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COVID-19 pandemic creates mixed results for summer camps in Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Two overnight summer camps in Teller County have closed for the season, just as the season was starting.

It's because of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' announcement Tuesday that overnight camps are not yet considered safe to operate because of the COVID-19 pandemic and must remain closed through the month of June.

Officials with Sky High Ranch, a Girl Scouts camp, and Blue Mountain Ranch said they won't wait to see if their facilities are allowed to open in July.

It's believed that more than 1,000 kids attend both camps each summer, and the camps also employ dozens of staff members, counselors and volunteers.

"Being able to safely have girls come on site with 120 girls per session, to safely run the numbers and have the quality camp experience for them, we just didn't see that was an option for us this summer," said Lindsay Standish, a spokesperson with Girl Scouts Colorado."

"Thank goodness this pandemic didn't come during cookie season," she said. "The girls use cookie sales to pay for summer camp. So they won't be able to go this year, but they can use their accumulated points next summer. We are working hard to provide virtual and online programs to replace the camp experience."

Officials with Blue Mountain Ranch were unavailable for comment Tuesday, but a notice of the closure was posted on the ranch's website, along with a letter explaining the decision.

"We find it very unsettling that the information about residential camps is coming out so slowly," the letter states. "At this time there are just
too many questions about COVID-19 that have yet to be answered, and we are just now starting to find out how it affects children."

The summer camp industry expects to receive an update on the situation from Polis and state health officials in mid-June. But it's feared that more overnight camps could decide to close, or even go out of business, by being closed for a month or possibly longer.

Camp Shady Brook, a YMCA facility in Douglas County, is also closed because of the governor's order.

"There's obviously different scenarios and different considerations you have to take when you run an overnight camp," said Jamie Holstein, of the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region. "Kids are staying in cabins with other kids.  The activities are a little bit different."

Eagle Lake Camps, owned by The Navigators, is near the El Paso/ Teller county line county and is closed because of the situation, as well.

"We agree that the governor is doing the right thing and we stand with him," said Mark Heffentrager, the camp director. "We were supposed to have people in camp this week, but we went ahead and shut things down. This is going to be hard on camps that rely solely on enrollment fees and don't have other sources of income like the YMCA and Girl Scouts do."

Heffentrager said he believes he can safely operate the camp by using smaller cabins instead of larger cabins.

"The thing is, we're not seeing a drop in enrollment," he said. "People still want to come. Let's face it, after being cooped up at home for online learning, kids need camps -- and so do their parents."

Meanwhile, Polis also announced Tuesday that day camps are allowed to open June 1, meaning many will miss only the first week of the season.

Some day camp operators plan to have smaller group sizes and maintain social distancing and cleaning to protect the health of kids, staff, counselors, volunteers and parents.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.