Overnight camps prepare to welcome back kids this summer

Danielle Ray
Campers are excited to experience overnight camping at Camp Marshall this summer.

The sights and sounds of happy campers will be back this summer as several area camps are once again able to offer overnight options with the state’s reopening plan.

Last summer, overnight camps were closed as part of COVID-19 restrictions.

Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts (GSCWM) will be opening up camps in July. The longest continuously running Girl Scout camp in the country is in Western Massachusetts, Camp Bonnie Brae in East Otis, which was established in 1919. Overnight camp will be offered there this summer as well as at Camp Green Eyrie in Harvard, along with day camp at both Camp Laurel Wood in Spencer and Camp Lewis Perkins in South Hadley.

“Camping has always been a place for girls to discover their individuality, strength, intellect, and embrace those qualities in their friends,” said Sara Rowan Senior Director, Girl Experience, GSCWM. “Camping redefines what is possible for girls.”

Rowan said they are looking forward to overnight and day camps kicking off in July. The camps have been closed since last May when “in light of the uncertainty associated with COVID-19” they decided to cancel all day and overnight camps.

“This year, federal, state, and local officials have provided guidance to support a healthy opening for both day and overnight camps,” Rowan said. “We only own, maintain, and improve camp properties for girls and, if we can safely do so, we will try to provide them the life-changing experience of overnight camping.”

Rowan said they have elected to have all four GSCWM camps open this summer based on Governor Charlie Baker’s camp reopening plan as well as Massachusetts Department of Public Health, local boards of health, and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. 

Many standard protocols will be in place at the camps including frequent washing hands, maintaining physical distancing, wearing masks, and not sharing family-style meals. 

“We are working to ensure we fully understand this year’s guidelines and are continually monitoring for any changes,” Rowan said, adding that they will also be following recommendations from the American Camping Association and the Massachusetts Camping Association.

Rowan said they hire 60 to 80 people each summer to staff the four camps where between 800 to 1,000 girls attend camp each summer, many for multiple week-long sessions.

“Outdoor programming is a pillar of the Girl Scouts program that offers progressive learning experiences,” she said. “Many day campers look forward to taking the step to a week of overnight camping.”

Rowan said the reaction from campers and their families to overnight camp resuming has been positive, and that parents and Girl Scouts alike are “thrilled” the camps will be open again.

“This year in particular has been one in which girls have had to stay indoors, have missed many of their typical activities, and have spent more hours than usual on screens,” Rowan said. “Girl Scout camps give girls the opportunity to be outside enjoying nature, making new friends, and challenging themselves with new activities and adventures.”

Camp Avoda, a Jewish summer camp for boys located on Lake Tispaquin in Middleboro that has been around for over 90 years, is also planning to open for overnight summer camps this year.

“We are working to make it a great summer,” says a statement posted to the Camp Avoda website. “We all want camp more than ever and boys need social interaction, outdoor experiences, and less screen time. 

“With guidance from the Center for Disease Control, the American Camp Association, and the State of Massachusetts, we will make sure that we have safety protocols in place. We are also gathering information and best practices from summer camps who were allowed to open this past summer. Their incident rates were extremely low and we anticipate a safe, successful summer.”

Camp Marshall in Spencer offers traditional and equestrian day or overnight summer camp sessions as well as year-round programs, riding lessons, facility rentals and more. The property was originally opened as a Civilian Conservation Corps. Camp in the 1930s and was repurposed as a summer camp in the 1950s in cooperation with 4-H.

Sheryl Moore has been the Executive Director at Camp Marshall since March of last year. She said they will be offering overnight camps this year after offering only day camps last summer.

“We operated with only day programming last summer as the state did not allow residential camp programming,” she said, adding that they had zero cases of COVID-19 within Camp Marshall programming last year. “We were very proud of our successes in operating last summer and were really inspired to operate last year out of a compelling desire to provide some sense of normalcy for the children of our community in a time when we felt that it was very needed.”

As a year-round operation, Moore said they function with six employees but in the summer their staff can grow to as large as 60 members. She said they will also be following state and local guidelines and recommendations when it comes to keeping staff and campers safe.

“We will be utilizing the same protocols that we had in place last year with an additional testing component for our residential campers added for this year,” she said. “Protocols from last year included things like social distancing, face coverings, modified meal services, and added sanitizing and cleaning procedures as well as health screenings.”

Moore said the response from campers and their families to the news of overnight camps being offered again has been “amazing”

“Many of our programs are nearing registration capacity and some have already waitlisted,” she said. “So many families are looking forward to a return to some semblance of a more normal summer and with our success from last year’s day programming, they are feeling confident in our abilities to apply the protocols in our programing necessary to keep their campers safe and healthy.”

Moore said they are glad to have the opportunity to offer campers “a needed outlet”, some normalcy for children who have not had that in their lives over the last year.

“The ability to go to summer camp will have such a positive impact on campers' mental health after a very stressful time in their lives,” she said. “Many kids missed out on so many things over the past year like the ability to socialize, having opportunity for physical activity, access to outdoor space, and so much more. We are excited to be able to provide these opportunities for our campers.”