Morning drop-off at Winding Trails Summer Day Camp in 2020 (CTNewsJunkie File)

HARTFORD, CT – Summer camps across Connecticut are gearing to open for the season with fewer COVID-19 protocols than last year, a welcome return to some normalcy for the youngest residents who have experienced the most disruption from the pandemic. 

Masks are off outdoors, according to a memo from Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood. And children in residential camps don’t have to wear masks indoors when they’re in their cabin, bunk or living area. 

Following state guidelines, vaccination of staff or children is not required to attend summer camps, but it is highly recommended for those over the age of 12. Daily health checks, routine cleaning and staying in small groups will still be expected. 

“It is important to note that while requirements may be lifted, the OEC strongly recommends that providers continue their efforts to implement public health policies and procedures consistent with CDC recommendations, to ensure the continued safe operation of programs serving young children,” OEC Commissioner Beth Bye wrote in the memo. “Some programs or individuals may prefer to continue to implement enhanced health practices.”

Last month, the CDC updated its standards for camps this summer. Since then, Connecticut has individually prepared its own path to pre-pandemic camping balancing preventive measures.

Winding Trails Day Camp in Farmington is one of many camps operating with new measures in place. Camp Director Keith Garbart is confident that the camp’s experience operating last summer will guide the program to succeed even further this year.

“I feel COVID-19 has given us a chance to reinvent how camp looks and help us better serve our camp community by focusing on connections based on experiences,” Garbart said. “Camp truly is about the connections you make with others and I feel we were able to do that in the summer of 2020 and look forward to enhancing that in 2021.” 

Enrollment of Winding Trails campers has increased in comparison to last year and the camp has a waitlist of interested families. Garbart said that the previous summer’s success mirrors the importance behind establishing these kinds of opportunities for children. 

“The opportunity for kids to get outside and be around other children and experience all that camp can offer is priceless,” Garbart said. “The connections children make at camp are unmatched and something they will remember forever. The opportunity to continue to grow and expand their comfort zones by trying new things and creating life memories is something that I always cherished about working at camp.”

Similarly, other camps across the state are being given the chance to provide children who endured the pandemic with opportunities and funded enrichment programs. 

The state plans to spend $11 million in American Rescue Plan funds toward summer enrichment programs that focus on granting children and their families free or low-cost options for exposure to high-quality intensive and recreational opportunities. 

At a news conference Thursday at Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Gov. Ned Lamont said that 200 camps in over 100 different towns and cities across the state have signed on for the summer. He said these programs have significant importance for children’s success moving forward.  

“We have hundreds of thousands of kids right now whose lives were disrupted over this last year,” Lamont said. “We did our best to keep our schools open, more of them open than anywhere else, but we have 100,000 kids that a lot of them didn’t feel confident getting back into school.” 

Similarly, other camps across the state are also emphasizing the importance of providing children with a sense of normalcy. 

Camp Director at High Meadow Day Camp Ben Chaback said he is eager for children to get back to camp after the challenges posed from incorporating remote learning, mask breaks and cohorts into the educational experience. 

“I am beyond excited for summer 2021 to begin,” Chaback said. “It is going to be amazing to be able to provide a fun and safe summer experience for our campers.”

Chaback said his camp’s families have the same level of optimism and eagerness as the summer season approaches. 

“Parents are excited,” Chaback said. “I hear the word ‘normalcy’ a lot and they are thrilled that their children will be able to experience camp.”