PORTLAND – On the final day of winter, 9-year-old Chelsey Cardilli walked out of East End School with a wide grin, a fistful of brochures and dreams of summer camp.

Cardilli turns 10 next month. She’s never been to summer camp. She figures she’s ready.

“I want to go this year,” she said. “I can’t wait.”

Wisely, she brought along her mom, Sue Cardilli, and their sage neighbor and summer camp veteran, 12-year-old Maddy Ryan. The Portland trio was among more than 500 visitors Sunday afternoon to a fair hosted by the Maine Youth Camping Foundation. The fair featured exhibits and staff from 70 camps and summer programs throughout the state.

Clicking a crowd counter at the gym entrance, organizer Mary Ellen Deschenes was pleased to see overflowing corridors, particularly in the first year since 1998 that won’t include the Summer Champs program funded by the Libra Foundation.

Chelsey’s older brother, Mark, is 16. He took advantage of the $1,000 summer camp scholarships offered to every kid in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor, using the money to attend three camps a year.

“It was great,” said Sue Cardilli. “But all that money’s gone, so you’re on your own.”

The program was cut back to $500 per child for the past two years before ending. Cardilli said three weeks for Chelsey is not within the family budget, but one week is doable.

“I know this one is $360 a week,” she said, pulling out a brochure for Begonia’s Summer Science Camp. “They say it’s worth it.” “Oh,” said Ryan, a veteran of Begonia’s, with a knowing nod. “It is.”

One of the fair’s goals, Deschenes said, is to enlighten parents about the range of tuitions as well as other sources of financial aid available at Maine’s summer camps, many of them run by nonprofit organizations.

“There are actually a lot of options,” Deschenes said. “There’s financial aid. There are payment plans. There’s all different ways to put the summer together. So we’re thrilled to see so many people here.”

Alex Smith, 12, of Portland listed surfing, magic, fencing and tennis at the center of what he hopes will be four fun-filled weeks of summer. He’s been attending summer camps since kindergarten. An overnight camp for boys in East Parsonsfield, the West End House Camp, also piqued his interest.

“I like sports camps,” he said. “I’ve done fencing and tennis, but I’m seeing a lot of new ones. It looks fun.”

Wendy E. Getchell, managing director of Terpsicore Dance in South Portland, boosted last summer’s inaugural offerings with more weeklong specialty camps as well as a six-week Saturday session for kids who don’t want to go away to camp, but still want the experience.

“Something that might normally be $130, your child can go for six weeks for $48,” Getchell said. “The hope is that they’ll stay and then the next time they’ll be able to pay a little more.”

Getchell took advantage of the Libra subsidy last summer for her 10-year-old daughter. This year, she said she could afford one week of camp. For the rest of summer, good times might mean visits to Grandmother’s house.

“I hear a lot of parents at the studio say, ‘I have no idea what I’m going to do about child care this summer because I relied on that (Summer Champs) money to send the kids to camp,’” said Terpsicore founder and owner Maria Tzianabos, whose regular job is teaching at the University of Southern Maine. “It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out.”

Perhaps such a topic will be examined at the New England Film Academy, now in its sixth year of developing aspiring actors, screenwriters and filmmakers on the Southern Maine Community College campus in South Portland.

Founder Chris Watkins wants to make his craft more accessible to interested kids, regardless of their family resources.

“Technology has gotten to the point where it’s not cost-prohibitive to be a filmmaker anymore,” he said. “But to learn about it is. We want to bridge that gap. That’s where scholarships come in.”

Deschenes said tens of thousands of children attend camps in Maine each summer. About half the campers are state residents.

“The overall impact of Maine camps is about $245 million,” said Deschenes, citing a 2006 study. “Maine camps are definitely part of the Maine economic landscape.”

Economic studies don’t do much for soon-to-be-10 Chelsey Cardilli, who was greeted by sunshine, cloudless skies and a sparkling view of Back Cove at high tide when she emerged from Sunday’s fair.

Forget the snowy forecast. Spring officially arrived at 6:21 Sunday night. Summer can’t be far behind.

S’mores, anyone?

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]