instructions and pre-recorded videos accessible on Pine Tree Camp’s website.

During the nature themed-week, campers can experience a backyard nature hunt and virtually explore trails at Pine Tree Camp via video, with an outdoor recreation expert. During science week, they may learn how to make a lava lamp at home and explore how clouds form shapes along the shores of North Pond. Campers also may learn to create music and sing together around a virtual campfire.

“Our mission is discovering abilities together, and we’re going to continue that mission even when we’re apart,” Assistant Camp Director Mary Schafhauser said in the release. “As innovative camp professionals, we’re always thinking about what more we can do. This is our chance. Everything we do this summer will be meaningful and impactful. It’s such an opportunity.”

Pine Tree Camp Director Dawn-Willard Robinson said the camp opened two months early with the launch of Pine Tree Camp to You on Facebook in March.

“We have learned a lot over the past few months and have been able to incorporate what we have learned into our summer curriculum,” she said.

Schafhauser and Robinson convened a group of camp professionals, alumni, teachers, media specialists and outdoor recreation experts from around the United States to design an accessible curriculum that connects campers, creates opportunities for staying active, engages campers’ imaginations and develops their passion for trying new things.

Pine Tree Camp also is offering Adventure Day Passes designed to provide safe day use of Pine Tree Camp’s fully accessible 285-acre campus. The passes are available to all Maine people with disabilities and their families or caregivers, according to Rice.

All of the camp’s signature outdoor activities will be available, including hiking on accessible nature trails, boating, kayaking, fishing and swimming and archery, and will be provided in a physically distanced manner supported by experienced staff. Space is limited and details for reserving day passes will be available in June.

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