• Summer camps: A tradition still going strong
    Correspondent | July 01,2013
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    Erika Mitchell photo

    Participants in the Trad Camp for Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture in Montpelier play instruments.
    When Johnnie and Janie go off to summer camp in Vermont this year, they are doing more than heading for the archery range and riding stables. They are helping Vermont’s economy by boosting a variety of economic sectors from local food purchases to motel and bed and breakfast stays to construction.

    The fee parents pay for their child’s camping experience pays the salaries of Vermont teenagers, college students, as well as artists and musicians.

    While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how much money flows through the Vermont economy from summer camps, an economic impact report in 2012 conducted by Planning Decisions Inc., on behalf of the American Camp Association, Northeast Region, said the youth camping industry had a direct financial benefit of $3.2 billion on nine states including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

    That report counted 7,000 camp programs in the Northeast employing 190,000 people seasonally and 11,000 full time. The report suggested that the local camp industry in Vermont was worth $57.5 million to our state’s economy.

    “We have several camps with 100 or more kids, with families coming from out of state who stay at hotels, buy meals, gas, and shop for their kids,” said Ellen Flight, president of the Vermont Camp Association. She runs Songadeewin of Keewaydin camp in Salisbury adding that, “many of the camps in our association have out of state campers and they all spend money,”

    Employment figures for the VCA are impressive for this seasonal segment of the economy. Marne MacDonagh, the VCA treasurer and membership chairwoman who runs Camp Dudley at Kiniya in Colchester, said her association includes 40 camps. The American Camp Association lists 3,034 camps in operation nationwide.

    In Vermont, on average, there are 100 employees per camp for a total of 4,000 paid employees. Camps employ individuals ranging in age from 16 to 70. The average salary is $1,800 for an eight-week session for a summer camp counselor. Camps like Dudley, which is YMCA affiliated, are exempt from minimum wage requirements as a summer camp. The camp, like many others provides room and board to its counselors. Camp Dudley runs three sessions for a total of 350 girls each paying $4,800.

    MacDonagh said families bringing their daughters to camp often stay in local motels and B&Bs, and spend extra for meals which supports the local economy.

    At the two Keewaydin camps there are 11 year round employees but for the summer that number soars to over 170 seasonal employees. Flight said seasonal employees are primarily college students who earn a salary of more than $3,000. Keewaydin Camp costs $8,250 for an eight-week session and $6,450 for four weeks.

    Camps also have construction needs and hire local companies.

    “We built a new dining hall and kitchen facility in 2011, over ($1.5 million) and hired Naylor and Breen from Brandon, and John Berryhill architect from NBS Architects from Rutland. Other camps do similar hirings,” said Flight.

    Locally, there are no sleep-over camps.

    Lotus Lake in Williamstown is a day camp with 165 campers. Families pay $260 per week for a full day and $175 for a half-day program.

    Camp operator Dorothy Milne said the camp employs a staff of 50 and hires 16-year-olds, as well as adult teachers. A 16-year-old earns $2,400 for eight weeks while adults earn $3,300. Milne said her total payroll is between $150,000 and $200,000 with most employees coming from the local community.

    In addition to salaries, the camp buys locally whenever possible, which includes milk as attendees bring lunch. The camp purchases archery equipment, crafts, cots, sports equipment, and construction materials.

    Lotus Lake is doing well this year.

    “We’re full with a wait list for the summer, and the last three years we’ve been full,” said Milne.

    General Manager Brian Gallagher runs Vermont Mountaineers Youth Baseball Camps. This camp employs coaches and players on the team for four weeks of camp. Coaches and players get paid $9.50 hour for a 15-hour week.

    Gallagher said his camp purchases services and goods and “buys a lot equipment in state for the camp which includes bats and balls, tee shirts and batting tees.” The camp will spend $2,000 for equipment.

    The camp advertises in local media but does promotional trade-offs with the media. It does pay for insurance through a local firm.

    “The economy is still not great but we get a consistent number of kids ranging from 65 to 100 per week. We bring in about 300 campers who pay $95 per session,” said Gallagher.

    The Summit School of Traditional Music in Montpelier runs a Trad Camp for children, which executive director Mary Collins calls “an immersion experience with traditional music.”

    The camp hires musicians and performers in the region to work with youth “in an intensive way to further knowledge and enjoy the music.” The camp is conducted at U-32 from July 29 to Aug. 2.

    Trad Camp will employ 10 teachers with a budget of $7,000 and $5,000 for teacher salaries. The camp will pay for the space it rents, insurance coverage, staffing and supplies such as art activities, snacks and beverages. The cost per attendee is $300 and 30 students are expected.

    Collins said that while the economic impact of her camp and other local arts camps may be small, the impact goes beyond the actual dollars and cents that flow back into the economy. “Arts camps help with the colorful panorama that is our culture. Without these you lose the diversity, we enrich the experience and are the core and foundation of the community,” Collins said.

    MacDonagh said summer camps are important to Vermont’s economy. “The economic impact is incredibly positive and supports the state in ways not recognized including bringing parents who stay here.”
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