For Katie Richter, summer is all about camp.
The mother of two young children started going to Covenant Bay Bible Camp at Pigeon Lake, Alta., when she was a child.
“Camp has impacted all of who I am,” said Richter.
“Some of my very best friends are friends that I started going to camp with. We saw each other every summer.”
Richter said four of those friends were bridesmaids in her wedding.
As a teen, Richter worked at Covenant Bay, staying away from home for the majority of the summer and building up her confidence and independence.
“You just have these really quality young adults pouring in to kids in a way that is so foundational,” said Richter. “I think you learn new skills, build new friendships.”
That is her hope for her eight-year-old son Sutton. He will return to Covenant Bay for day camp this summer and by next summer he plans to stay overnight.
“I like hanging out with my friends,” said Sutton. “I like swimming in Pigeon Lake. I especially like playing games.”
Covenant Bay Bible Camp is one of thousands of camps across the country that have now been given the green light to open for the summer.
Provincial protocols will be followed, but exactly what that will look like is still in the works.
Jon Drebert, executive director of Covenant Bay Bible Camp, said Alberta Health Services has approved rapid COVID-19 testing at the camp but by the time the overnight camps open on July 12, 2021, the province will be in Stage 3 and all restrictions will be lifted.
Drebert said the camp is still waiting for more clarity from the Alberta government but staff will do their “very best to create a safe summer camp for all, which may include rapid testing.”
Until those overnight camps open, Covenant Bay will operate as a campground to help generate “much-needed income.”
Stéphane Richard, president of the Canadian Camping Association (CCA), the national federation of nine provincial camping associations, said many camps are in a dire financial situation.
Overnight camps had been closed for more than a year and had not collected any revenue since the summer of 2019.
“There’s not been many sectors that have been mandated to be closed for that amount of time,” said Richard.
While most provinces have now given camps the green light, the challenge is finding enough staff and pivoting to reopen on time. Some camps may still choose to run alternative models like day camps, family camps and reduced capacity.
“We understand we’re still in a pandemic. We’re not out of the woods yet, we still need to be cautious,” said Richard.
He added many of the non-profit camps need financial help beyond the summer to stay open post-pandemic — parents and children are counting on those camps. The CCA says its members serve about three million children across Canada.
“We are so much more than just fun,” Richard said.
“This year is so important because we know so many children and youth are struggling with mental health.”
Richard said the beauty of camp is that children don’t know they’re learning about community, healthy habits and physical literacy.
The CCA is confident camps will run safely this season. Many are already set up for social distancing scenarios and cohort camp groups.
“Camps can certainly change a kid’s life,” Richard said.
“If they don’t have that experience now and they didn’t last year, I think that’s a dangerous trend that we’re going in.”
Richter called camp an “all-inclusive vacation for kids.”
“There are chores but they’re different chores and it’s different food and lots of games and fun time. You definitely grow in independence and capability attending summer camp.”
After a school year of social distancing, masking and limited sports, Sutton can’t wait for freedom at camp which includes rock wall climbing.
“It’s just a really good time,” said Sutton.
His mother, now a board member of Covenant Bay Bible Camp, is eager to have Sutton away from the screen and exploring the outdoors.
“I hope that he loves it as much as I did and stays involved in it his whole life like I have.”