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Reopening day camp aims for safety, outdoor fun

The Tom Denney Nature Camp is one of few day camps in the area planning to operate this year. Located in Bolton’s Bowers Springs conservation area, the camp serves kids entering kindergarten through high school and aims to be a resource for environmental education for young people. With 32 pages of regulations set forth by the state to follow, activities will look different, but the goal is to get kids outside, active, and socializing while keeping them safe and healthy.

Ellie Vinacco, the camp’s administrator, said that she and other organizers have been going through the state’s regulations with a fine-tooth comb. Her message to parents is that the program won’t be the same as in past years, but that they are working hard to provide a safe place for kids to have social interaction this summer. “It’s going to be very different than our normal camp, but we’re still going to come up with lots of activities that are going to be super fun for kids and keep them safe at the same time.”

In accordance with state guidelines, the camp will be screening children at arrival each day for fever and other symptoms. Campers will be required to wear face coverings when they cannot social distance. Group sizes will be limited to 12, including staff, and interaction among members of different groups will be avoided. Masks do not have to be worn when campers are more than 6 feet apart, such as during meal or snack times.

The guidelines allow for the camp’s typical pond activities such as swimming and boating as long as proper social distancing and sanitation practices are followed. The camp will employ a staff member specifically for sanitation to ensure that such standards are met.

Safety requirements mean that many of the games campers typically play won’t be an option this year. “We’re basically redoing all of our camp activities because they either have to be adapted or we are throwing them out,” explained Vinacco. Whole-camp and contact games such as tag won’t be allowed, but activities that are set up to have groups rotate between stations can stay as long as the stations are sanitized between groups.

One disappointment for Vinacco is that they will not be able to hold camp in the rain. With the exception of thunder and lightning, the camp is typically held in all weather, and Vinacco said that rainy days are often some of the campers’ favorites. “We all get soaking wet and we love it, but we’re not going to be able to do that this year because our emergency shelter is … a tent.” She said the tent is not large enough to accommodate social distancing rules.

Rainy days won’t mean complete cancellation, however. Vinacco is planning to host virtual activities for kids on days when the weather prevents them from meeting in person. The virtual offerings will be shorter, about half the time that would have been spent at camp. For example, if a full six-hour day is canceled, there will be three hours of virtual activities. If kids are sent home halfway through the day, there will be an hour and a half online.

Safety and well-being

To ensure safety and general well-being, Vinacco said the staff will be undergoing new training procedures this year. In addition to their normal review of camp policies and safety procedures, staff will learn about sanitation and will be given tools to support kids emotionally.

Vinacco predicts that younger children, especially, will have questions about recent changes in their environment. She wants staff to be prepared to answer them. “We’re going to be doing some sensitivity training specifically about COVID with our staff so that if kids ask questions they’ll know how to deal with it.”

Vinacco has seen a spike in registrations in the past few weeks and said the response from parents has seemed positive. Still, some parents have reservations.

One mother, Amy Bassage of Harvard, said in a phone interview that she felt confident the camp would be safe for kids. She had originally planned on sending her 10-year-old son to the camp for the third year this summer, saying: “I think they’re going to do the best they can to keep the kids safe. If it were indoors, I definitely would not be sending him, but it’s outdoors and it’s the summer and everyone’s been … quarantined for four months.”

A few days later, however, she learned that her son’s two close friends would not be attending due to health concerns related to the coronavirus. While she still sees the camp as being safe, she said in a text that her son didn’t want to go without his friends and that he would not attend this year.

Based on registration trends, Vinacco predicts a full camp this year and encourages parents to register as soon as possible. Due to limited spots, refunds will not be available after June 20.

Kids enjoy canoeing and kayaking at the Tom Denney Nature Camp. (Courtesy photo)

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