Michigan summer camps rebound: Kids ‘eager to get back out into the world’

At Camp Newaygo, an all girls camp about 35 miles north of Grand Rapids, overnight camp program director Angie Gornik said roughly 550 kids had signed up by the end of March the past two years. This year, that number rose to 695, with room to grow to 810.

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“I think people are also just so eager to get back out into the world,” Gornik said.

The YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit’s two overnight camps in Michigan — Camp Nissikone in Oscoda and Camp Ohiyesa in Holly — are more than 90 percent full.

At Circle Pines Center, a camp in Delton focused on peace, social justice, environmentalism and cooperation, registration was nearly filled within two months of openings being posted, which was a first, executive director Sasha Ospina told Bridge Michigan. The camp now has a wait list of 80.

“I think parents are just trying to give their kids experiences after missing two years of experiences,” she said.

One obstacle to a robust rebound in summer camp activity is finding enough counselors and other staff to run the camps. Like businesses of all stripes, summer camps have had to rethink recruitment practices.

“Camps are having to get a little more creative with hiring staff and what a summer camp staff might look like,” said Becky Pasman, who chairs the Michigan Local Council of Leaders, the state affiliate of the American Camp Association.

Pasman said some camps are offering bonuses for employees or relying on flexible scheduling where college students might only come for part of the summer rather than staying the whole summer as employees.

“That’s big in the camp community because one of the things that happens when you work with a summer staff is you create the sense of belonging and sense of family for your staff as well as you do for your campers,” she said.

The apparent surge in camp registration is part of a larger imperative among parents to see their children have more social interactions and varied experiences outside the home after years of social distancing and remote schooling.

Crissy Belk said her two young children have become “a little stir crazy” recently. This summer, she’s putting them in a lot of summer activities to make up for time lost during the pandemic and, she said, because “it just feels right.”

Belk, who lives in Belding, just south of Greenville, has a 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, and a 6-year-old son, Andrew. Ruby has autism and the chaos of the pandemic threw off the family’s routines. When Ruby gets stressed, she tries to run away.

Belk said she tries to remain calm but acknowledges she “radiates stress and worry,” which Andrew picks up on. He starts baseball soon and Belk is considering signing him up for summer karate and horseback riding classes as well.

She hopes her son experiences “more freedom, more lightness, less stress” this summer.

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