Summer has arrived in the North Woods!
As soon as I say something like that, the forecast will probably change and call for snow this weekend! Ha! Something light to start off the update from Camp Nicolet today.
In all seriousness, signs of summer are in the air and it’s WONDERFUL! An evening walk around camp abounds with sounds of tree frogs chirping, the tiny creatures hidden away in the wetlands. A warm breeze finds its way across Franklin Lake, the last of the snow piles surrendering to warmer temps. Stars pop in the clear night sky! Which admittedly, when it’s clear this time of year, it’s often still cold! But the juxtaposition of warm days and cold nights only adds to the mystique of this transitional time of year.
Yes, it’s true. Summer’s in the air, and, as we’ve said many times before, with that comes excitement for the forthcoming camp season! Although metaphorically we feel like we’re an airliner using a back-up runway for take-off at a major airport, we’re excited for the journey ahead. We’re using the back-up runway because we’re putting into place a somewhat non-traditional approach to our 76th summer season. We’re taking into consideration COVID-19 and planning risk management measures. Some of my previous Blogs take you through our initial precautions.
Since my last update, we’ve attended webinars sponsored by the American Camp Association. We’re in touch with a representative from the Forest County Health Department who is continually providing helpful guidelines from the State of Wisconsin. Just two days ago we met with Nurse Sue, who will be on staff with us part-time again this summer, and Georgi, Matt, Mary Anna, and Sue began charting the course for the safe coordination of Opening Days – the beginnings of Sessions II and III at camp – and what will be the best way to greet campers, deliver luggage, and get everyone “checked in” at the beginning of their respective stays? We’re getting into the “nitty gritty” and are working the fine details of how each day is going to go at camp, in the spirit of reducing the risk associated with COVID-19.
I spoke with a fellow Camp Director a few weeks ago, and we shared a moment of honesty on the phone. This is something I have not yet put in writing in one of our Blogs, mainly because it’s something I hadn’t thought of before that conversation. See, Camp Owners and Directors sometimes like to think of themselves as Super Heroes. It’s true – we work hard for 10, 11, 12 weeks during the summer; working to be attentive to details of camp logistics, peoples’ emotions, and fostering positive relationships with campers, staff, parents, and alumni. We sometimes get it in our heads that “no mountain is too tall”, “no problem is without solution”, and with effort “everything is possible.” Sometimes, our ego leads us to believe we can “conquer all” – or at least satisfactorily point someone in the right direction; with the promise of a check-in or follow-up later. But here’s the reality – and here’s the honest moment that was shared with another Camp Director recently – we are NOT Super Heroes. We’re human, just like everyone else.
COVID-19, like those mountains we climb in Colorado, is something much bigger than ourselves. We can do everything in our power to prepare for the virus, just like we do everything possible to plan for a successful ascent to the Boulderfield at 12,700 feet. But the virus, the mountains, the world around us generally – is much bigger than we are. Camp Directors aren’t Super Heroes. Georgi and I have been at this a long time – about 70 summers of combined experience – and Mary Anna has been around private residential education for about 15 years herself – but none of us are perfect. And camp’s not perfect, although we idealize it to be. We cannot guarantee a perfect 2020 summer experience at Camp Nicolet. We cannot guarantee – although we’re taking many precautions – camp will be COVID-19 free this summer. Any of us who are in attendance at Nicolet this summer; campers, staff, (wait, there won’t be anyone else as camp is closed to visitors this summer…) are at risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
I put that in writing because we need to be accountable and honest. Of course, we don’t want Coronavirus as camp. But it might exist. I want you to know we’ll do our best; with procedures, screening, and risk-management. But we’re not Super Heroes. I cannot guarantee we’ll be perfect this summer. This may be sobering to hear. It’s even hard to write.
If the risk is a deal-breaker, we understand. Check out this Blog for the latest and greatest on our Cancellation Policy. Credit and Refund Options are available, and we’ve made things even easier in working with our families during what have become difficult financial times.
If honesty isn’t a deal-breaker, then I want to tell you a bit more about what to expect programmatically this summer, as we’ve been busy considering the best options to manage the risk of COVID-19 inside “the camp bubble.”
Opening Day and camper arrival is going to look a bit different this year than we’ve experienced in the past. Campers arrive to the Lodge on the back road and will be checked in by staff and our Health Team. Once cleared, they will be able to remove any masks and will proceed to Patches to complete the remainder of the check-in process (lice screening) and then will be able to proceed to cabins for unpacking.
To keep total group numbers small, we’ve established two shorter meal periods for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. The camp will be divided into two meal groups; and those meal groups will be divided into a group which eats in the Dining Hall, and one which eats – with 270-degree lake views – in the Library. This keeps total group size small and allows for more personal space during mealtime. Don’t worry – meals will still be full of life, with announcements, songs, and more.
Another temporary change for 2020 is we’re using our traditional model of cabin group participation in “core” activities. As returning campers already know, we have 4 one-hour long activity periods Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and an alternating set of 4 one-hour long activity periods on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. With some exceptions for campers electing “Double Riding” and “Double Skiing,” cabins will travel as a group to their “core” activities during each of these hours. “Core” activities include Horseback Riding, Water Skiing/Wakeboarding, Smallcraft, Swimming, Tennis, Sports, Arts & Crafts, and Showers/Canteen. With the two shorter meal periods, traveling to “core” activities by cabin is the best option for making sure cabin groups can still eat together and have cabin time together during Capers & Rest Hour. Otherwise, different campers from different cabins would be coming and going from Capers, Rest Hour, and meals at different times – and traveling to “core” activities by cabin is the most efficient way to keep schedules organized and cabin groups cohesive.
5th Hour and Evening Elective Activities will remain mostly the same, and the opportunity still exists to sign up for exciting Electives once per week! Never fear, you’ll still get to hang out with friends outside of your cabin group!
Another temporary change for 2020, which has roots in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s decades of Camp Nicolet, is the camp will be divided into three Units. Campers from the ’90s forward are familiar with the East End (younger campers) and West End (older campers) as tradition. Prior to the ’90s however, when Nicolet had almost 145 campers (at one time – for 8 weeks!) – the camp was divided into Juniors, Intermediates, and Seniors (three Units).
While capacity at Nicolet is now 95 – and with Session II being sold out and Session III being nearly full – we’re innovating a way to keep our “large group” activities – like Campfire, Talent Shows, and Unit Nights – to smaller sizes. Welcome back Juniors, Intermediates, and Seniors! – in the spirit of more personal space; mitigating the risk of COVID-19. Those of you at Nicolet this summer will get to be part of something perhaps only your parents or grandparents remember – and have a corresponding patch for on their camper jacket! Larger group activities are scheduled by Unit.
Admittedly, Campfires and Talent Shows will have a different feel. We’re sensitive to this, and we realize this departs from your usual expectation of camp. But I assure you, we’ll still be outside, we’ll still be together, we’ll still be with our friends (most of them – unless they’re lots younger or older than you) and most importantly, we’ll still BE AT CAMP. Hooray! And, no matter the size of an “Intermediates Campfire” or a “Seniors Campfire” we’ll still sing the usual songs, do the usual skits, and we’ll still have fun. And remember, it’s only for 2020 (we hope) as we Learn to Live – and work – Together to keep camp a safe and healthy place in light of Coronavirus.
In the weeks to come, before staff arrivals on June 14th, 26th, 28th, and July 1st, I have my work cut out for me compiling a written Camp Nicolet 2020 Operations Guide – which addresses our community & departmental protocol in relation to operating amidst COVID-19. This will be shared with all staff, parents, and campers. I don’t know how long this will take me to write at this time, but my intent is to work on it daily around other physical camp preparation projects. It will be based on the best-practice information we’re now receiving from the Forest County Health Department, American Camp Association, CDC, our own Staff Members, and information shared between other camps and Camp Directors.
I hope to have a copy of the Camp Nicolet 2020 Operations Guide in your hands for review by mid-June. Information in that guide will be invaluable to consider as you prepare for your 2020 experience at Camp Nicolet. Our goal is to mentally prepare all staff, parents, and campers as much as possible to minimize the element of surprise and to keep our valued employees and families well-informed. If you have any questions or suggestions as I compile best-practice information, please contact me.
As we continue to evolve with Coronavirus, that’s the latest from Camp Nicolet. While COVID-19’s on our radar, we remain excited for the summer ahead. I’ve spoken with overwhelmingly supportive and optimistic parents; each expressing hope for summer at camp for their children. While we are not Super Heroes, we’ll retain our cautiously optimistic attitude that we’ll do our best to provide a safe and healthy summer experience. And about this I’m certain; I remain grateful for your continuing support of Camp Nicolet and Northpoint Adventures. Unless something changes drastically, we can’t wait to see you in July. Prepare for take off!
Very sincerely – Jeremy Starz / Owner & Director of Operations