Kate Egan of Brunswick is hoping her two teens, Maddie Wayne, 17, and Nate Wayne, 13, can still attend Slovenski Camps in Raymond. Maddie is supposed to work as a camp counselor, and Nate would be attending the first two weeks of July, if the camp is able to open. “I feel confident the camp will follow all the rules; I wouldn’t send my kids if I didn’t think so.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Will campers have to wear masks? Can they drink from water fountains? Can they play basketball and dodge ball? Will they be able to take bus trips to lakes or beaches?

These are just a few of the dozens of questions Maine’s more than 270 summer camps have wrestled with as they decide whether they can open for the season, which usually begins in late June. A dozen or more – including overnight, day and town recreation department camps – have already decided not to open this year. Reasons include the fear of exposing campers, staff and local communities to COVID-19, and worries that they could not meet state restrictions about group sizes and quarantines.

Others are hopeful they can open, but are awaiting specific state guidelines and answers to their questions – expected in a matter of days – to help them decide what kind of camping opportunities, if any, they can offer this year.

The uncertainty has left some camps wondering how they’ll pay the bills if they can’t open, and is an additional threat to the health of Maine’s tourism industry. Summer camps contribute about $200 million to the state’s economy each year in terms of what camps spend, and what parents spend when traveling, according to Ron Hall, executive director of Maine Summer Camps, which represents more than 140 overnight and day camps in the state.

It’s also left some parents scrambling for child care this summer, in case their town rec camps don’t open. Other parents lament the loss of a summer camp experience this year and the impact on children’s emotional health.

“Given all the losses kids have had this spring, I think it’s more important than ever that kids be able to go to camp,” said Kate Egan of Brunswick, who is hoping her two teenagers can attend Slovenski Camps in Raymond, an overnight camp still hoping to open and awaiting state guidelines. “I feel confident the camp will follow all the rules. I wouldn’t send my kids if I didn’t think so. I’m just praying they can go.”

Kristin Valdmanis of Portland said it was “disappointing” to learn that Kieve and Wavus, jointly operated overnight camps on Damariscotta Lake, would not open this summer and that her three camp-bound children would have to stay home. But she feels it was the right decision to make for the safety of campers and the 300 or so staff members, many of whom are from area towns, including Nobleboro and Jefferson. The camps usually bring in about 1,200 campers each summer, about 90 percent from out of state.

“Camp is an incredible luxury to have, and it will be sad for them to miss out. But I think it’s a small sacrifice to make for the safety of those communities,” said Valdmanis, who also sits on the camps’ board.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

Camps began scrambling to figure out if they could open this summer after Gov. Janet Mills announced April 28 a tentative timeline for reopening parts of the state’s economy, including allowing day camps to open June 1 for Maine children and non-Maine residents who have quarantined for 14 days. Overnight camps can open July 1, with the quarantine rules still in place. Mills also said a prohibition on gatherings of more than 50 people would be in place in June and July, leaving camps to wonder if an entire camp has to have fewer than 50 campers and staff, or if camps could be divided into areas with 50 people or less.

Groups representing Maine camps, including Maine Summer Camps and the Maine Recreation & Park Association, have been in contact with a team of state officials about getting answers to their questions and were told guidance would be coming by this week, said Hall at Maine Summer Camps. No one involved with the state’s camp guideline effort, including staff at the Department of Economic and Community Development, answered emails asking when the guidelines might be released.

Hall said some overnight camps were preparing to open and welcome out-of-state campers, figuring they could meet quarantine requirements by having campers just stay on the camp grounds. But Henry Kennedy, director of Kieve Wavus Education, which runs the two camps, said he took the quarantine rule to mean that out-of-state campers would have to be isolated in Maine outside of the camp, before attending.

Besides Kieve and Wavus, some other camps that have announced they won’t open this summer include: Pine Tree Camp in Rome, a camp for children and adults with physical and intellectual impairments; Broadturn Farm, which runs a farm day camp in Scarborough; Pilgrim Lodge in West Gardiner, an overnight camp affiliated with the Maine Conference United Church of Christ; Berwick’s town recreation camp; and Seeds of Peace in Otisfield, which attracts campers from around the world. Others are planning not to open, according to some camp directors, but have not announced the closings yet.

For some camps, missing a whole season of income would be a massive financial setback. Peter Slovenski of Slovenski Camps in Raymond said his camp has been in business for 10 years and at this point is still “putting all our money back into facility improvements each year.” He’s determined to try to stay open if possible, depending on what state guidelines say, and says he’ll take on debt to stay in business otherwise. Kieve and Wavus will be able to survive a lost season partly because of their endowment, Kennedy said. But Hall feels that some camps may have to go out of business if they can’t operate this summer.

Stacy Brenner and John Bliss have decided not to hold their summer camp at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough. Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Stacy Brenner of Broadturn Farm said the camp will survive, but it won’t be easy. The farm has also lost a big part of its business this year: growing flowers for weddings. But she and husband John Bliss decided closing the farm camp was the right thing to do after considering the state rules already in place and taking a survey of about 70 families whose children usually attend the camp. She said most families “weren’t ready” to send their children off to camp as the pandemic continues.

In Berwick, where the town has announced it will not hold rec camps this summer, resident Jeff Tash said he and his wife are scrambling to find child care for their 11-year-old son, since they likely will both be returning to work at some point. They enrolled him in a New Hampshire day camp, but aren’t sure that will stay open.

Many parents depend on town rec camps for day care, and many rec camps are preparing to open based on what they know now, while also waiting for more specific state instruction. The Westbrook rec camp usually has about 150 campers based at the community center, but plans have been made to break the program up into smaller groups at local schools this year, said Anthony Dahms, children’s program coordinator.

But Dahms is not sure what toys or sporting equipment can be used, if any trips can be taken, or what lunchtime will look like. Deb Smith, executive director of the Maine Recreation & Park Association, said she has sent more than 60 questions from rec camp directors to state officials, about everything from mask-wearing and hand-washing to field trips, playground equipment and staff interactions.

Kelley Hartman, a Westbrook parent, has signed her 10-year-old son up for the town’s rec camp. She and her husband both work outside their home, so she’s glad the town has made the effort to keep the camp open and has taken safety precautions. But she admits the idea of sending her son to camp now makes her nervous.

“Not because of anything Westbrook is doing, but nobody wants to put their child in a vulnerable position,” Hartman said.

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