Apr 5, 2021 - News

Minnesota summer camps brace for huge demand after pandemic pause

Illustration of a log cabin wearing a covid mask.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Overnight camps across Minnesota are preparing for a return of campers — and a surge in demand — one year after the pandemic cancelled summer plans for thousands of families.

Why it matters: Closures were devastating for the industry's financials, but directors say the bigger losses were for kids.

  • "Kids that didn't go to camp [last summer], not only didn't get the mental health benefits of being outdoors, but they didn't get to be social, gain independence, increase their skills and confidence [while participating] in fun activities," said Niki Geisler, VP of camping for YMCA of the North.

The big picture: Nationwide, about 80% of overnight camps were out of commission last summer, per the American Camp Association, impacting an estimated 19 million kids. This year is shaping up to be much different.

  • "The vast majority are trying to open and operate as much at scale as possible," ACA president and CEO Tom Rosenberg told Torey.

The state of play: After a year of being cooped up, it shouldn't come as a surprise that interest is booming. "Enrollment reports look phenomenal compared to 2019," Geisler said of the Y's day, overnight and family camps.

  • Nearly all the sessions at two Minnesota Girl Scout programs, Camp Elk River in Zimmerman and Camp Lakamaga in Marine on the St. Croix, sold out within days.
  • Camp Foley in Pine River is also reporting high demand, with hundreds of campers enrolled and some age groups almost at capacity.

COVID caveats: Camps are still awaiting updated guidance from MDH, but most plan to follow best practices the ACA developed using experiences from the camps that did open last summer.

  • Pre-arrival testing and social-distancing protocols, including masking and keeping campers in small groups for contact tracing, will be the norm.
  • The precautions worked for Camp Pillsbury in Owatonna, which ran several 2020 sessions with zero COVID-19 cases.
  • "We made accommodations for what we needed and figured out how to have fun anyway," owner Vonda White said.

The bottom line: "Kids are itching for that independence and that opportunity to go to camp and parents are itching for their children to have the opportunity as well," Rosenberg said.

  • "But it's going to require everyone working together to follow these [guidelines]."

This story first appeared in the Axios Twin Cities newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Twin Cities.

More Twin Cities stories