School’s out — officially — and families in Clatsop County may be wondering what youth activities are available this summer with COVID-19 having led to the cancelation of numerous programs and events over the past three months.

While some youth-centered camps and activities have been outright canceled this summer, others are adopting a new format appropriate for a community impacted by a health pandemic.

“It’s been a tough spring, so we want to make it a great summer,” said Shelly Owen, the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s youth programs manager. “Parents are going to be looking for their kids to have those social interactions.”

The district is preparing to kick off its traditional weekly summer camps on Monday but they are only opening at half capacity. There will be two classrooms of 10 for the summer explorers, for children 3 to 5 years old, and two classes of 10 for the Summer Adventurers, for kindergartners through fifth-graders. Normally, Owen said, there are about 30 to 40 summer adventurers in a given week over the course of the summer, but the district had to make changes to comply with guidelines from the state in phase 2 of the county’s reopening.

“We have a lot of protocols for safety,” Owen said. “I wouldn’t bring the kids back if we didn’t.”

Many elements will remain the same. The district’s summer camp theme this year is literature, with each week revolving around a different popular children’s book. There will be arts and crafts, reading, gardening curriculum, gym time and other fun daily activities. There also will be more hand-washing, physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, checking temperatures each day, distributing personal art supplies and explaining to campers the reason for these changes. The district is also not accepting campers from outside the area and keeping it to locals.

Additionally, Owen said, “The rooms have been set up and designed to have that space from each other but also to have those important social interactions.”

A break from the forest

At Camp Kiwanilong — a summer tradition for many families in Clatsop County and beyond — the guidelines for social distancing were too restrictive to come up with an alternative plan, Summer Youth Program Director Sarah Widmer said. For the first time since it was established in the 1970s, Camp Kiwanilong won’t be welcoming students to the forest this year.

“The point of summer camp really is to be close,” Widmer said, referencing singalongs around campfires, sitting together at tables in the dining hall, swimming, outdoor adventures and bunking in cabins at night. “I would hate for kids to come out there and have an experience where they couldn’t stand next to a friend.”

Widmer, who has been part of Camp Kiwanilong for 32 years as a camper, counselor and administrator known at camp as “Sprite,” said they can’t wait to get back into the forest next year. In the meantime, the staff is putting together virtual campfires that will be available on the organization’s website starting mid-June when the first session would’ve started. The virtual campfires will feature camp counselors, families and staff members singing the traditional Camp Kiwanilong songs, so campers can memorize them in preparation for next year.

“We wanted to keep camp alive,” Widmer said. “It will be a really special thing for our campers to go onto the website every week and see a different campfire.”

Camp Kiwanilong is also offering a virtual counselor-in-training program so older teenagers and young adults who were working their way to becoming camp counselors don’t miss the opportunity to continue training for future years.

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