Dec 9, 2022 - News

Extreme heat shutters beloved summer day camp

Illustration of a fan blowing on the sun.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A beloved day camp at Zilker Cabin is shuttering because of Austin's increasingly hot summers.

Driving the news: Girl Scouts of Central Texas leaders told parents they would not host their day camp at Zilker Cabin next summer due to extreme heat coupled with the loss of access to swimming facilities following the pandemic.

  • The city-owned cabin, which is not air-conditioned, has been used by the Girl Scouts of Central Texas for 80 years.
  • More than 15,000 Girl Scouts have attended the day camp at Zilker Cabin in the camp's 50 years.

Why it matters: The cherished spot is the latest victim of a changing climate as forecasters predict that Austin's sweltering summers will only get hotter in coming decades.

What they're saying: The camp was an affordable option for working parents in the summer, and "you can feel the history" stepping inside Zilker Cabin, said Deborah Cannon, who sent her daughter to the day camp for three years.

  • Cannon also compared registration for the camp at Zilker Cabin to trying to grab tickets for Taylor Swift's latest tour.
  • "That anticipation — where you're sitting there waiting to log on — that was trying to get a spot at the Girl Scout camp," she said.
  • But without A/C, Cannon said she wouldn't send her daughter back to the cabin during Austin's increasingly hot summers.
  • "The heat in Austin is just too much these days, and the girls and staff need to put health and well-being first," Cannon told Axios. "I'm sure it was a difficult decision and I hope that they can find a way to transition the camp in the future in a way that can work with these high temps."

Threat level: Summers are becoming deadlier, and Travis, Williamson and Hays counties are forecast to have 25 more days, on average, that feel like 100 degrees or higher in the coming decades.

  • The Austin area saw the second-most number of triple digit days on record this year.
  • Plus, a deadly heat wave across much of the country led to Central Texas seeing increased fires, drying lakes and questions around how the state's electric grid will continue to hold up in extreme conditions.

Details: Kursten Mitchell, a spokesperson for Girl Scouts of Central Texas, told Axios the heat has impacted other camps in the surrounding area, and led the group to install air conditioning in at least three cabins.

  • Mitchell, who has three daughters in Girl Scouts who went to day camp at Zilker Cabin, said the decision was "made a little bit easier just seeing how miserable some of the kids were last year."
  • "It affects their well-being at camp, and we just really want to create a safe, enjoyable, meaningful experience for them," Mitchell added.

Meanwhile: The summer heat is one of a number of factors as to why the cabin is no longer a viable option for the group's day camp.

  • "Lease terms, facility condition, lack of climatizing, historic status, and the city of Austin's vision for the property may impact how we use the cabin in the future," the Girl Scouts of Central Texas officials wrote in an FAQ.
  • Officials said "an increase in vandalism in and around the cabin facility" was also a factor.

What's next: The city recently released draft of its vision plan for Zilker Park, and the Girl Scouts of Central Texas are among local groups that will have the opportunity to provide input about the plan.

  • A community meeting will take place from 10am to 2pm Saturday at McBeth Recreation Center.
  • In the meantime, day camp sessions for the Girl Scouts will move from Zilker Cabin to Kodosky Service Center in North Austin with similar programming and plans to spend some time outdoors, especially in the mornings.

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