Culture / Travel

Storied Texas Summer Camps Prepare to Open in a New Coronavirus World — What’s Changing and What’s Staying the Same

A Lone Star State Tradition Like No Other Will Go On

BY // 05.21.20

It’s strange to look back on the past year and see how much has changed. Just last summer, I wrote a piece (really an ode) dedicated to one of the state’s most coveted traditions – Texas summer camps.

Deep in the heart of Texas, where the words “Hill Country” quite literally come to life, a host of these storied, idyllic and competing oases beckon campers. In previous years, first term campers would already be gearing up for what would surely be “the best summer yet.” Now would be the time for the classic Target and Walmart runs to stock up.

Socks? Check. Shampoo? Check. Stationary? Check.

And of course, the actual packing – the counting, recounting, and re-recounting – to make sure that you did in fact pack enough Comfort Colors T-shirts and Nike shorts to last a month.

For weeks, months even, Texas summer camps have been anxiously waiting to see how the summer would unfold under the dark shadow of COVID-19. What would the Strike Force to Open Texas decide regarding their fates?

And now they know.

On May 18, Governor Greg Abbott announced that, as part of his effort to reopen Texas, youth camps would be allowed to open for the summer (starting May 31), but with clear guidelines and requirements to help mitigate any threat of the spread of the virus. Needless to say, camps are excited, yet cautiously so.

Several camps, including Heart O’ the Hills, La Junta, Longhorn, Mystic and Stewart, have already revealed their new summer dates, with others like Waldemar releasing tentative start dates. Rather than opening in early June, as is typical, each of the camps has decided to delay their starts to late June or early July. And to account for these later dates, some camps have also decided to shorten their run times and offer reduced tuitions or refund policies.

These changes might not be ideal for either the camps or the campers, but experiencing even just a drop of summertime bliss is all some are hoping for.

So how do you run a camp in today’s world? In the “Checklist for Resident/Youth Camp” (with documents available for both families and camp operators/staff), the State makes it clear that though traditional protective measures (mask wearing, frequent hand washing, social distancing, etc.) are easy for adults to adhere to, “such protective measures. . . are, for a variety of reasons, simply not possible for infants, children, and youth to practice in schools, child care centers, and youth camps” since children are often “too young to understand and practice these precautions.”

To account for these factors, Texas has laid out a set of minimum health protocols for camp operators and families, hoping that, if followed and taken seriously, these camps can operate somewhat normally.

To many, Texas summer camps are more than just “getaways” or “retreats” – they’re places to step away from the hectic world, build friendships, and learn important life skills. Whether or not you agree with the governor’s decision, we can all be sure of one thing.

This year’s Texas summer camp season will be one like no other.

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