Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Summer camps face uncertain future if shutdown lingers

Camp Pinnacle had invested in a new kitchen and other improvements in anticipation of a busy camp season. Camp Pinnacle had invested in a new kitchen and other improvements in anticipation of a busy camp season.

FLAT ROCK — The COVID-19 shutdown comes at a bad time for Camp Pinnacle, which had made camp improvements ahead of what looked like a robust season.

“We were gearing up for our best year ever,” said camp owner John Dockendorf. “We were just finishing up a brand new kitchen with fresh appliances and planting new grass and landscape features. Now the world has completely fallen out of our control.”
Dockendorf and his staff spend 42 weeks a year planning and prepping for 10 straight weeks of camp. Additionally, upwards of five international staff members from Great Britain travel in each year to work Pinnacle. They are now allowing campers until May 1 to cancel and refund. So far, few families taken them up on the offer. Nobody wants to face the idea of no summer camps.
The summer camp industry is a major driver of income in Henderson County, churning a direct impact of $77 million and overall impact of $120 million into the economy, according to a 2011 study by the North Carolina Youth Camp Association, American Camp Association and N.C. State University.

During the summer, campers from across the country and abroad travel to Hendersonville, Flat Rock, Green River and other communities to take advantage of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the 2020 summer camp faces an uncertain future.
Garrett Graham, director of Camp Glen Arden, remains in close contact with each family that has plans to attend the camp this summer. Many of the campers who attend Glen Arden are “legacy campers,” he said. Generations upon generations from the same families have attended and continue to attend the camp. To shut down entirely would be to shut down family tradition.
Summer camps in the area including Glen Arden, Tekoa, Falling Creek and Pinnacle are not thinking about the possibility of shutting down for the summer season, directors say. Some, however, have considered backing up program start dates a few weeks if the disease begins to die out once summer hits.
Dockendorf believes that the result of having no camp is disastrous, and that the camp industry of Henderson County could be “wiped off the map.” More than the business damage, calling off the season means kids have been cooped up for weeks or longer can would enjoy the open-air experience of camp more than ever. Camp directors suspect that children — along with parents — will be ready for a break come summer after homeschooling for so long. If camps had to close, it would be heartbreaking for not only campers, but families as well.
Camp Tekoa is now taking extra precaution to provide campers and families with the best resources possible. The camp’s mission is always “Touching hearts, changing lives, sharing the light of Christ,” according to assistant camp director John Isley. Isley and the rest of the staff are not shying away from this purpose. If anything, they are embracing this as an opportunity to reach out to friends and families even more. While Tekoa’s leaders still have many questions about what to do with its 2,200 summer campers and 90 paid summer counselors, cooks and other staffers, they are moving forward. In addition to summer camp, Tekoa offers afterschool programs. With school now being out, staff is taking advantage of technology capabilities through craft instructional videos, “Morning Watch lakeside devotionals,” and a sunrise Easter church service. According to Tekoa’s website, their top two priorities in regards to the coronavirus are the health of safety of campers and adhering to their mission. The camp’s response includes, “continuing to plan and prepare for an amazing, Christ-filled summer” while “reviewing all relevant resources” in regards to medical information from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and ACA (American Camping Association).
Tekoa, along with Camp Bonclarken, have already had to cancel weekend retreat groups. Chip Sherer, director of operations at Bonclarken, is “abiding strictly by the CDC/ government mandates given to cover through late April.” As a result, retreats began to cancel starting in early March.
“Our mission is to bring everyone in to Flat Rock,” Sherer said. “However, I have to question whether I should get started on hiring and training summer staff.” He remains thankful for the financial reserves that they have saved over the many years of operation and community support.
Sandi Boyer, executive director for North Carolina Youth Camp Association, said that all camps within Henderson County, along with the Health Department and insurance companies, will are holding a virtual meeting Friday to discuss plans going forward.
Dockendorf of Camp Pinnacle is especially concerned about current policies in place by insurance companies that do not include coverage for a pandemic. Boyer points out that summer camps are not new to dealing with communicable disease and therefore have strict policies already in place to promote the health and safety of campers and staff. Camps are currently reviewing plans put in place by the ACN (Association of Camp Nurses) regarding steps to take if a communicable disease, such as COVID-19, were to occur.
“NCYCA regularly holds trainings by ACN to provide our members with best nursing practices for camps,” Boyer said.
Camps are an ideal setting for children to recuperate from a stressful event like the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes camp directors all the more hopeful that the season can be salvaged.
“This place is our campers’ second home and we don’t want that to change this year,” said Graham, of Glen Arden.

Dockendorf agreed.
“Summer camp creates incredible, life-changing experiences and group interaction for our campers,” he said.