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.

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