Campers Haylee and Violet cool off on the water slide...

Campers Haylee and Violet cool off on the water slide at the YMCA in Huntington. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Camp carnivals, full-fledged color war, off-campus trips to indoor rock-climbing venues — Long Island summer day camp directors say they expect such activities that were scaled back or eliminated for the past two seasons due to the pandemic to be back in force this summer.

While for the past two years children spent the camp day restricted to small "cohort" groups, this summer, camps are expecting cohorts to compete against each other in sports and mix for special events such as camp carnival.

"What I think you can expect to see is a much more normal summer than we’ve dealt with for the past two years," says Will Pierce, owner/director of Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn and president of the Long Island Camps and Private Schools Association.

However, that remains contingent upon virus numbers remaining low, camp directors say. "If needed, we can return to strict protocol," says Lauren Brandt Schloss, executive director of Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights.

NEW AND RETURNING FUN

At Usdan, for instance, campers typically choose an arts major, an arts minor and a recreation period during the day. But for the past two summers, they had to stay with just one group and participate in a recreational activity assigned to them. This year, choice is returning, so kids can interact with three different groups of campers, Schloss says. During daily arts performances in the camp amphitheater, campers will once again be able to get out of their seats and dance. "We’re going to allow for a lot more freedom in the amphitheater," she says.

Usdan is also branching out to offer a recreational camp with less of an emphasis on the arts for the first time, which children may be able to opt to attend for as little as one week — Usdan has traditionally required at least a four-week commitment, Schloss says.

Some camps plan to add new activities such as flag football and ninja obstacle courses, both of which Pierce Country Day Camp will add to its roster. Pierce also added pickleball last summer and plans to keep that growing sport in its offerings this season.

In addition to expanding new options, camp directors interviewed say they are more focused on making sure kids will see their old favorites returning. "Those things add tremendously to the community feeling at camp," Pierce says.

ENROLLMENT IS STRONG

Multiple camp directors say early enrollment is strong. "We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest," says Gail Mancuso, vice president of Mid Island Air, which runs Aero Camp at MacArthur Airport, during which campers have classroom instruction, fly a full motion flight simulator, have tours of aviation facilities, learn from guest speakers and get to fly a plane. "We opened our registration Feb. 1, and I already am more than half full," Mancuso says.

Camp directors say parents seem more comfortable committing earlier to sending their children to camp. "Most camps are well ahead of their normal enrollment," says Mark Transport, owner/director of Crestwood Day Camp in Melville.

Pierce echoed Transport, saying his camp is filling "way faster than usual. I have a feeling we are all going to sell out earlier than usual. This rebound has been really nice for us."

Demand for sleepaway camps has also been strong — strong enough that Transport put together a contingent of four day-camp owners from the tristate area to purchase a sleepaway camp in the Adirondacks. He’s hoping that day campers from Crestwood will advance to resident camp together as they age. Camp Southwoods will focus on offering shorter camp commitments — families can opt for two-week or four-week sessions instead of the typical seven-week summer sessions many resident camps require, Transport says.

All in all, camp directors are optimistic. "We’re expecting a great summer," says Luanne Picinich, owner of Big Chief Day Camp in East Meadow, which is entering its 68th season. "I’m hoping a lot of this is behind us and we can offer the kids more of a normal summer."