While laughter could be heard bouncing off the tall trees at Cape Spindrift, there were no smiles to be seen.
Instead, cloth masks covered the faces of children who were running in a single-file line while attending summer camp — COVID-19 style.
Staff at summer camps across Cape Ann have spent the past few months brainstorming ways to provide the classic camp experience for children while doing their part to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"I am really proud of the staff and the kids who have taken it in strides and still made really big memories," Camp Spindrift's site coordinator Emily Caren said. While some aspects may seem different, she said the YMCA summer camp has been able to run programming with zero cases of COVID-19.
"Camp is the place where people's lives are changed and impacted in positive ways, and the fact that we can still do that even within these restrictions shows to the high quality the Y camps have been able to offer," she saidd.
Camp Spindrift at 57 Atlantic St. chose to run summer programming because it's "a social responsibility type of organization," Director of Operations Merri-Lynn Lathrop said. "What we heard loud and clear from our parents was that they were panicking with child care and wondering where these kids were going to go."
Caren added that because the YMCA is a larger organization with international connections, it has been able to get resources from all over the country and beyond.
To adhere to COVID-19 regulations, Spindrift administrators have worked with the Gloucester Board of Health to ensure best practices. Those include everyone on the grounds having faces covered with the appropriate masks, ensuring that kids wash their hands, and that spaces used are cleaned.
"Those have been our big ones," Caren said.
Campers are also designated to one group that they do not leave throughout the entire duration of camp.
With many clinging to the edge of their seats to see what reopening plan the Gloucester school district decides to vote on Wednesday, Caren said summer camp has been a great example of what kids and counselors are capable of doing in-person.
"Even with the restrictions here, the kids are having so much fun. They don't even notice the restrictions anymore," Caren said. "They know that they wash their hands before they leave a space, I wash my table and I have my mask on."
She said that the kids attending camp this year will have an easier transition to the classroom and will be able to encourage similar behavior from their friends.
"The kids have done well here, so I think it is possible for the schools," Caren explained.
In a different camp
While some camps chose to meet in person this summer, others opted for a virtual experience to eliminate any potential exposure.
Gloucester Museum School's Adventure Camp switched all summer programming to a Virtual Adventure Camp in early July.
"We can't operate as a camp this year because it is not safe for the kids to gather together," Director JoAnne Crawford said.
The idea of a virtual summer camp, for Gloucester Adventure Camp at least, was that staff would provide Zoom hangout sessions and record videos about the local ecosystems, sustainability protocol while adventuring in the woods, and various crafts to do both in and outside.
The execution of this idea, Crawford said, has been "hard because kids are tired of online anything."
During any other given year, the Adventure Camp would have a few hundred kids take part in two-week sessions to do activities such as rock climbing at Red Rocks, hiking in Dogtown, and sailing on the schooner Adventure.
None of that is happening this year, Crawford explained.
Instead, Crawford has worked with her staff — primarily former campers themselves — to make the instructional videos, lead socially distant hikes and provide dory rides for individual families.
"It went really well," she said.
Financially, however, it has been "fairly devastating."
The Adventure Camp has been providing all of the online resources and educational videos for free, which means that none of the staff is getting paid.
As a fundraiser effort to keep the camp going for next year, the camp has masks made. "We had the material printed from our photos of camp and made into masks of organic cotton — lined with more organic cotton and fitted with a nose wire to keep glasses from fogging!" she said.
"We have been operating for 44 years so we are just trying to make it through so we can open when we get a vaccine," Crawford said. "People getting outside with their kids is important to us."
Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.