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The return overnight summer camps

MINNESOTA (Axios): Many overnight camps across Minnesota are preparing for a return of campers — and a surge in demand — one year after the pandemic cancelled summer plans for thousands of families.

Why it matters: Closures were devastating for the industry’s financials, but directors say the bigger losses were for kids.

“Kids that didn’t go to camp [last summer], not only didn’t get the mental health benefits of being outdoors, but they didn’t get to be social, gain independence, increase their skills and confidence [while participating] in fun activities,” said Niki Geisler, VP of camping for YMCA of the North.

The state of play: “Enrollment reports look phenomenal compared to 2019,” Geisler said of the Y’s day, overnight and family camps.

Nearly all the sessions at two Minnesota Girl Scout programs, Camp Elk River in Zimmerman and Camp Lakamaga in Marine on the St. Croix, sold out within days, albeit at reduced capacity.

Camp Foley in Pine River is also reporting high demand, with hundreds of campers enrolled and some age groups almost at capacity.

COVID caveats: Camp operators say they expect MDH to update its prevention guidance for overnight youth camps, and most that will open plan to also follow best practices the American Camp Association developed using experiences of the few camps that opened last summer.

Pre-arrival testing and social-distancing protocols, including masking and keeping campers in small groups for contact tracing, will be the norm.

The precautions worked for Camp Pillsbury in Owatonna, which ran several 2020 sessions with zero COVID-19 cases.

The bottom line: “Kids are itching for that independence and that opportunity to go to camp and parents are itching for their children to have the opportunity as well,” ACA president and CEO Tom Rosenberg said.

“But it’s going to require everyone working together to follow these [guidelines].”