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With some coronavirus restrictions lifted in Maryland, many youth camps will remain closed; some day camps to open

Elks Camp Barrett in Crownsville, a camp is for kids who have a parent with cancer, is one of several area youth camps who will remain closed despite Gov. Larry Hogan's easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Elks Camp Barrett in Crownsville, a camp is for kids who have a parent with cancer, is one of several area youth camps who will remain closed despite Gov. Larry Hogan's easing of coronavirus restrictions. (By Paul W. Gillespie - Capital Gazette, Capital Gazette)

It might feel like pieces of normal life are returning, as Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state of Maryland would be lifting restrictions on outdoor pools, drive-in theaters, outdoor dining and youth day camps.

In reality, many summer camps are still stuck in a world restricted by the coronavirus and will not be opening this summer. Those that will won’t look the same.

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In Anne Arundel County, the Department of Parks and Recreation will have altered camps to adhere to the social distancing guidelines and having groups of 10 of fewer with a ban on out of state campers and residential camps. All camps must occur outdoors.

Howard County Recreation and Parks has a meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon to discuss the potential of youth camps and sports reopening.

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Jeff Degitz, director of Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks, said things like nature camps will be canceled for the summer and the department is looking into providing alternative programming and activities — both online and outside.

Degitz said they are looking at shorter programs that take part in some capacity at the parks, but typical 9-5 weekday camps would not be an option. A guide detailing activities at home, ways to get involved and activities to do at the park will be released in about two weeks. He added the department’s website and Facebook page are the best way to plug in and get involved.

“No camp will run as it normally does, just because of the limitations of the amount of people,” said Colleen Joseph, spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Anne Arundel County department intends to run altered camps in small groups of 10 ⁠— eight campers and two staff members. If a youth camp has two groups, the ratio can be one adult and nine children, but groups may never mix. Camps will be held at community and regional parks, and it’s expected, for example, that there will be multiple camps running at once at parks such as Quiet Waters in Annapolis.

Joseph said camp counselor jobs will be few and far in between. Child care staff are expected to move to camps, as county child care programs are limited.

Registration for those modified programs in Anne Arundel County will begin June 11, with camp itself beginning July 6.

Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation staff are still tinkering with the details of camps’ itineraries. The tenets of summer camp life ⁠— nature, crafts, and so on ⁠— will still go on. In that way, Joseph said, “it’ll be a typical summer camp.”

“Right now we’re just trying to get letters out to the parents so they can get their children registered,” Joseph said.

To adhere to state guidelines, YMCA Camp Letts will be forgoing its overnight camp program, per Reynard Eaglin, Vice President of Operations and Youth Development for YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, which oversees Anne Arundel County.

The 104-year-old camp typically serves 1,500 campers each summer, offering horseback riding, ziplining and other activities in a residential capacity.

“Unfortunately we will not be able to provide them those experiences,” Eaglin said. “However, we are pivoting towards day camp and modifying our programs with guidance from the governor, and social distancing as well. It’s going to be quite different.”

The YMCA partnered with the American Camps Association to create their own guidelines for operating summer camps during coronavirus. It will also train its staff based on health guidance and offer tips to parents as to how to communicate to their children what changes will look like. Children and staff will be kept in small groups in different areas, and all people on site will take daily screening tests. Children 9 and older will be required to wear masks.

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If Gov. Hogan were to implement Phase 2 later in the summer, Eaglin said Camp Letts will reevaluate whether it will hold an overnight camp session.

Camp Wabanna in Edgewater still plans to hold all eight weeks this summer, beginning June 21, according to its website.

The camp intends to maintain safety practices to protect everyone on site as much as possible. All campers and staff, already in limited numbers, will be required to wear masks when around others, and facilities will be cleaned often. Campers will be screened upon arrival and must fill out a screening questionnaire beforehand.

IDEAS Summer Camps, which operates its Annapolis location at St. Anne’s School, called Gov. Hogan’s reopening announcement “a little bit late.”

Its first session was supposed to begin in two weeks.

“Our number one core value is safety. If we can’t guarantee the safety of the campers coming through.. we don’t run," said the camp’s executive director Rayce Williams. “It’s sad. This is our company and this how we feed our family, but we think it was the right decision.”

Instead, IDEAS will offer a virtual summer camp for children ages 3 to 15, beginning June 1. For three one-hour periods per day, five days a week, children ages 7 to 15 can take part in programs like coding, 3D animation, science, cooking and sewing and sports broadcasting, as well as magic and theater, where campers learn their parts or acts over the week and perform at the end of the week. Older kids work in small groups so everyone can be heard, Williams said.

For younger kids, their sessions involve a lot of silliness, singing, dancing.

Williams’ hope was to still inspire some camp spirit this summer, despite the changes. The director has not known a summer without camp since he was a small child and honors it as a place where adults can level with kids and show that their interests are valid and worth exploring.

“We’ve always thought of it as a place apart," Williams said. "Now, its a place apart with a different medium.”

Less overhead will mean the online camp’s lower cost will impose a softer blow to its finances.

“You can’t do a rock wall online. We’re going to be fine,” Williams said.

But not every camp will be able to live in an alternative capacity this summer.

Mayo Beach Day Camp, an adaptive program for children with disabilities, is one of many that will not happen this year. Elks Camp Barrett in Crownsville announced at the end of April that it would remain closed for the summer. Summer camps at University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Catonsville also canceled all summer camps.

“Given the continued prevalence of the virus and restrictions on gatherings, it is clear we will be unable to provide the safe and enriching summer experiences our campers deserve,” said a statement on the UMBC camp’s website.

KidsRock, which has operated since 2009 with locations in Owings Mills, Roland Park and Timonium, chose to suspend its camp until next year because it knew it couldn’t ensure the safety of the kids, its staff or parents who would drop off and pick up their children daily.

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With many camp trip vendors closing down to fit state guidelines, KidsRock CEO Len Travers doesn’t believe the camp could have run as usual regardless of whether summer camps were allowed to reopen.

“We’re a trip-focused camp. Navigating trips with vendors delaying their operations also played into not a great summer,” he said.

The camp will apply all 2020 deposits to next summer, and will add a $450 bonus in addition that can be applied for Summer 2021, per its website.

That said, KidsRock asked parents who might need the money now to send them an email. Despite the financial toll that could potentially pose on the camp, Travers said they’ve put things in place to ensure its survival.

“It’s still a sad situation. We have a lot of parents that reach out. They’re frustrated, and I totally understand,” Travers said.

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