Campers Get Needed Pandemic Break

Balcones Springs staff finds communication key

As summer camps look toward their 2021 seasons, success stories of last year’s pandemic crash-course are emerging as an essential resource for how to approach an even more ambiguous Covid-19 summer.

Although outbreak horror stories arose from overnight camps across the country, many organizations found ways to operate safely, including Camp Balcones Springs, a residential summer camp nestled in a sleepy lake town north of Austin.

Camp Balcones Springs, which typically holds four sessions each summer, operated last year for just five weeks. In that time, CBS welcomed 400 campers and 80 staff members to its property and saw only two isolated cases of Covid-19.

Although some camps were able to carry out successful camp seasons by securing testing kits, Balcones Springs’ owner and director, Christine Baskin, attributes her camp’s “test-free” success to its constant and detailed communication with camper families.

“I think the chance to be outside, connect with friends, and have some dose of normalcy – even if it was quite different – was monumental for them.”

Christine Baskin

“At the time, there was a great testing shortage, and we didn’t want to require campers be tested before arrival if they had no travel or exposure,” she said. “We felt it would have been irresponsible of us – from a community perspective – to take away from tests that were much-needed elsewhere. So we spent a lot of time trying to find a way around that.”

In addition to modifying traditional programs – employing twice-daily temperature checks, practicing social distancing via cabin “cohorts,” and making significant changes to meal service and cleaning regimens – CBS implemented an aggressive communication schedule. Emails went out two to three times a week and stressed the importance of quarantining before arrival.

“There was a huge element of trust with our camp families,” Baskin said. “We were doing everything we could to make camp happen, and we tried to be in touch with them as much as possible to ensure they too would hold up their end of the bargain. I think our constant communication really helped, both in establishing trust from them and in making sure they knew how serious we were expecting them to be.”

CBS is preparing for a full and much more “traditional” camp season this year. However, the vigilant staff remains ready to enact similar Covid-19 safety protocols as 2020, pending the state of the pandemic.

Although last year’s summer, while successful, proved a high cost for the camp, with decreased enrollment and additional safety expenses putting a financial strain on the business, Baskin called the joy exhibited by campers well-worth it.

“Children last year had a sense of delight I had not seen in previous summers,” she said. “I think the chance to be outside, connect with friends, and have some dose of normalcy – even if it was quite different – was monumental for them. We had our most positive camper reviews of any year – which I was not expecting. Children typically dislike any change we make, and there was obviously so much of it last year.”

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