Youth camps, including several in the Highland Lakes, will be in session this summer as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased reopening of state businesses. All camps will have to follow COVID-19 restrictions to protect campers and staff, including strict rules on when parents can visit during camp sessions and special procedures if campers test positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while at camp.
“We’re still doing camp,” said Michael Thames, director of Camp of the Hills in Marble Falls. “We’re still fulfilling our mission. We’re just doing it a little bit differently.”
The Christian camp will be doing what Thames calls “virtual camp” throughout June. This includes producing content for a YouTube channel, including live streaming worship and devotional messages as well as stand-ins for other activities.
“We’ll have campers that would have been here doing a talent show send us talent show videos that would have been put on here,” he said as an example.
Depending on the response camps get, Thames said bringing camp to the campers as far away as Dallas and Houston isn’t out of the question. This includes putting together packages and activities to deliver to campers where they live.
“Our camp is a little unique in that we partner with groups, and a big ministry or church may bring 100 kids,” Thames said. “We can go to some of those places and bring some camp activities and really just show up and drop off some stuff.”
Those who will be coming to camp will face a score of rules and regulations about sanitization, hand washing, and cleanliness as stated in the governor’s minimum requirements and in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Camp Peniel in Marble Falls is also looking at the new guidelines. The Baptist camp canceled its June sessions.
“One of the things, as we’ve been praying about and thinking about if and how we can open back up, is how can we make sure that campers are safe, that staff is safe, and, at the same time, the experience that campers are able to have is a great one,” said Camp Peniel Executive Director Brian Anderson. “It’s a balancing act we are trying to do.”
The camp uses the cabin model, splitting campers into small cabin groups, which helps sequester them without any additional planning.
“Obviously, there’s going to be lots of change this summer for all involved,” Anderson said. “We want to keep as much sameness as possible. It provides stability, it provides recognition by campers that this is still camp. They may look a little bit different, but this is the same camp.”
While Gov. Abbott’s reopening checklist for overnight youth camps is only three pages long, camp directors have to turn those guidelines into specific procedures. Camp Director Steve Baskin of Camp Champions near Highland Haven has compiled a 70-page document listing rules and procedures for operating during the pandemic. The document includes everything from washing hands for at least 20 seconds to the breakdown of cabins and cohorts and quarantine procedures.
“I have walked the property with a professor of infectious disease and asked where should I be masked, where can I be unmasked?” Baskin said. “Where can I be unmasked and inside of six feet?”
Sometimes, activities can be changed simply by adapting the number of campers participating at once. In some cases, campers and staff will have to wear masks. One idea Baskin had was permitting older campers to slow dance at one event — provided they keep the length of an actual pool noodle between them.
“My goal here is not just to survive this summer,” Baskin said. “I want kids to look back and say, ‘Yeah, that’s where I learned to be strong and we had fun.’”