Youth Outside | Reimagining Camp Magic

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, learn how youth break and summer camps have been reimagined to adjust for COVID-19 regulations, while keeping the same fun atmosphere.
Tailor Dolgin Tailor Dolgin
Associate Youth Programs Manager
January 30, 2021

Despite summer 2020 being the tenth year of summer camp, it was a year of firsts in more ways than one. With the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in March, by June safety was a primary concern for both campers and staff. It led us to wonder – can we still provide summer camp? And if so, what can be done to preserve that classic camp feeling? Sitting shoulder-to shoulder eating s’mores was off the table, but there had to be a way to reclaim the spark that only camp can bring.

Back to the drawing board

It was in this environment that I took the reins and began my first season directing summer camp at The Mountaineers. As I joined the decision-making team, we had to make the difficult choice to cancel the first three weeks of camp as we learned how to offer a safe and effective program. Our team monitored the state’s reopening plan and began adjusting our rules and regulations.

The hardest part of this process, by far, was managing group sizes. Cutting down the number of campers we could see each week felt like whittling the joy of summer camp away, despite being a necessity for running safe programs. However, we were still committed to finding new ways to engage with our campers, regardless of how untraditional it might be.

We introduced a hybrid camp model, which would mix halfday virtual programs with up to two days of in-person camp experiences for ages 6-12. The plan was to provide 2.5 hour virtual lessons four days a week, with one full day at the Seattle Program Center where campers would have the opportunity to learn about Leave No Trace and the Ten Essentials, practice first aid on stuffed animal friends, and climb, swim, run, and play with appropriate personal protection and social distancing.

True, this summer felt different than those in the past, but the joy was the same. The Program Center was not the traditional buzzing hive of campers and counselors, and the climbing wall on the South Plaza was still fenced off, but the laughter and excitement our kids brought each day was ever-present. For both campers and staff, the chance to embrace something beyond “the new normal” and be a part of a beloved community was vital. We still spent the summer getting dirty, learning new things, and laughing together. And, of course, we spent plenty of time searching for the elusive Billy the Goat.

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Adventure camper on-trail at Ozette Triangle. Photo by Nola Peshkin

Reimagining trips

This summer was also the first year we expanded our overnight camp options to include adventure-based backpacking and car camping trips. Just like day camp, we had to adjust our planned programs to accommodate new safety rules and regulations. For five weeks, we took small groups of campers ages 10-14 backpacking to Independence Lake and the Ozette Triangle, and car camping at Coho Campground on the Olympic Peninsula. And, just like day camp, campers brought laughter, games, and joy to the adjusted processes.

Adventure Camp Coordinator Nola Peshkin reflected on what this looked like:

“Because we had so much continuous time with campers in our Adventure Camps, we got to really see them open up and be themselves. Giving them a space to play outside, hang out with other kids, be silly, and learn backcountry skills was a real privilege. They stepped up to new challenges and developed important group skills that are valuable both in and out of the backcountry. With such different learning and entertainment resources available than what we have at the Program Center, it was easier to give them more choice and control over what the days would look like. We got to explore and learn about the parts of backpacking and being outdoors that they were most excited about, all in some really beautiful corners of Washington State.”

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Adventure campers exploring Independence Lake. Photo by Nola Peshkin.

The days ahead

One thing we learned from this past summer is that there are many different ways to offer Mountaineers Youth programming. As of now we are planning on opening registration for in-person day camp and overnight adventure camps on February 1, 2021. We’re also excited to announce an addition to our programs coming this year: Summer Camp Alumni Adventures! For campers who have aged out of day camp but would still like to get outside with us, we’ll be offering backpacking trips for small groups. Join us to reminisce about your favorite camp moments and continue developing your outdoor skills.

So what will this upcoming summer look like? The short answer is, like many parts of our lives, we’re not sure. We would love to return to in-person day camps and fill the Seattle Program Center once again with counselors, campers, and counselors in-training. It would be exciting to expand on the success of our Adventure Camps by sending campers backpacking, climbing, and adventuring in some stunning places. While our main goal for 2021 is to get back to programming that echoes our preCOVID normal, this summer has taught us that getting campers outside is one of the best ways to combat the pandemic blues.

We’re honored to have had the opportunity to get your kids outside exploring the outdoors, and we look forward to seeing you next summer, whatever that may look like. I’m looking forward to summer 2021 with heaps of cautious optimism.

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Zoom screenshot from summer camp, week three. Photo by Hannah Tennent.

CAN’T WAIT FOR SUMMER CAMP?

We hope to offer break camps in February and April 2021! This will include small in-person groups, operated out of our Seattle branch, with outdoor field trips:

February 15-19: Mid-Winter Break Camp Registration opens Dec 2 Visit mountaineers.org/mid-winter-break-2021

April 12-16: Spring Break Camp Registration opens Jan 15 Visit mountaineers.org/spring-break-2021

For more information about summer camp, please reach out to our Camp Managers:


This article originally appeared in our Winter 2021 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

LEAD IMAGE OF Kimiyo Climenson with Billy the Goat at the South Plaza. PHOTO BY tailor dolgin.