Not Your Parents' Summer Camp

It's the middle of summer and and a seasonal tradition is in full swing: summer camps.

There are thousands in the United States, especially here in the North East, where generations have attended either day sessions or sleep-away camps.

But, as WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports, what parents remember and what their kids are experiencing today, could be very different.

The audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site after 10 a.m. on Friday.


KEN KORNREICH: So this is camp...

Ken Kornreich, owner and director of Camp Young Judea surveys the co-ed sleep away camp. More than 300 kids are playing outside in the woody pines of southern New Hampshire on the shores of a private lake.

KEN KORNREICH: They are also playing Softball and swimming and playing tennis. But what this camp doesn't have is something else you might associate with summer camp... a campfire.

KEN KORNREICH: We have a traditional area, we don't do a lot of campfires anymore. You have to permit them. It's windy we live in an area here as you saw when we walked everything is pine needles if it's dry or windy can't do it.

A number of camps have cut back on fires because of permitting problems. Also camps are facing rising insurance rates. Some camps are paying two times as much for insurance than they were five years ago. And the coverage they are getting for that money is less. The increase is due in part to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, hurricane Katrina and a more litigious society that frowns on not only bonfires, but camp pranks, horseplay and even hugs.

MARCI KORNREICH: I don't think it's changed the fun of camp but it's definitely changed the way we do things here.

Ken's wife and camp assistant director Marci Kornreich.

MARCI KORNREICH: I remember when I was a camper here at night if you were bad, if you didn't listen to the counselors who were on duty they would make you stand under the lights and let the mosquitoes bite you. And if you did that today you'd be facing a lawsuit.

But camp is still fun, insists Kornreich and Bette Bussel, head of the New England chapter of the American Camp Association.

BETTE BUSSEL: Certainly camps are developing risk management plans to look at all the activities that they do. It doesn't mean they don't necessarily do them.

But insurance companies have forced many changes in camps such as Camp Sewataro, a day camp in Sudbury. They've seen their insurance triple in the past ten years, even though they haven't filed a claim in 48 years.

Sfx of whistle blowing

During afternoon free swim every four minutes a water supervisor blows a whistle and more than a hundred kids stop playing in the water, grab hold of their buddy's hand and stand still quietly. After a supervisor accounts for everyone in the water, play resumes. It's a quick way to ruin a game of Marco Polo, but camp owner Mark Taylor says it's all about safety.

MARK TAYLOR: Safety's increased considerably. Before it was mostly about fun and now it's a balancing act.

Taylor says when he added golf, he had to first run it by the insurance company to make sure they'd cover it because they had shut down other activities.

MARK TAYLOR: We had riflery that had to be taken out. And there was a ropes course that was taken down they didn't demand we take it down but pressure was applied to have us remove it. They requested our riding be removed and we basically said no it's too much of an important part of the program.

What else won't you find today? Ask counselor Jason Taich at Camp Young Judea. He first came to the camp from Needham 11 years ago as a camper. Taich says camp directors gave counselors extensive training, warming them to keep things safe.

JASON TAICH: They just gradually just stopped these bad habits that shouldn't be going on at camp, like what? Like wedgies, yeah stupid stuff, rat tails? Yeah it will all still happen just bring it down to a minimum.

These kinds of pranks are found less and less at camp today. It's no surprise camps are trying to reduce risk during free time, that's when most accidents happen, says Ed Schirick an insurance agent who specializing in insuring summer camps.

ED SCHIRICK: That's when circumstances can lead to horsing around and very often that's where we see more serious injuries broken arms and things of that nature.

Ken Kornreich says it took several years, but he and other camp directors are changing the culture of camp.

KEN KORNREICH: A lot of times kids comes to camp with preconceived thoughts of what camp should be because they heard from a generation before, but camp isn't like that. It has to be a place where kids can feel safe.

And that means no.... well, you fill in the blank from your own camp experience.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.

Send us your summer camp stories, using the link below. You'll also find pictures of camps mentioned in this report.

This program aired on July 13, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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