Yes, Virginia, there will be Camp this summer. Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement in late February that overnight summer camps would be permitted to resume operations in 2021 was no doubt met with many sighs of relief and shouts of joy across the Commonwealth. Although other camp directors and I had already received word that this decision would be forthcoming, the official declaration allowed us to begin making concrete plans to reopen our doors in compliance with restrictions and guidelines intended to keep campers and staff safe and healthy this summer. Several weeks before the governor’s executive order, Nature Camp had decided to reduce capacity to no more than 50 campers per session, chiefly so that we could achieve sufficient physical distancing in the bunkhouses and Lillian Schilling Building; in order to accommodate more campers over the course of the summer, we are also shortening each session to 10 days and adding two sessions to the schedule. This year’s capacity just happens to be twice the number of campers permitted in a cohort, or family unit, under the reopening guidelines, so we will have two cohorts in each session this summer. Campers will do most activities within their cohort (including classes, meals, and recreation), but there will be opportunities to interact with those from the other cohort. As usual, we’ll spend the better part of each day outside, and we’ll continue the same precautionary measures that we’ve all grown accustomed to over the past year: wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and practicing good personal hygiene. Thanks to a generous grant from NCF, we will be well equipped with personal protective equipment, including soap and hand sanitizer and masks, plus fans to improve air circulation in the buildings. NCF has also funded the badly needed replacement of the floor in the kitchen. And of course, we are eager to unveil the newly refurbished Education Building and excited to explore the myriad new possibilities that this space will afford.
This will be a year unlike any other in Nature Camp’s history, and it will be challenging to balance the desire to cram a 14-day experience into only 10 with the critical need to abide by COVID restrictions. But it will still be Camp: it will be no less thrilling, no less educational, and no less memorable, even behind a mask and six feet apart. The buildings, the creek, the playfield, the chapel, the mountains have all missed campers over the past 20 or so months; they—and we—can’t wait to welcome them back home.