MOST overnight summer camps — an estimated 95% — across the state decided to close last year with COVID-19 restrictions making it difficult to operate.
As a result, an estimated $150 million in revenue was lost for the more than 100 camps across New Hampshire. Some day camps continued to operate with limited numbers of campers and increased protocols.
This summer, most plan to return, according to Ken Robbins, president of the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association and director at Camp Kabeyun in Alton Bay.
New guidelines approved last month will likely mean increased costs, with some camps saying testing requirements will be a burden coming off of a year of massive loss. The latest guidelines, however, could be revised and updated before camps start for the summer.
Many have seen an increase in demand or have already booked all their spots for the summer.
“Enrollment has been very, very swift,” said Susan Miller Hild, owner/director of Camp Merriwood in Orford, a camp for girls ages 8-15. “I think most camps would say the same thing. I think parents are looking for opportunities for their children to be out in nature and away from screens.”
The camp closed for the first time in its 72-year history last summer.
“There were just too many question marks about COVID at that time,” Miller Hild said. “We feel much more ready and in control of the situation in 2021.”
Both for-profit and nonprofit camps were successful in getting some form of relief through the state or federal programs, including Paycheck Protection Program loans, Robbins said.
“I know a lot of camps certainly are still struggling from a year of no revenue, and they need to get to this summer to make whatever revenue they collected for this year to become real,” he said.
“I think all signs at this time point toward the majority of camps, if not all camps, operating this summer and having a good year.”
Some of the guidelines include testing, health screenings, face masks and social distancing.
“Testing is a big part of how we ensure that while at camp we have the best possible chance of preventing COVID infections,” Robbins said.
Right now, campers must have PCR-based tests conducted seven days before arrival and then again when they arrive on the camp property — the most strict testing requirements in the country.
A third test is required five to seven days after arrival for campers staying longer.
Onsite testing must be conducted by a trained health care professional and the camp must have proper credentials, according to the guidance.
The testing will be a burden for nonprofit camps trying to bring in enough money to operate, said Nate Parks, president and CEO of Berea, a Christian camp in Hebron. The camp offers weeklong sessions for about $600, which requires more testing than camps that hold multi-week sessions.
He expects testing for about 1,200 campers and staff over the course of the summer to cost $115,000. The tests cost an approximate $150 each.
“We have to do it onsite on the day of opening camp,” Parks said. “The day of opening camp is crazy as it is, and now we have to test everybody on top of it.”
Last summer, the camp operated family getaways, which brought in between 10%-12% of a normal summer. The state denied the camp’s request for nonprofit relief.
“The only reason that we are really sustaining is because we have no long-term debt and we have a donor base,” Parks said.
The state is looking at ways to help offset testing costs. “We’re hoping that the state will reimburse camps for the testing that is being required of us,” said Miller Hild, who has also worked with the state’s reopening task force.
Some questions still revolve around international campers and staffers being able to participate this summer. Parents visits are still being looked at for campers signed up for longer sessions.
“We’re still not sure how we are going to do that, and if we did do something it would be very modified,” Miller Hild said.
The Boys & Girls Club of Manchester operates Camp Foster in Bedford, which has the capacity of 470 campers. Last summer, the camp hosted about 180 on site and 30 remaining at the clubhouse on Union Street.
The club was unable to transport kids to and from the camp as part of the precautions, something the club hopes to bring back this summer, according to Ken Neil, chief operating officer. Weekly enrollment has been set at 330 for this summer.
The guidance continues to change. “We’re at point A right now here in April, but we could be at B or C in June with respect to how we operate the program itself,” Neil said.
CEO Diane Fitzpatrick said camp really does “a world of good,” especially after the past year. “We really believe that a camp experience increases a child’s confidence, self-esteem, social skills,” she said. “It has a long positive impact on their lives.”
The No. 1 priority is to make sure kids are safe, she said. The organization has received PPP loans and grants through the state’s nonprofit relief program. “It has helped us survive as an organization,” Neil said.
Robbins said many day camps were able to get grants for providing child care. “More day camps were able to operate in some capacity, but a lot of them were operating in a dramatically reduced capacity because of guidance and limits on cohort and group sizes,” he said.
Camp Merriwood rented a tent to use as its dining room, which is an added expense for the camp. “We are going to be outside as much as we possibly can,” Miller Hild said. “We will have to tweak things like cohorts at the beginning of camp and the testing protocol that the state is requiring us to do.”
All of the in-person sessions, which run between three and seven weeks, are booked.
As a for-profit camp, the camp received money through the state’s Main Street relief program.
Camp Kabeyun, which also remained closed last summer, will have campers eat in multiple locations, instead of all in the dining hall.
“We’re used to having 160 people in a dining hall that is designed to fit about that many people. Now we’re not going to be able to do that,” Hild said.
Camps must also keep campers in certain cohorts that won’t mix with other groups of campers.
Robbins said the industry is well suited to bounce back. “Camps are really good at problem solving and finding creative solutions,” he said. “We’ve been doing that for 100 years. More than 100 years. So we’ll find a way to make this work too.”