Town recreation departments across the Lakes Region have grappled with how to handle summer programming in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several towns have decided to hold “abbreviated” summer programs to accommodate the state-mandated restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people, while others, such as Sebago and Standish, have canceled planned activities altogether.

Sebago was one of the earliest to announce their decision to cancel, at the beginning of May.

“This was an extremely difficult decision for all, but there is no feasible way to keep participants and spectators safe, Director Leslie Hayes wrote on the town’s website.

Standish Recreation Director Jen DeRice announced May 28 that the town will not be holding any summer programming.

“Basically, not only would it not be as fun, we did not feel confident that we could guarantee the safety of everyone involved. The risk and the expense outweighed the benefit,” wrote DeRice in a letter announcing the decision.

A couple of weeks ago, she sent parents a survey asking if they would still be willing to send their kids to camp, given the pandemic. Of the parents responding, 63% said that they would “absolutely not” send their kids to camp, and 21% said they were leaning toward no, but were still considering.

DeRice said she and her colleagues in other towns have struggled with the decision. They have met weekly via Zoom since March to discuss their options. Their questions, she said, included, “Is it safe, (even) if we follow the right guidelines? At the end of the day is it the right decision to bring people together?”

She said she knows parents depend on summer recreation camps for childcare and that the kids need the socialization. Usually they have upwards of 150 campers per year in Standish.

New Gloucester’s Parks and Recreation department may be facing the biggest setback, as the town budget proposal calls for eliminating the department completely as of July 1. Some programming is expected to continue through contractors, Director Morgan Rocheleau said.

“From what I understand they are going to offer some kind of programming (in the future) based on the part-time staffing that has been here in the past,” Rocheleau said last week.

Recreation directors from Windham, Gray and Naples told the Lakes Region Weekly that they will still hold their summer programming, but are adjusting it to be more daycare-like, rather than a large camp setting.

“Summer camp is generally self-supporting so this year is certainly a financial challenge as well as challenging in many other ways, as the CDC requirements do result in a larger cost per camper than in years past,” Windham Recreation Linda Brooks said in an email.

During an average year, Windham summer camps might have 270 campers. This year, the number of campers at the Summer Kids Club is capped at 40 per day. Parents are also required to sign a waiver acknowledging the potential risk of sending their child to camp.

Gray’s Recreation Programmer Sarah Rodriguez said in an interview Wednesday that while the department usually holds a “pretty robust” summer camp program for about 140 campers, this year they are reducing it to 40 kids.

“This year we have reduced that summer camp program to change it to more of a childcare for essential workers,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez added that the summer programming typically “supports our bottom line rather healthily.” This year, though, “our focus is really to provide a service so that folks can get back to work and (for us) to not lose money.”

Naples is “still on track” to hold their camp this year, recreation Director Peter Ceprano said in an email. Changes have been made to programming, however, including a holding a six-week program instead of eight, and no field trips.

While the department has resumed some fitness classes, Ceprano said there’s still been a lot of hesitancy to attend classes, especially from older residents, and there’s been a large decline in attendance.

“It is definitely a weird time to work in a field whose responsibility is to ‘bring people together’ when we’re being forced to maintain distance between one another. We are just making the most of everything we can each day,” Ceprano said.

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