- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006


Summer camp is a family tradition for 20-year-old Web Eby. He grew up attending Camp Tu-Endie-Wei, a woodsy YWCA escape northwest of Chicago where his parents met and eventually got married.

“It’s definitely the place I go to get away from the outside world,” says the college student who’s now a camp counselor. “I can play dodge ball, run through the sprinklers, hoot and holler. It’s a great place.”

His family’s tradition is, however, in danger of ending. With the camp running at a $65,000 annual deficit, former campers and counselors are scrambling to raise money to save it. If they can’t, YWCA officials say they’ll be forced to close it — yet another example of how difficult it can be for traditional sleepaway camps to survive in a modern world.

Already, financial woes have forced many closures, among them Camp Morehead By-The-Sea on the North Carolina coast.

Pressures come from several directions. Academic and specialty camps — which focus on everything from travel to weight loss — are drawing campers away from the traditional hike-and-swim places. Some camp owners have sold to developers who offer attractive deals for large tracts of scenic land.

“For many, particularly private camps, the pattern had been to hand it over to the next generation. But the next generation is not always interested in taking on that kind of work,” says Abigail Van Slyck, a Connecticut College professor and author of “Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth.”

Officials at the American Camp Association insist that the camp industry is thriving, largely due to growth in the specialty camp category.

“It may be seen as the demise of the resident camp. But others may see it as the growth and diversification of the camp community and its attempt to respond and meet the needs of today’s world,” says Peg Smith, the ACA’s chief executive officer.

To compete, she notes that many traditional sleepaway camps now offer day camps, family camps and shortened sessions, partly because some parents are less interested in having children stay away from home for extended periods.

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