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Camps add COVID precautions.

With vaccine drives ramping up and schools phasing back to full-time learning, hope is on the horizon for the return of a longstanding tradition for many kids in the Pikes Peak region: summer camp. While last summer’s rolling shutdowns, pandemic protocols and quarantines struck a blow to camps throughout the United States, there is cautious optimism that most operations will be able to proceed this summer, albeit with a few changes. 

The Millibo Art Theatre, a local theater dedicated to the arts and community outreach, is one of many organizations planning to host camps this summer. They’ve already gotten plenty of practice in providing safe camp experiences throughout the course of the pandemic and they’re ready to apply that knowledge to this summer’s sessions. 

“Last summer and throughout this school year we have been able to maintain a limited number of in-person camps and classes at the theater,” says MAT co-founder Birgitta DePree. “With strict monitoring, we have not had to curtail any of these classes due to COVID outbreaks.”

The MAT’s safety measures include daily symptom screenings of staff, volunteers and students, frequent hand sanitizing throughout the day and mandatory face coverings and social distancing. Additionally, class sizes have been limited to 10 to 12 students and building access is limited solely to participants. Drop-offs and pick-ups are staggered to prevent crowding, and high-touch areas and equipment are disinfected regularly.

“We look forward to continuing this strategy for our upcoming summer camps,” says Depree. “The safety and health of children remains our priority, and as coronavirus guidance continues to evolve, Millibo will follow all guidelines and updates provided by the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for child care.”

The MAT’s camps offer options for a variety of ages and interests. Cir Kids, which serves kids ages 9 to 14, includes acrobatics, tightrope walking, unicycling, trapeze, aerial silk, stilt walking and clowning. The class will be led by MAT co-founder and kid favorite Jim Jackson, and attendees can expect an experience tailored to the skills and interests of each student. For the wee ones ages 4 to 6, the MAT has options such as Underwater Wonders, which offers a “dramatic exploration of underwater worlds” complete with coral reef building, pirate songs and other fun.

“We give our all to creating innovative and imaginative camps that encourage participants to dive in and explore the endless possibilities of the performing arts,” says DePree. Asked what she is most looking forward to about the season ahead, she says, “Now more than ever kids need a place where they can play, grow, explore and connect. Millibo looks forward to providing a home for students to engage creatively, laugh heartily and grow artistically this summer.” 

The MAT isn’t the only organization excited to provide campers with a safe and fun summer. The Catamount Institute, which develops ecological stewardship through education and adventure in the great outdoors, is also ready to welcome kids to its many camps this summer. 

“Catamount Institute is excited to once again offer a summer of science and adventure,” says Executive Director Christopher Aaby. “All our camps take place outdoors and are a great way for kids to have fun and meet new friends while also learning about the environment around them.” 

Camps offered include half-day sessions in Sondermann Park for younger kids, where they will learn about creatures slightly smaller than they are: butterflies, worms, ants and other bitty critters. Older kids will have the opportunity to enjoy a quintessentially Colorado experience with an overnight stay in Divide and a journey to the Great Sand Dunes. Safety will be top of mind. 

“Catamount Institute is fully prepared to meet all the requirements and safety standards needed to run the camp. We did run camp successfully during the 2020 season with no campers or staff becoming sick,” says Aaby. Like the MAT, Catamount has already successfully executed camp sessions throughout the pandemic without incident. 

Aaby says that in addition to the safety afforded by playing in the great outdoors, the camp has developed multiple safety protocols. Campers and staff are screened with temperature checks each day and masks are required to be worn at all times unless engaged in a high-action activity like running (while remaining socially distant). The staff also cleans high-touch areas every day with an Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant. Camper numbers are limited based on recommendations made by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as well. 

“Even things like lunchtime have changed at camp, with campers spreading out so there is distance between them and no sharing of food,” Aaby adds. “Because of our work with local schools, all our core Catamount Institute staff has all had their first dose of the vaccine and will be fully vaccinated by the time camp rolls around. We hope that later this spring, once our college-age summer camp staff is hired, that they will be able to be vaccinated as well.”

While it is more work to host camps at this time, Aaby notes that it is worth the effort and will provide real value to kids. “The joy that I saw in the campers’ faces last summer is what I am looking forward to again this summer. One camper last year said, ‘You are the first real people I have seen in months.’ While the circumstances may not have been ideal, 2020 summer camps were one of our most rewarding summers yet. Now that we have one summer during the pandemic under our belts, we are confident that this summer 2021 camp season is going to be even better.”

Aaby also notes that Catamount offers scholarships to kids in need and parents can apply to defray camp costs. “We know it can be hard to ask for help but we want parents to know we are here and we would love to have their child in camp with us this summer.”

For families who aren’t quite ready to have their children participate in a full camp experience, the Space Foundation Discovery Center will be hosting its annual Summer of Discovery, an eight-week program filled with events and exhibits that will be held on Saturdays beginning in June. This year’s theme is the Science of Sport, and the Discovery Center’s curator and registrar, Rachel English, says that guests will get to learn about the way space moves us in our daily lives. Each weekend, guests will be treated to engaging activities that the whole family can enjoy. Guests can also expect a high level of COVID-19 safety measures to be in place when they visit. 

“We take safety very seriously,” says English. “All guests over the age of 2 are required to wear masks and are COVID-screened before entering. We limit the capacity of exhibits and workshops to maintain proper social distancing and our high-touch exhibits are subject to regular cleaning throughout the day. The building is deep-cleaned each evening for the next day.”

The center charges a daily admission fee, but families can save money by purchasing a Space Foundation passport, which allows admission to the center and participation in programs like the Science of Sport for one year for $50. 

“We have a great partnership with the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center and we have some fun and exciting collaborations planned for this summer,” says English. “We are really excited to be able to get outside, move our bodies, talk about science and hang out with members of our community in a safe way.”