COVID-19 fears and restrictive re-opening guidelines are keeping many New Hampshire summer camps closed, and some might close for good.
In a Thursday call with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, leaders of New Hampshire’s camps spoke about the toll the pandemic has taken, and asked the senator to push for federal relief for their industry.
All six Granite YMCA overnight camps are closed, and its 16 day camps are less than half-full, said president and CEO David Ports. He estimates a $14.5 million loss this year, which could blow a huge hole in the YMCA’s budget.
“Virtually every camp in the country is losing money,” said Scott Brody of the American Camp Association. Camps are returning deposits to families, deposits they started collecting last fall. And there may not be any money coming in for camps until spring 2021.
Shaheen said camps had trouble accessing Paycheck Protection Program loans, because businesses were told to calculate their lost revenue based on the six months before COVID-19 hit — September through February, when camps and other seasonal businesses are closed.
The Small Business Administration later changed the rules to make seasonal businesses eligible, but Brody said about 90 percent of camps did not get PPP loans.
“We’re going to effectively lose 22 months of revenue,” Brody said. “This is a survival-level dire situation the likes of which we have not faced in the last 150 years.”
Ken Robbins, director of Camp Kabeyun in Alton Bay and president of the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association, said only about a quarter of camps in New Hampshire plan to open this year.
The state’s guidelines for re-opening camps are the right measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 but are “all but incompatible with how camps operate,” he said.
Camps bring people together, he said, while the guidelines are meant to keep people apart.
A survey of the camp directors association found 17 percent of camps in the state said they were “likely or somewhat likely” to stay closed in 2021, and could close forever. Robbins said that means about 25 New Hampshire camps may never re-open.
“Getting to next year intact is just uncertain,” he said. Camps around the state will lose a total of $146 million this year, he said, and will employ fewer than the usual 5,500 seasonal and part-time workers.
“Most of us don’t know how we’ll plug the holes,” Robbins said. “Next summer is a long, long way away. We need help to survive.”
Municipal parks and recreation departments that run summer programs have been hurt too, said Andy Bohannon of the state’s Parks and Recreation Association and director of Keene’s parks and recreation department.
Some 13,000 children in New Hampshire participate in local parks and rec programs, he said, but social distancing guidelines and fears of COVID-19 will keep some children away.
In Keene, Bohannon said, 150 children had been registered for summer camp early this year. Just 80 are still signed up. A third of the camp revenue is gone, though the costs have not changed.
Another factor limiting camps’ ability to re-open, said Chris Emond, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire, is the extra $600 people can receive with unemployment, thanks to the federal CARES Act relief package. Emond said some are reluctant to return to work because they can make more on unemployment, and worry about getting sick.
Child care workers make an average of $12.12 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than in the other five New England states.
The Seacoast Science Center’s day camp will be open this year, in part because the museum will stay closed said Jim Chase, president of the center. Campers will have the run of the museum and its grounds, so they can spread out more, and there won’t be any chance of visitors exposing campers to the virus.
Chase said the science center took a gamble and told parents in mid-April they would be open, more than a month before the governor released official guidelines. They had more time to plan than did camps that waited until the state guidelines came out.
Erika Connors, owner of Melody Pines Day Camp in Manchester and a state representative, said she thought the guidelines were released too late, and many camps did not have time to plan for a radically different way of operating.
Melody Pines is closed for the first half of the summer, Connors said, but she hopes to re-open later this summer if state rules are relaxed.
Connors also said the state fund to help businesses won’t help summer camps that decided to stay closed this summer. Camps are considered child care, she said, so they are not eligible for a piece of the $400 million in federal CARES Act funds the state is distributing to businesses. But to qualify for the separate child care relief fund, Connors said, child care centers have to re-open by this September.
Gov. Chris Sununu has said for-profit camps could apply for the business relief fund, and non-profit camps could apply for a non-profit relief fund.
The University of New Hampshire has cancelled 25 camps and summer programs, unable to serve the 8,000 children who usually attend.
Larry Barker, who works at a 4-H camp run by the UNH Cooperative Extension, said financial harm aside, the loss of camp is especially painful this year.
“If there’s ever a year that youth need camp, and families need camp, this is it.”