Question mark hangs over that grand Michigan tradition: summer camp

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By Katrianna Ray
Capital News Service

A huge question mark hands over Michigan’s summer camps.

Shaun McKeon, the education director for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), plans on moving forward as usual with enrollment of campers and the hiring of summer staff.

The organization’s Out-of-Doors Youth Camp programs take place at Cedar Lake Outdoor Center in Chelsea.

“Right now, we are continuing with business as usual with an eye on the worst case scenario. As of right now, we won’t make the call to cancel camp or not until probably the end of May,” he said.

“Obviously, right now, like most people, we are keeping our fingers crossed to have the virus break before June rolls around,” he said.

“The type of programming we do is outdoor education, so we are teaching kids how to hunt, how to fish, wilderness survival skills, canoeing, kayaking and more. It’s a lot of very hands-on, natural resources education programming compared to a lot of traditional summer camps,” McKeon said.

The Girl Scouts’s Heart of Michigan chapter also plans on moving ahead with summer planning, with its first “Camp Play Day” event on April 26 at camps Linden and Merrie Woode.

Thousands of Girl Scouts attend Camp Linden in Linden, Camp Merrie Woode in Plainwell, Camp O’ The Hills in Brooklyn and Camp Wacousta in Grand Ledge.

“At this time, we anticipate hosting summer camp,” the chapter said in a statement. “We are abiding by the recommendations of local, state and national officials to ensure everyone’s health and safety. We are continually monitoring the situation and will adjust our plans as necessary.”

Summer camps are an $18 billion industry, according to the American Camp Assocation’s Business Report. Michigan has over 451 summer camps.

Camp directors are thinking of alternate ways to connect with potential campers using video and live streaming technologies for their summer camp experience.

For example, Camp Tavor, a Jewish overnight camp in Three Rivers, is hosting its “Musicale” talent nights on Facebook over Zoom, while the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake is using its radio services to entertain prospective campers.

The Boy Scouts’ Camp Hiawatha in Munising hosted a “Camping@Home” webinar on April 1 to imitate sitting around a campfire and encouraged its members to create blanket tents.

McKeon said he and the director of the MUCC camp are building a curriculum to send home to interested groups.“We are working on activities that kids would do at camp and providing those to parents, probably in a packet form, and having support materials like a video and how-to lessons,” he said.

The camp plans on teaching kids how to safely start campfires using a step-by-step guide and instructions. Parents would also receive video resources to supervise.

The American Camp Association, based in Martinsville, Indiana, recommends that camps review their health policies for the upcoming season.

“The safety and health of campers and staff is always the highest priority at camp, and camps have a long history of planning for and managing communicable diseases,” the association said in a news release.

McKeon said, “We’re trying to make the best out of this situation.”

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