On Monday, Camp Susque Director Peter Swift sent out a heartfelt and painful video message informing campers, staff and alumni that the camp’s summer youth programs are canceled due to COVID-19.
It was a decision about a month in the making, according to Swift, but no less difficult to send out to eager youth and parents who already have spent months watching their favorite spring and summer activities fade away.
“Campers really look forward to their time at camp,” Swift said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking that so many of these kids have lost so much this year.”
Just north of Trout Run, the non-denominational Christian youth camp holds over six weeks of youth camps each summer, with three weeks for boys, three weeks for girls and about a half week for ages 6 to 8.
Susque’s decision comes ahead of social distancing guidelines that are expected to be released by the American Camp Association on May 15. While it’s unclear how strict the guidelines will be, Swift is certain it will include limiting large groups, isolating cabin groups and wearing masks for the majority of their time at the camp.
“The expectation that young children can maintain social distancing discipline at camp – I don’t think is reasonable,” Swift said.
Filling a summer with regulations and the fear of sickness would be too much to put on young children, Swift added.
‘Magic of camp’
Susque isn’t the only area camp to close its programs for the summer. Lycoming County Camp Cadet, along with the 25 other camp cadet programs across the state, decided to cancel its programs this summer as well.
“We’re a bit disappointed,” said state police Trooper Angela Bieber, adding the decision ultimately was made by the Pennsylvania State Police command staff in Harrisburg.
It was for the best, she said. Each year the mock police academy houses just over 100 kids and 20 staff on the Little League Baseball facility.
“That’s a good number to have confined,” Bieber said. Camp Cadet was founded in 1976 and this is the first year it has been canceled. Held one week each year, the camp is meant to be an opportunity for kids to build positive relationships with law enforcement personnel.
Bieber said the camp will regroup and come back again next year.
But not all camps have closed their doors just yet. Crystal Lake Camps is still set to hold its summer programs, but the camp’s leadership is waiting until after May 15, when guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Camp Association will be released, to make its final decision.
While the Christian Science camp just above Huntersville may be able to adjust its program, meeting the social distancing requirements will be difficult, according to Nathan Bowen, executive director of the camp.
“Most of the magic of camp happens in mixing people together and the intimate nature of doing stuff,” Bowen said.
The facility averages about 100 campers, half of whom travel from overseas. With international travel suspended, there already has been a drastic decrease in applications. Bowen said he hopes campers and staff from Mexico and Canada may be able to attend at some point this summer, but it’s uncertain for now.
For Camp Susque, the decision to cancel summer programs means a loss of about $300,000 in revenue. It’s a heavy financial blow, Swift said, but one that was necessary for the safety of campers and their parents.
Bowen is confident that Crystal Lake will be stable financially as it brings in much of its revenue through donations. In terms of the virus, there is “not a fear…. but a very understandable caution,” he said.
Camps that do cancel their summer programs will not only lose revenue, but also will need to refund deposits made by families who have already secured a spot. Deposit funds often are used for marketing and programming as the camp plans for the summer activities, Swift said, so this money is no longer available and will have to come out of the camp’s general budget.
Swift is confident that Susque will make it through this temporary setback.
“God has provided for us for 73 great years. When we have needs they’ve been met, it’s amazing,” he said. “We’re no more dependent on God now than we were last year or the year before.”
In addition, Lycoming County Camp Cadet received a $3,000 grant from Lycoming County for its 2020 program and the funds will more than likely be returned to the county, Bieber said.