Home June 2020 Summer camp ministries hit hard by pandemic restrictions

Summer camp ministries hit hard by pandemic restrictions

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By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher

In recent weeks, much uncertainty faced Christian camps in this part of the Northwest regarding whether they could — or even should — hold summer camps, and under what restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

That uncertainty turned into very certain disappointment for many of the Oregon camps’ leaders when they learned in mid-May, to their surprise, that the state would allow only day camps and no overnight camps for youth.

On May 15, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released new guidance for Phase 1 of the state’s three-phase reopening that included the prohibition on overnight camps for youth.  Earlier guidelines from the governor had indicated overnight stays would be allowed.

Meanwhile, camps in Washington must wait for Phase 3 of that state’s four-phase reopening plan, which would allow gatherings of up to 50 people. Whether Phase 3 could be achieved by this month was uncertain at press time.

In most Oregon counties, the approval of Phase 1, plus additional guidance from the Christian Camp and Conference Association, meant most camps could at minimum legally and safely proceed with day camps in a modified form despite the ongoing coronavirus concerns.

Those state-ordered modifications include: health screenings at entry, dividing campers into static groups of 10 or fewer children, assigning the same staffers to work with the group as much as possible, maintaining physical distancing, use of face coverings by staff, constant disinfection efforts, and no use of swimming pools.

However, several camps announced earlier this spring that they would cancel for the summer.

Making an early decision on April 23 not to hold camp this summer was the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist-operated Big Lake Youth Camp at Santiam Pass.

“We recognize how essential camp is for the thousands of kids, parents, staff, and Pacific Crest Trail hikers that call Big Lake their place of sanctuary and rejuvenation each summer,” said Director Les Zollbrecht. “This decision was one that we have waited as long as possible to make, hoping that something would change the equation of safety.”

Zollbrecht said the summer break will allow much-needed construction on the camp lodge. “This is an urgent situation, and to accomplish it during a year with no camp would be absolutely amazing,” he said.

Similarly, Camp White Branch in the McKenzie Bridge area of Lane County, an outreach of the Churches of God, will not have a summer program and will devote the time to needed construction at the camp. The decision was made May 7.

Camp Kuratli, a Salvation Army facility near Boring, will stay quiet this summer, as will all other Salvation Army camps throughout the western United States.

“The deciding factor in this difficult decision is the love that we have for the kids, and staff, combined with our concern for their health and well-being,” stated the camp website. “The Salvation Army will continue to find ways to restore camp activities as soon as it is possible to safely do so.”

Eagle Fern Camp near Estacada decided in mid-May to cancel its summer schedule because of the state ban on overnight camps, as well as the strict rules on day camps.

“This has been a very difficult decision because we know how important a week of summer camp can be in a camper’s life, but ultimately it is not possible for our camps to proceed this summer,” read the statement on the camp’s web site.

Camp Kellogg Springs, a Nazarene Church facility in Douglas County, also had its summer schedule ended by the governor’s order.

“That’s a big bummer for us, and a bigger bummer for the kids,” said Bill McClendon, guest relations director. “Some of them desperately need the hope available in camping ministries.”

Upward Bound Camp, a ministry in eastern Marion County serving the disabled community, indicated it perhaps would not offer a summer camp because of the pandemic’s ongoing health risks to developmentally disabled adults.

Royal Ridges Retreat, in the Yacolt area of Clark County, Wash., at press time was aiming to run its summer camps as scheduled.

“We have updated our schedule due to some restrictions and due to lower numbers,” said the camp’s executive director, Joshua Tait.  “The only thing that will keep us from running in June is if we don’t get to Phase 3 by the 22nd of June, based on (Gov. Jay) Inslee’s phased opening plan. We are planning to offer full refunds if we are unable to open due to government mandate.”

At Twin Rocks Friends Camp in Rockaway Beach, the May 15 announcement by Brown caught Executive Driector Ken Beebe by surprise. It caused immediate cancellation of a retreat for young adults in early June.

“At this point, Twin Rocks can operate day camps, and we’ve scheduled two great day camps in late June,” Beebe stated on the camp’s web site. “The summertime status of overnight camps is uncertain, though we remain hopeful that restrictions will be eased prior to July 1’s start to our traditional slate of overnight camps.”

Beebe also acknowledged the financial impacts on Twin Rocks of the pandemic, and asked the camp’s supporters to provide special help at this time.

“Before this is over, Twin Rocks will undergo 13 straight weeks without any campers, followed by a summer with less than 50 percent of its normal attendance.,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, Beebe expressed full faith that the Lord would take the camp through the current challenge.

“God’s got this!” he wrote.

Another Friends-affiliated program, Camp Tilikum near Newberg, also is cutting back on the number of enrollees, with about 80 campers on the grounds per week instead of the normal 200, and the same campers in each group all week. There will be health screenings at check-in time, camper groups of 10 or less with two summer staff, no volunteer counselors and social distancing guidelines observed.

“Even with these limitations, children and youth will be able to be outside in God’s creation making friends and learning about Jesus … way more fun than sitting at home!” stated Tilikum Executive Director Dennis Littlefield.

Like Beebe at Twin Rocks, Joe Fahlman, executive director at Trout Creek Bible Camp near Corbett, was surprised by  Brown’s May 15 announcement.

“Over the past few weeks, the situation has been changing almost daily,” Fahlman stated on the camp web site. “At one point we had permission and guidance from the state authorities for running overnight camps this summer, only for that position to be reversed in recent days. We are currently working with other camps and government leaders to appeal Governor Brown’s decision to ban all overnight camps. We’re asking for just a little more patience as we work to get a plan in place.”

Should the ban on overnight camp remain in place, Trout Creek will consider possibly offering day camps, he added.

At Young Life’s Washington Family Ranch in central Oregon, camps do not happen until after mid-June, so whether overnight programs will be allowable by then remained unknown.We are hoping, but it all depends on what is allowed,” said Diane Medema, administrative manager.

Camp Tadmor, a Conservative Baptist-affiliated program near Lebanon, planned by late May to post a “significantly modified” summer schedule at tadmor.org, but whether it could proceed hinged on the ban on overnight camps eventually lifting.

Canyonview Camp near Silverton had planned a mix of both day and overnight camps, but the summer schedule is now being converted to day camps only.

Camp Harlow, a ministry of First Baptist Church in Eugene, has similarly changed its overnight summer camps into day programs.

In response to the state guidelines, Camp Morrow near Mount Hood canceled all overnight camps through July 18 but added that a series of day camps would be announced soon.

At Canby Grove Christian Center near Canby, home of the Jump-In youth ministry, all Jump-In camps have been canceled for the summer.

Camp Yamhill in Yamhill County decided May 19 not to pursue its schedule of sponsored youth camps, which was to have run through the end of July. Camp Manager Scott King said it is unknown whether the state might eventually allow some scheduled overnight rental camps there in late summer.  If not, some of the groups renting the facility might be open to a day-camp format, he said.

As of late May, Camp Tapawingo near Falls City in Polk County was still waiting to hear whether Brown’s ban on overnight camps might be lifted.  If not, the summer schedule of camps will not take place, as Tapawingo does not offer day camps.

Camp Koinonia near Sweet Home also was uncertain at this writing whether it would be able to change its four scheduled overnight camps in July into day camps.