WELLFLEET — Gov. Charlie Baker announced last month that day camps and overnight camps will be allowed to reopen this summer, but with significantly reduced capacity and in compliance with social-distancing guidelines — an edict that has left many camp directors performing planning gymnastics. They have also had to be the bearers of bad news when they tell families that there is no space for their child this summer.
Morgan Peck, the director of the Mass Audubon day camp at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said that when she and her colleagues heard the news, they went into the camp’s few indoor spaces, took out tape measures and rolls of masking tape, and began plotting to see how many 32-square-foot sitting spots the building could hold.
“The limitations are the indoor space we have,” Peck explained. “If there’s inclement weather, each ‘camper pod’ has to have a separate space. And within those pods, each camper needs to be six feet apart from each other,” she said.
During a typical summer session, Wellfleet Bay’s Nature Day Camp, which is based on 1,000 acres of wildlife sanctuary that campers spend sessions exploring, hosts 80 campers per day. This year, they have cut that number down to 30.
“The hardest thing this year was turning people away,” Peck said. “It was really, really sad.”
Peck and her colleagues chose campers on a first-come, first-served basis. They time-stamped all the messages from families who called and left voicemails. They also gave priority to year-round Cape residents, opening up the registration date for them a month earlier than for the general public, and pooling their funding to create a discounted Cape Cod resident rate: $390 per session, as opposed to the usual $500.
On Martha’s Vineyard, Camp Jabberwocky, an overnight camp for children and adults with special needs, is facing even more rigorous challenges, according to Kelsey Cosby, the camp’s development director. They are still working out how they’ll comply with CDC and Camping Association guidelines. One of the committee’s plans is to achieve a 100-percent vaccination rate for all campers and volunteers on site this summer, said Cosby.
On the Outer Cape, one of the hardest challenges is finding housing for counselors. Audubon has decided not to use its on-site dormitory housing for counselors, because it would put those working with different pods in close quarters with one another. As a result, Audubon is able to take on counselors only if they have housing in the area. “But affordable and available housing on the Cape is pretty nonexistent,” Peck said.
Worried parents have circulated a plea among friends, asking who might have a spare room to offer to counselors at a reasonable rate. One parent, Susan Lazarus, said her son will be six years old this summer, and loves the camp. But so far, she’s been told his entire age group will likely not be accommodated this year.
Though not a camp, the Summer of Sass program in Provincetown faces a similar housing-related challenge that is particularly acute this year, according to Kristen Becker, who founded the program and is also a stand-up comedian. The program invites LGBTQ young adults from other regions of the U.S., where they struggle to find acceptance, to Provincetown for the season. The program organizes housing and a summer job for participants.
“Until someone buys us a house or leaves us a house — wink, wink — we’re only able to serve four to six kids a summer,” said Becker. More than ever, she said, “the demand for the program is high, but housing is a limiting factor.”
Despite all the planning struggles, most camp directors and parents have rejoiced at Gov. Baker’s announcement. Last summer, Camp Jabberwocky and Summer of Sass did not operate at all, and Audubon had a “really small mini-camp for local Cape Cod residents for two weeks only,” Peck said.
Having been granted some good news, Peck is optimistic there could be more around the corner. “In early April, there could be updated regulations,” she said. “There’s still potential for these things to change.”