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For The Kids: Day Camps Promise Fun & Precautions This Summer

Being cooped up because of the pandemic has been tough on everyone, especially kids. With summer approaching, many parents wonder how they can get their kids out of the house, safely.

In May, the Oregon Health officials gave Day Camps the green light to operate-- but only under strict health and safety guidelines. KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert checked in with a few providers as they prepare for a modified 2020 summer camp season.

“I definitely never imagined I would have to be planning something like this.”

Zoe Rolly-Keef oversees programs at Sheldon Community Center with City of Eugene Recreation. https://www.eugene-or.gov/143/Camps

Usually, it’s business as usual but this year, prepping for summer camps has thrown her for a loop.

“We have really had to re-think the way that we’re approaching camps.”

Rolly-Keef says the biggest challenges are group size limits and physical distancing requirements. Capacity is down by 50% across all Eugene Rec camps. Still, she finds the upside.

“Our campers are still going to be able to connect with their friends even though they can’t be physically close, they will still be able to connect through play and laughter.”

Eugene Rec will provide pre-school day camps for children 3 through 5 years old at three community centers around Eugene. For older youth, there are Specialty camps held through the River House Outdoor Center.

Credit Zoe Rolly-Keef
Games and crafts are fun and safe at Sheldon Community Center, Eugene Recreation.

Credit Cuthbert Amphitheater
Because of a partnership between Eugene Cultural Services, Kesey Enterprises and Eugene Recreation, some summer day camps will be held on Cuthbert Amphitheater grounds this summer. Due to the pandemic, no concerts are scheduled throughout.

”One of the really cool opportunities that came up this summer,” Rolly-Keef shares, “that we might be able to utilize the Cuthbert Amphitheater since they won’t be able to hold any shows there.”

She says thanks to Eugene Cultural Services and Kesey Enterprises, four weeks of Classic Camps for elementary aged students will be held at the outdoor concert venue.

“Each group of ten will have opportunity to play on the lawn, play where the stage is normally set up,” she said.

Rolly-Keef says before registering for any Eugene Rec day camp, parents must first get a special card.

“The participant card is gonna help us track attendance,” said Rolly-Keef, “and also in the event that we have to do contact tracing.”

Another sign that the threat of COVID-19 has permeated each part of camp planning.

(birds are chirping)

Whole Earth Nature School runs summer camps from sites around Eugene and Springfield. Lots of them. Executive Director Matt Bradley says early in the pandemic, they were uncertain. But once the state guidelines came down, he was confident they could safely run their camps.

Credit Whole Earth Nature School
Whole Earth Nature School Co-Founder Matt Bradley says one of the best things about his camps is seeing "girly girls" jump in and get dirty, naturally.

“Luckily, being outdoors in small groups with children as we always are- is inherently a lower risk activity,” he said. “So it wasn’t necessary for us to make dramatic changes but we did have to make some changes to minimize the risk to our community.”

Whole Earth day camp groups will be limited to ten students with two counselors. And what should kids expect to do? Bradley says experiences are age appropriate and based on readiness. Maybe using natural mud camouflage and hiding in the forest... "...Learning archery skills, learning how to safely engage with fire-making skills, whittling with knives, learning about wild edible or medicinal plants, learning about wildlife tracking,” Bradley said.

Credit Whole Earth Nature School
Natural mud camo with flare!

Whole Earth day camps https://www.wholeearth.org/have over 1,000 slots to fill this summer, Bradley says they are 75% full. He adds there are scholarships available for families experiencing financial hardship, especially due to the pandemic. Bradley shares a resonating concept. 

"We are currently experiencing a multi-generational event that is unlike anything that we’ve seen. The way that we respond to an event like this can help define an entire generation of people.”

Credit Camp Wilani
Camp fire's bring about songs and s'mores at summer camp!

Camp Wilani in Veneta, has been operating summer camps since 1960. Resident camps are the tradition –but this year-- sleep-over camp is not an option. So, staff revamped the Day Camp program. Elissa Kobrin is Executive Director of Camp Fire, Wilani Council.   

“Kids have been traumatized by the events in the world,” Kobrin reminds. “They’ve been stuck at home away from the positive, peer relationships they have at school. They’ve had a lot more screen time.”

She hopes that a summer experience at newly renovated Camp Wilani will offer kids some solace. https://wilanicouncil.org/

“Our kids will be rotating through our 219 beautiful acres—enjoying all kinds of fun activities,” she said. “Archery, canoeing, our low ropes course, outdoor cooking. We’ll even have the pool open at the end of June.”

Credit Camp Wilani
Kids canoe while on the lookout for Western Pond Turtles in the lagoon at Camp Wilani.

Still, reminders of the pandemic are everywhere. Kobrin says every day, each camper will get a quick COVID screening with temperature check before joining their “camp cohort.”

“That group with that one counselor- rotates through program activities- and between each, the area is sanitized by another staff person,” Kobrin said. “Everything is wiped down.”

To spark some fun in the daily routine, Camp Wilani staff decided to go with themed Day camps. Think: Star Wars or Superheros & Villians.

Credit Camp Wilani
Camp staff wear masks and sometimes hold baby goats.

Besides having to scrap resident camps, another challenge for Camp Wilani is transportation. The Oregon Health Authority will not allow busing. Parents must drop off and pick up campers at the site in Veneta.  

“We really feel it’s worth it,” Kobrin said. “It really feels like an escape at a time when kids need an escape.”

The challenges of operating during a pandemic have proven too much for some camps and they’re taking a year off. But a lot of camps will go for it this summer. It may seem like a favor to parents, but I’ve heard-- it’s for the kids.

For more information on 2020 Oregon summer camp opportunities near and far:





Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
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