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BOULDER,CO – JUNE 11, 2019: Jen Anderson, of Thorne Nature Experience, helps Olivia Cheshire cross the creek. Thorne Nature Experience preschool summer camp will open in the Fall. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Boulder’s Alicen Kandt said her initial plans for the summer for her 5 year old and 8 year old included camps, vacation and occasional help from grandparents.

Now, she said, the camps she signed up for are “playing it by ear,” but most likely will be virtual, especially early in the summer, as camps grapple with how to operate safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are looking for backup plans because virtual is not an acceptable option for us,” she said, noting she and her husband are currently working full time from home. “I need my kids to be off of the computer that they’ve been glued to for distance learning and out of the house and not needing our supervision so that we can do work.”

She said she would feel comfortable sending her children to a mostly outdoor camp with good safety protocols — and would like to minimize exposure to their elderly parents. Hiring a nanny is another option, but she’s comcerned a nanny will find it challenging to keep her kids busy with so many places still closed.

“The uncertainty and inconsistency of guidance and public directives make planning the future very difficult for us, but also for the camp providers,” she said. “It’s also so difficult to know what is best and safest for us, our community and our local, elderly family members who normally provide backup childcare.”

Many parents, especially working parents, started carefully mapping out summer plans months ago, registering for camps, organizing trips and picking activities.

But continued coronavirus concerns have turned summer into a big question mark.

Camps are canceling, moving online or greatly reducing the number of kids they can serve amid uncertainty about what guidelines they will need to follow. Travel also remains uncertain, while state parks are still figuring out how to safely open for camping. Pools, libraries, playgrounds and recreation centers may not open at all.

At the same time, stay at home orders are lifting and parents working remotely may soon be asked to return to the office — necessitating childcare. Camp operators acknowledge that there will be both fewer options overall this summer and fewer options for working parents who depend on summer camps.

Adding to the uncertainty, the White House last week rejected detailed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on opening summer camps, churches, schools and other places, as reported by the New York Times.

Boulder County Public Health now is waiting on safety protocols to operate summer camps from the state Department of Public Health and Environment, spokeswoman Chana Goussetis said, adding state guidance is expected next week.

In the meantime, some camps have decided to either move online or cancel.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Science Discovery STEM classes made the decision to switch to an online format in mid-April, shortly after the university canceled all in-person events through July 31.

The Longmont Museum also is moving all its summer camps online, as is Growing Gardens in Boulder.

Legend Teller, 8, picks edible flowers ...
Legend Teller, 8, picks edible flowers from the garden during a camp at Growing Gardens in Boulder on July 16, 2019. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

School-based programs that have been canceled include the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Community Schools summer programs and Boulder Country Day School’s summer camps.

The Adams 12 School District is still deciding how to handle its summer BASE childcare program, while Dawson School officials say they’re waiting on more guidance before making a decision. The Dawson School, in Lafayette, typically runs about 100 camps over eight weeks.

Girl Scouts of America has canceled all of its summer camp programs through July 31, leaving open the possibility for “some sort of outdoor programming in the latter half of the summer.” Cal-Wood, near Jamestown, also has canceled its summer residential camp programs.

For teens, volunteer opportunities and typical summer jobs, such as lifeguard and camp counselor, will be limited. The much-loved Boulder County Youth Corps summer job program also was canceled.

Boulder’s Kristin DeLorenzo said the Boulder County Youth Corps program was the main option for her 14-year-old daughter this summer. She also had a full line up of summer camps planned for her 9-year-old twins. Along with not knowing if some of those camps will continue, she said, she doesn’t know if road trips can happen and if libraries and pools will open

“Everything has changed,” she said, adding the uncertainty is one reason she decided to take a leave of absence from her job as a project manager. “Part of the problem is the inability to plan. I have no idea what the summer is going to bring.”

Most of the camps that aren’t closing, so far, are those with childcare licenses or that operate mainly outdoors.

The YMCA of Northern Colorado, which runs programs in Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont, is committed to offering camps this summer — though what guidelines those camps will need to meet are still being determined, said CEO Chris Coker.

“All the YMCAs in the state decided that we’re going to run camp,” he said. “We’re waiting on our individual health departments on guidance on how to run safely.”

The YMCA started offering emergency childcare for essential workers soon after schools closed in mid-March and so already has safety protocols in place, he said.

As with the current childcare program, children will stay in the same group all day, with the same staff member. Groups are limited to 10, temperatures are checked each morning and frequent handwashing is required. Coker also said he recently ordered five pallets of hand sanitizer in preparation for summer camp and is investing in supplies for activities kids can do on site.

What won’t be part of the summer camps this year, he said, are field trips. And whether swimming will be allowed is still in question.

“The Y is the largest childcare provider in the U.S.,” he said. “We have to figure out how to operate day camps successfully. The country can’t be closed for the next year while we figure this out. We know parents have to work.”

Several municipal camp programs, including Camp Erie, Longmont’s summer camps and Broomfield’s Camp Explorer, are planning to offer similar childcare-based summer options — limiting group size and following the same social distancing and sanitation requirements as other childcare centers while nixing field trips.

Jayden Wallace, 9, left, and Stella Thoreson, 10, play in a tree swing at Sunflower Farm on June 8, 2018. (File photo)

Longmont’s Sunflower Farm, a licensed childcare center, so far also is moving forward with its preschool and school age summer programs, citing its small group sizes and large, outdoor space.

Even for the outdoor camps planning to offer small in-person groups, there are unknowns and the possibility of future cancellations.

While limited outdoor recreation places reopened as Boulder County moved Saturday to its safer at home initiative, playgrounds and recreation centers are still closed. Decisions on what can reopen also vary by community. Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park and skate parks, for example, are open. Lafayette’s skate park remains closed.

Square State Skate, which offers skateboarding lessons around Boulder County, is planning to go forward with its outdoor summer skate camps, with some modifications that include limiting group size, reducing how many skate parks are visited in a day and requiring participants to wear a face covering on bus rides.

Owner Brian Ball said he also has contingency plans, from using Square State’s 3,000 square-foot indoor skatepark in Boulder to swapping skate spaces with other skate camps to using backyard skate spots or friends’ ramps.

“Adapting is a skateboarders’ superpower,” he said.

While some camps are still waiting on guidance before deciding if they can open this summer, two local outdoor camps that made decisions in April were Avid4 Adventure and Thorne Nature Experience.

At Thorne, Executive Director Keith Desrosiers said, the plan is for smaller groups, with five or fewer students each, and a two weeks on, one week off schedule with camps closed every third week. Only current full-time instructors and previous seasonal instructors will be hired.

Parents can choose between open groups that include campers from families they may not know or signing up for a closed group where one or more families fill the entire camp group. All camps will be site based to avoid the need to bus campers.

Because of the changes, Desrosiers said, Thorne’s summer enrollment will only be 10% to 20% of a typical summer. The organization does plan to offer scholarships to campers at the same ratio, one out of five, as in the past, he said.

More than 150 parents, all with existing summer camp reservations, enrolled in the new small-group camps in the first 12 hours, he said, adding he’s waiting for local governments to open the permits for camps to use parks and open space properties.

“We have worked hard to develop contingency plans for how we will operate under various scenarios,” he said. “We know camp won’t be the same as it has in the past, but (I am) confident we can provide the kids we serve, and their parents, with a high quality and safe and needed program.”

Avid4 Adventure is offering similar options to replace its traditional, multi-sport day camps, as well as adding on online option.

Avid CEO Paul Dreyer said the way the camps are usually run created two main concerns — one was gathering in large groups of 150 or so children at central location and the other was transporting those children in groups of 15 on buses to various camp locations.

Instead, this summer’s day camps will start June 15 and operate in small groups of five that will meet at the camp location for paddleboarding, kayaking, mountain biking or rock climbing.

For parents who feel that option would be too risky, a camp staff member can come to their home and use the backyard or a nearby trailhead or park to deliver the curriculum. The final option is half-day online camps — which are also the option if coronavirus cases increase and stay at home orders go back into effect.

Like others, he said, Avid4 Adventure also is waiting on permits to know where its smaller camp programs can operate.

“We do all of our activities on open space land and state parks,” he said. “We have to get special permissions to use those lands. We’re uncertain what that will look like this summer.”

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