Summer camps likely to re-open after pandemic closures

  • Campers participate at a rowing event at Camp Mowglis in Hebron. Crew races are one of the activities at the camp, which was closed last summer for the first time since World War II. Courtesy of Brian Akre

  • Caelan Akre works to get the hang of a paddle board at Camp Mowglis in Hebron. The camp is situated on Newfound Lake. —Courtesy of Brian Akre

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 2/27/2021 3:31:52 PM

Overnight camps that serve thousands of young people and generate millions of dollars for the New Hampshire economy are expected to resume operations this summer, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered many of them for the first time in decades.

Guidelines approved by the New Hampshire Economic Re-Opening Task Force and awaiting Gov. Chris Sununu’s approval set out precautionary steps the camps must take, including testing, health screening, use of face masks and social distancing.

Some of the 100 residential youth camps in the state would have trouble surviving financially if they had to stay closed for another summer, said Ken Robbins, president of the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association and director of Camp Kabeyun in Alton.

Robbins said that across New Hampshire, camps took a revenue loss approaching $150 million last year, while still facing fixed expenses such as property taxes, utility bills, insurance premiums and payroll.

He estimates that 95% of overnight camps and half of day camps did not open in the state last summer. Last year, lack of available testing and delays in receiving state guidance made it extremely difficult to plan camp sessions and ensure safety, he said.

Robbins is expecting a much better experience this year.

“It is critical that we get all the camps to open,” he said. “We’ve vastly improved our understanding of how to operate camps safely while COVID remains a challenge.”

High demand

This year, there is pent-up demand from children and parents for overnight camps.

“Families are desperate for what the camps have to offer,” Robbins said.

Outdoor experiences and new skills are important, but the tradition of the New England summer camp goes well beyond that and, for many, includes memories that last a lifetime.

Robbins said the summers he spent as a camper at Kabeyun became the formative experiences of his childhood.

Chris Emond, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, said his organization offered day camps last year at a time when some parents were uncertain about whether to put their children into such programs. Compared to 2020, enrollment seems strong in 2021, he said.

“Last year there was that hesitation,” Emond said. “There doesn’t seem to be that hesitation this year. Kids need to go outside, play, have fun, be with friends. We can do it in a safe manner. We’re pretty optimistic for a good summer.”

Camp Mowglis

At Newfound Lake in Hebron, Boston educator Elizabeth Ford Holt opened Camp Mowglis in 1903. Last summer was the first time the camp failed to open since World War II.

Holt started the camp out of concern that young men growing up in the city were no longer learning important life lessons. The camp gets its name from the Rudyard Kipling character who learns trust, teamwork, patience, leadership, empathy, self-reliance and kindness while growing up in the jungle.

Camp Mowglis is one of many summer camps that sprang up throughout New England to give outdoor experiences to an increasingly urbanized East Coast population.

Nick Robbins, the camp’s director, said its goal is to instill qualities of empathy, resilience and community leadership. Children of different backgrounds come from around the country and around the world.

“It gets them all together and they live as a community — jocks, introverts, extroverts, kids from the inner city, rural environments, the suburbs,” he said.

Overseas visitors

Brian Akre, an American expatriate who lives in The Hague, has sent his son, Caelan, 14, to the camp for five years. Akre supported the decision to cancel last year’s sessions.

“I think at that point it would have been kind of risky,” he said. “They didn’t know as much about COVID as they do now. I have a lot of confidence in the staff there, and now they’ve had a whole year to prepare.”

Caelan enjoys camp life, particularly rowing. He was a coxswain on one of the crew teams and took responsibility for his boat. Akre said Caelan grew through this and other camp experiences.

“I think it’s really good, particularly for boys to kind of develop resilience,” he said. “They really foster confidence in your ability to learn things. They learn outdoor skills that are hard to get here because this is a very urban environment we live in.”

Pandemic restrictions

Traditionally, there is a weekend for parents to visit their children at Camp Mowglis, and a day when parents can attend rowing races, but COVID precautions will likely prevent those kinds of interactions this year. The draft guidance document awaiting Sununu’s approval calls for restricting visitors.

Campers and staff are to stay close to the camp as much as possible to prevent picking up the virus through community contact, guidelines say. Campers from outside of New England must quarantine for 10 days at home or in New Hampshire before the start of the camp session. Staff and campers are to take a COVID-19 test within seven days prior to arrival at the camp, again upon arrival and a third time within seven days of arrival.

The document also calls for dividing staff and campers into small groups of 10 to 15 people based on sleeping arrangements and activities. Such grouping or ”cohorting” is also used in schools to prevent the spread of the virus through large gatherings.

The draft document also discusses the importance of camp and the safety of campers:

“Children continue to experience considerable disruption to their growth, learning and socio-emotional well-being during this pandemic,” the report reads. “As such, it is critical to prioritize every effort to open programs supporting children’s health and wellbeing.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit

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