Camps home in on diversity as part of overall mission
By Amy Scattergood
It’s been a long year since the pandemic began — a year filled with reckoning that grew to include issues of race and discrimination as well as illness and isolation.
Camps have become even more mindful of the need for diversity and inclusion within their ranks, both among campers and staff. Summer camp, long mostly a privilege for those with means, has historically not been a place known for either racial or gender diversity.
“Frankly this is an opportunity to reassess a lot of assumptions about how we’ve run summer camp,” said Kent Busman, director of Camp Fowler, a co-ed nonprofit camp in Lake Pleasant that began in 1954. Especially when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion.
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“It takes a long time to become a diverse place and stay a diverse place,” said Camp Dudley’s Director Matt Storey, who estimates that about 10% of the staff is non-white, and just over 20% of the campers. To accelerate this process, this summer both Camp Dudley and Camp Kiniya have hired new directors of diversity, equity and inclusion. Each director is a person of color, and each was already part of their respective camp communities.
Camps Dudley and Kiniya and Eagle Island Camp are all working with the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, a nonprofit based in Saranac Lake.
“We’ve given a lot of thought to diversity over many years; it’s something many summer camps think about and struggle with,” said Doug Furman, director of Camp Lincoln, the boys camp component of North Country Camps — Camp Whippoorwill is the girls camp — in Keeseville. The camp now has a diversity consultant. “Definitely what was happening in the country got our attention, got us thinking even more.”
“Access is part of our mission,” said Paula Michelsen, executive director of Eagle Island Camp. The camp offers financial assistance to those who need it; campers can pay as little as $5 for the cost of the camp.
Summer camps reopen
This summer, camps across the Adirondacks will reopen, filling cabins, launching canoes and relighting those campfires, albeit carefully.
Diversity is about more than race, notes Eagle Island Camp Director Katrina Dearden, who has worked to provide individual changing stations for the girls at Eagle Island. It’s also about gender and economics.
“We recognize that we’re mostly run by cisgender white women of privilege, so we can make it as inclusive as possible,” said Dearden. “We recognize that we still have a lot of work to do.”
Amid Camp Dudley’s campus of wooden cabins and playing fields is an archive devoted to documenting the camp’s history, which dates to 1885 in its original location downstate. Among the framed photographs on the wall is one of the camp’s first staffers of color, a toque-wearing African American cook named Chef Roberts and his assistant, who worked there in 1899.
“To grow up, to share your stuff and your feelings, with people who aren’t just like you,” said Storey. “It’s life-changing.”
DEC campgrounds now open
All of the NYS DEC campgrounds are up and running for the 2021 camping season and some of them saw some updates and improvements.