Summer camp is more than a treasured ritual. It’s a second home, with a second family, for children who return year after year. And while it was probably wishful thinking that kids could just come on back to their cabins in the middle of a pandemic that has scrambled every other aspect of life, about a dozen overnight camps had planned for just that. Until, at the last minute, the state doused their collective campfire.
Don’t fault the Baker administration for being cautious and ultimately deciding to close overnight camps in Massachusetts until 2021. You can take issue, however, with the way the decision was handled.
Word arrived a matter of days before Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening schedule went into effect. As of a week ago Thursday, overnight camps were in that wave, presuming a litany of safeguards to keep COVID-19 from passing from one camper to another.
Then, in an instant, a form posted to a state website changed, and they weren’t.
Matt Scholl, president of the Massachusetts Camping Association, has been variously quoted as calling it “devastating,” “a big disappointment” and “a gut punch.” Operators of 13 camps had invested in special accommodations, juggled schedules, hired staff and arranged for campers to come find some semblance of a typical summer at the lake and in the woods.
Then their summers were canceled.
The Massachusetts Camping Association estimates nearly a third of the state’s overnight camps may never emerge from this pandemic. Another report suggests coronavirus nationally will bleed $16 billion from an industry that includes 15,000 camps, affecting nearly 20 million campers.
Reopening the state is fraught. Gov. Charlie Baker and health officials are in the unenviable position of predicting the path of COVID-19 and ensuring Massachusetts doesn’t join most of the rest of the country, where cases are now surging. Things change by the minute, especially in the realm of camp.
Still, tapping the brakes to delay the reopening of a group of businesses for a week or two is one thing. Wiping out a season without a word of warning is another.
Camps adjust. Many have shifted to day programs still allowed under state guidelines, where no one spends the night. In a letter posted to the website of Camp Marshall, out in Spencer, staff describe such changes and note, “like the true campers we are, we have adapted and will persevere.”
We’d all do well to take their lead, as we resupply our hand sanitizer and put on our masks.