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Summer camps experiencing increased demand but are struggling to find counselors

  • A group of campers sitting at Camp Quinebarge. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 6/18/2021 5:31:38 PM

After last year’s nonexistent season, Camp Quinebarge is receiving a major uptick in bookings this summer. The only problem is staffing the place.

Founded in 1936, Camp Quinebarge is a coed summer camp located on Lake Kanasatka in Moultonborough. Just a few hundred yards away from the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee, the camp offers activities like adventure courses, horseback riding, sports, art and hiking.

Nick Hercules, the camp’s director, describes the camp as a place where kids can be accepted for who they are and make friends.

“The real important part is friendship,” said Hercules.

Camp Quinebarge, like most New Hampshire camps, was closed all last summer due to concerns related to the pandemic.

Compared to normal years, enrollment is up by 20% this year. All spots are expected to fill this summer. Already, all six-week sessions at a cost of $8,000 and a full eight-week session at a cost of $9,800 are full. A few spots for girls during two-week sessions and a late summer four-week session are still open. For boys, only a two-week session at the end of August is still available.

Hercules attributes the increased demand to both kids wanting to get out of the house and parents wanting the same.

“Kids were basically adults this year in meetings on Zoom all year long and they just want to be kids,” Hercules said.

Even though campers are rearing to go, it hasn’t been as easy to bring staff back since many of the camp’s counselors are from out-of-state or live internationally and can’t yet return. Add in an extremely competitive job market and summer camps across the state have struggled to hire.

A day camp run by the town of Merrimack has been struggling to find staff this summer. Mathew Casparius, Merrimack’s Parks and Recreation Director, which runs Naticook Summer Camp, said most of the staff was forced to find other jobs last summer since the camp never opened. Around two-thirds of them have not returned, which Casparius attributed to the camp not being able to compete with the increasing wages of other jobs since their budget was set last fall.

One camp not reopening this summer is Camp Spaulding. After 100 years, the 57-acre camp located in Concord has closed. The owners cited its older facilities that would have been costly to upgrade, competition from other camps, and the challenge of hiring new staff every summer as reasons to shut down.

Phoebe VanScoy-Giessler, development and communications director of Prescott Farms Wildquest Summer camps in Laconia, said another challenge facing camps is the dynamic nature of the CDC guidelines. Her original plan from January required constant masking, but that’s changed as the CDC guidelines were eased.

Naticook will be following the guidance given out by the governor in March, despite the guidelines no longer being in effect.

“It’s daily temperature checks of staff and campers. It’s social distancing. It’s smaller group sizes. It’s physically distancing. It’s masks whenever they go inside for campers and staff,” said Casparius.

In order to recoup losses from last year, Hercules said there has been a 5% increase in the cost of Camp Quinebarge. Costs at Wildquest Summer Camp have stayed the same with the exception of their pre-K program which has increased. Prices at Naticook will go up by $15 per week in order to pay for pandemic medical supplies.

Another challenge facing summer camps is that most campers are vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine only recently became available to children ages 12-15. Due to the younger age of campers at Naticook, Casparius guessed that only a small percentage of the kids will be vaccinated.

Not all camps are experiencing an increase in attendance though. Adrienne Austin from Camp Cody said attendance has returned to the usual pre-pandemic numbers. Camp Cody is an overnight summer camp located in Freedom. Prices will also remain the same. Naticook Day Camp is experiencing a little less than 2019 enrollment, which Casparius attributes to a canceled field trip camp.

Others are jammed full.

Erika Connors, owner of Melody Pines Day Camp in Manchester, is fully booked until the end of the summer.

“We opened registration in early February and all of our sessions filled up in one minute’s time, ” Connors said.

Whatever happens this summer, though, Hercules of Camp Quinebarge is confident that the kids will have a good time.

“We could literally throw a soccer ball out there and kids would have the time of their life,” said Hercules.

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