It's no secret people are looking for ways to save money this summer. Children's recreation is no exception in a long list of ways families are cutting back.
Most summer camps in Greater Waterbury and Litchfield County are preparing for the worst. As applications slowly trickle in, camp directors and those who oversee camps are expecting enrollment declines of as much as 15 percent from last year.
In Torrington, Camp Torymca director Kate Dziedzic said registrations are lagging this year.
"Because of the times, we are seeing a little bit of a decline in enrollment," Dziedzic said. "People just don't have jobs and they just don't have the money to send their children to camp."
On the other hand, Dziedzic said, she has received new registrations from families where one parent used to stay home and is now working. The cost for a week of camp is $155.
The American Camp Association oversees camp programs across the country. Bette Bussel, executive director of ACA New England, said about 2.5 million children attend camp in New England. She was unsure how many attend Connecticut camps, but said there are 230 camps currently licensed in the state. Municipal camps are not included in the count, as they do not need to be licensed.
Bussel said that, as of February, enrollment had been projected to drop 5 to 15 percent in some camps. Those estimates have proven accurate, she said, though the trend is not consistent.
"It doesn't matter whether a camp is a day camp or an overnight camp, privately owned or agency owned," Bussel said. "Some are doing as well or better, some are doing the same, and some are doing a little worse."
Tony Sharillo, director of Camp Mataucha in Watertown, said enrollment is coming in slower than it has in the past, but "we seem to be picking up speed." Enrollment starts at $340 per two-week session.
Sharillo said most of the campers are from Waterbury, Watertown, Thomaston and Naugatuck. "We hope that our numbers will be about the same (as last year), but we are prepared for them to be down," Sharillo said.
Girl Scouts of Connecticut operates 11 camps across the state for girls entering grades 1 through 12, including Camp An-Se-Ox in Oxford, which charges $180 a week and draws day campers from Naugatuck Valley communities from Shelton to Waterbury.
"Like others, we are feeling the effects of the current economy and are seeing families holding off on their decisions for summer camp," said Communications and Public Relations Manager Dana Rogers. "We are currently experiencing a decrease of approximately 25 percent over last year, but we have noticed a recent pick-up in enrollments that we hope will continue."
Day camps aren't the only ones feeling the effects of the economy. Camp Mohawk, an overnight camp in Litchfield, pulls girls from more than 200 cities and towns. Patrick Marchand, camp director, said enrollment is "not too bad," but is "definitely down from last year overall." He said a normal two-week session is priced at $1,250.
"People are still waiting, it seems, to find out if they have enough money for camp," Marchand said.
Not all camps are hurting.
Tucked away in the northern woods of Torrington is Camp Wah-Nee, where campers have access to an Olympic-sized heated swimming pool, indoor gymnasium, a climbing wall and bumper boats, among other amenities. Enrollment has increased from last year. Parents incur an $8,545 tuition fee for the 51-day overnight session, making a summer here more costly than a year's worth of in-state tuition at the University of Connecticut.
Camp Owner Dave Stricker said his camp is "the top echelon of camping" and that it will be filled to its capacity of 400 campers when the session begins June 30. Most of these campers aren't local.
"People are so depressed about the economy," Stricker said. "What they don't often realize is you're going to spend money to entertain your kids at home. Even if they don't go anywhere, it's still going to cost money."
This article appeared on pages 1A and 8A in the June 17, 2009 issue of the Republican-American, Waterbury CT©
CIVIL WAR LED ABOLITIONIST TO SUMMER CAMPING
WASHINGTON, Conn. — Be it summer camp for the kids, or a family vacation to a campground, camping is a quintessential American getaway. So pitch a tent and unroll that sleeping bag this summer, but remember, you have a Connecticut man to thank.
The American Camp Association credits Frederick Gunn, founder of The Gunnery prep school in Washington, with creating the first organized American camp in 1861.
Bette Bussel, executive director of ACA New England, said Gunn decided that students needed to "get outside" and "be with nature" in the summer.
"Many people consider that the first camp," Bussel said.
Paula Krimsky, director of communication for The Gunnery, said Gunn was an abolitionist involved in the Underground Railroad. He wanted his students to experience what camping was like for the Union soldiers, so he walked with them 40 miles from Washington to Milford, where they camped on the beach for two to three weeks at a time.
"They sang songs, they wrote poems, they fished," she said.
The students learned camping, cooking and military skills every other year for five years until the Civil War ended.
"It was so popular and the kids were so fond of it that they started doing it on Lake Waramaug in Washington," Krimsky said. "This continued practically until (Gunn) died. We're not exactly sure, but we think the last one was about 1879."
Today, 148 years after Gunn planted the recreational camping seed, there are 230 licensed camps and at least 52 campgrounds in Connecticut alone.
This article appeared on page 8A in the June 17, 2009 issue of the Republican-American, Waterbury CT©