This summer, camps across the Adirondacks will reopen, filling cabins, launching canoes and relighting those campfires, albeit carefully.
By Amy Scattergood
“When we first came to this location, we were in tents,” said Dave Langston, director of development of Camp Dudley, the oldest boys camp in continuous operation in the country. The camp, as bucolic as a Wes Anderson movie set, sits on about 500 acres on the shore of Lake Champlain in Westport, New York. It now has 41 cabins and a campus that features an auditorium, archery range, basketball court, climbing tower, outdoor chapel and boat house — all of which sat empty last summer for the first summer in its history, closed by the pandemic.
“Camp will be different,” said Kent Busman, director of Camp Fowler, a co-ed nonprofit camp in Lake Pleasant that began in 1954. “We want to be intentional about how we move forward, which is what camps do. If we’re just entertainment, then that’s a waste of a good week of camp.”
Camp Fowler plans to open in late June at half-capacity, putting four kids in a cabin instead of eight and keeping them in smaller groups. Busman says that he hopes to have the staff and volunteers vaccinated by then time camp starts, a process complicated by the fact that many staff come from out-of-state and that camps cannot mandate vaccination, only recommend it.
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Camp Dudley is planning on opening two 3-week sessions, also in late June, at full capacity. “We’ll bubble,” said Matt Storey, the camp’s director. “It’s all about what camps can control — which is a lot,” Storey said. “And this summer we’ll be controlling more than in a typical summer.”
Both Camp Dudley and its sister camp, Camp Kiniya, a girls camp in Vermont, plan to do advance Covid testing, and set up pool testing on site. Masking and distancing protocols will be in place, visitors will be limited, and dining will be not in the dining hall but in tents set up outside.
“We’re probably not going to be sending kids into the wilderness” Storey said, not only because of COVID but due to the over-use of the Adirondack Park that marked the 2020 summer camp season and is likely to be an issue this summer as well.
At Eagle Island Camp, bubbling will be easier than at other camps, as the nonprofit camp is on a 31-acre island in Upper Saranac Lake. Another advantage Eagle Island has is that it’s having a fresh start: 2020 was supposed to be the first summer under new operations. The former Girl Scout camp had been closed since 2008.
“A lot of other camps have to reimagine what camp was,” said Eagle Island Camp director Katrina Dearden. “And since we’re starting from zero, the campers won’t know differently.”
Eagle Island managed last summer’s hiatus by holding virtual camp-outs, where campers camped in their own backyards and did virtual sing-alongs. There was a pen pal program, and packages sent out to isolating campers with home activities and camp bandanas to be turned into masks. This summer, Dearden will emphasize get-to-know-you activities, as both campers and counselors will be transitioning from a year of isolation to in-person life.
“All of us need to relearn how to get to know someone in person again,” said Dearden. “I think it’s going to smell the same, sound the same — but with less singing,” Dearden said, referencing the caveat that singing has been known to exacerbate spread of the virus. “We’ll still sing, but it will be spread out. It won’t be as loud.” Dearden said that they’re adding drum circles and call-and-response singing as creative additions to the summer program.
Eagle Island will operate at its capacity of 30 campers — the day camp is all-gender; the overnight is for girls — with masks required except when eating, sleeping and in the water. Instead of pods, the cohorts will be called “groves,” and will be limited to 10 campers and 2-3 staff members. “As we grow, we’ll expand,” said Dearden. “But I think it’ll only help us to have intentionally small groups this year.”