by Dan Colton
for The Beacon
For the first time in 94 years, Camp Anokijig is delaying its summer programming as the threat of the new coronavirus persists.
“Currently, our staff are working incredibly hard to develop a program for this summer,” said Darin Holden, executive director of Camp Anokijig, saying that employees at camp have been monitoring four separate guidelines in order to formulate a plan of action: Guidelines from the American Camp Association, the Center for Disease Control, the state of Wisconsin and Sheboygan County.
“In looking at all those factors, and at what would be the best at this time … we did cancel our first two (weekly) sessions and gave folks the opportunity to go on a waiting list for the other sessions of the summer,” said Holden.
The third session begins June 28.
Camp Anokijig, founded in 1926, is a residential summer camp for children ages 7 to 16. Hundreds of kids historically pass through the campgrounds for nine weeks every summer, spending their days with activities on the Little Elkhart Lake waterfront, at the horse corral, the bow-and-arrow range, and more.
But with the new coronavirus forcing change into nearly every facet of daily life, summer camps have similarly adapted to the times.
Beginning this summer, Holden said Camp Anokijig will be splitting campers into dedicated pods, or “cohorts,” of 20 kids each. That measure is intended to reduce the number of physical interaction between individuals.
“It’s very much like what people are asked to do right now at home,” Holden said. “(Social distancing) amongst your household is different than with somebody else’s household.”
The number of weekly campers will also be cut from about 350 to 120, Holden said, as a safety precaution. About half the usual number of staffers will be on-site during any given week.
But most of Anokijig’s activities will still be available to one pod of campers at a time.
“Twenty kids and five staff would live together and would move throughout camp doing activities,” Holden said. “…While they’re at those activities, another group has access to (another set of activities), so it’s kind of a round robin,” Holden said.
At Camp Anokijig, pretty much everyone — including campers, counselors and other employees — eats at the Western Lodge, a large cafeteria building that overlooks the water of Little Elkhart Lake.
According to Holden, the lodge’s normal open-floor plan is being modified this summer into three rooms with dividers between. That way, Holden said, the various pods don’t come into close social contact with another pod.
Boxed meals may also be served, said Holden, along with mandatory social distancing in the food line, and an additional option to eat outdoors.
Nurse and health stations will also be split apart into three separated locations, Holden said, including one section reserved for potential COVID-19 cases.
With the first two weeks of camp nixed, Holden said customers were given the option of a full refund or to transfer the credit over to next year.
Campers scheduled to attend those first two weeks, Holden said, could also choose to be put on a waiting list for another week later this summer or to donate their fee to camp.
And while some families chose to cancel their Anokijig plans for 2020, just as many new families stepped in to take their place, Holden said. It’s a completely new experience for families and the camp, and Holden said everyone is just trying to figure out what works for the new normal.
He said Anokijig is looking deeply at how to make the summer camp experience a safe and enjoyable one in the midst of a viral pandemic.
Cancelling trips off the Anokijig premises will be mandated, and the camp’s famous campfire may be moved, rearranged or expanded to allow for increased social distancing.
It’s all part of an effort to keep a nearly 100-year effort going.
“Just know that we’re hoping to provide programs for our community, because kids need this,” Holden said. “We believe it’s our mission to try to make this work … It’s even more important this year than any other year. Kids need this release, this away-from-home time, for their psychological health.”
In contact with other camps throughout the Midwest, Holden said some have decided to remain shuttered for the summer season.
“In Wisconsin, as of last week, I think we had about 60 percent of camps to cease operations for this summer,” Holden said Monday. “There was about 30 percent … that were delaying operations, doing alternative operations like us.”
He called the situation “unprecedented.”
“There have been times when we’ve dealt with different sicknesses coming through (Camp Anokijig) for short times,” Holden said. “… but to take the step of actually cancelling weeks, I’m the first (executive director) that’s had to do that in 94 years.”
Our goal is to provide an incredibly unique experience for everybody,” Holden continued. “That’s part of camp, and we look for outrageous fun, but we never forget about the safety. This decision had to be made based on safety.”