After losing a full season to the coronavirus pandemic, overnight summer camps in the Berkshires, and across Massachusetts, can open this year.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that summer camps will be included in activities that can resume as of March 22. That word allows stressed camp owners and managers to hustle to prepare by recruiting staff and notifying the families of prospective campers.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said Thursday that he has worked for months to persuade the governor’s office and administration to allow overnight camps to return this year. In a statement, Hinds said camps are needed now, perhaps more than ever.
“In a normal year, summer camps play a vital role for childcare, mental health, and education during the summer months for families,” Hinds said. “Camps will be critical for kids and families this year due to COVID. This is a victory for working parents, and the over 1,000 summer camps across Massachusetts.”
As The Eagle has reported, overnight camps, including dozens in Hinds’ sprawling Senate district, faced severe financial hardship by losing their 2020 season during the early part of the pandemic.
An estimated 250,000 young people attend either day or overnight camps each year in Massachusetts, a business that carries an overall payroll of $220 million, according to Hinds, and creates $1.3 billion of economic activity.
Camps had argued that with proper precautions, they safely can host overnight programs, even citing a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study about camps in Maine that ran last summer without sparking an outbreak of COVID-19.
Hinds said that he worked this past year with the Massachusetts Camping Association to make the case for reopening. Matt Scholl, board president of the association, said he believes evidence showed the ability of camps to avoid spreading COVID-19. Scholl is executive director of the Becket Day Camp and Berkshire Outdoor Center for the Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA.
“The data is clear that camps can effectively uphold the health and well-being of our children and staff when following evidence-based protocols,” he said in a statement provided by Hinds’ office.
Hinds said he arranged for $3 million to be provided for programs to help camps put rules in place to avoid disease transmission. Also, a special fund was created to help camps make it through a long revenue drought.
William Hoch, president of the Western Massachusetts Camp Directors Association, has estimated that last year’s season cancellation kept 4,000 to 4,500 young people from visiting the Berkshires.
Last fall, a survey found that more than half of 347 New England camps did not open in 2020. While barred from operating in Massachusetts, overnight camps were able to open in other nearby states. About 40 percent of day camps opened in 2020, but with reduced enrollment. Twelve percent said the coronavirus pandemic summer of 2020 forced them out of business.