The Transylvania Times -

Summer Camps Return


Last updated 6/2/2021 at 3:01pm

Summer camps in Transylvania County either had to close or reduce operations last year because of COVID-19, but this year they will reopen for their usual June to August run.

According to Sandi Boyer, executive director with the N.C. Youth Camp Association (NCYCA), there are 17 Transylvania County camps in the association.

In 2020, NCYCA conducted a COVID-19 impact survey for camp members.

In that survey, all the Transylvania camp mem-bers reported significant revenue loss due to the pandemic. Eighty percent of these camps reported a loss of 50 percent or more in revenue, according to Boyer.

The revenue loss from 2020 has created an operating cutback for all Transylvania camps in the 2021 season, Boyer added.

“The majority of NCYCA camp members report that they expect to experience a financial burden for at least the next three years,” Boyer said.

A 2011 North Carolina Youth Camp Association (NCYCA) report showed a $126 million economic impact in the county, with a total $365 million impact for Buncombe, Henderson, Jackson and Transylvania combined.

Page Lemel, owner and executive director of Keystone Camp, remained open last summer, with no reported cases of COVID-19.

Usually operating with a head count of 150, the camp opened its first session with 59 campers, finishing the season, according to Lemel, with 67 percent of the 2019 head count.

“We had a great year, basically, with no known incidents of COVID at all, and we did follow up with the families,” she said.

Lemel was featured in both National Geographic and The Washington Post on the subject of camps open during COVID-19.

Keystone Camp, which opened in 1916, is a 120-acre all girls camp, has seen its share of communicable diseases, having stayed open throughout the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, as well as the polio epidemic of the 1950s.

Lemel credited Elaine Russell, the Transylvania County health director, for assisting her in deciding on whether to stay open in 2020, which she described as stressful and difficult.

“We weighed everything,” Lemel said. “We were looking at what the numbers were in North Carolina, looking at the positivity rates and hospitalization rates. Last year at this time you were seeing anywhere from 1 to 3 percent across school-aged children of positivity. But that’s the average population. So, when we thought about who our clientele are, how they work and what their potential exposures are, we were able to discern our calculated risk for opening.”

For parents who want to invest in summer camp for their children, there is a strong commitment to considering what is best for them, Lemel said.

“They aren’t going to take unnecessary risks,” Lemel said. “That made me think, ‘I could probably do this.’ And after conversations with Elaine Russell, I was reminded that camps have always had to mitigate communicable disease risks.”

Lemel recalled the outbreak of swine flu in 2009 during which similar practices of checking temperatures before the children exited their parents’ vehicle were implemented.

Before operations began last summer, she said staff spent hours discussing plans on managing camp during COVID-19.

“What’s most interesting was how we were able to get things rolling, have such a successful summer, and now all the new updated guidance is exactly everything we did last summer, so we feel we very confident going into this year,” she said.

She added there are still challenges, however.

“We are still doing things like eating in shifts in the dining hall, cohorting our cabins,” Lemel said. “We’ve made adjustments to still be fully prepared to continue to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” she said.

One benefit of cohorting the cabins, she said, is lower instances of homesickness as a result of a much higher sense of belonging.

“What we also saw was, just by having parents drop off the kids instead of allowing them to mill about for an hour or so, they had to drive and drop, and that gave us such as a tremendous and rapid group assimilation for the girls that made their homesickness almost nonexistent,” she said, adding that about 4 to 5 percent of campers typically get homesick.

Lemel added that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has implemented the “drive-in and drop-off” policy for parents and their children as an official guideline for camping procedures.

Among the other changes COVID-19 has caused, is the financial impact to the industry that is still unknown.

It may be several years before the financial impact of COVID-19 on the N.C. camping industry will be fully realized, Boyer said.


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