Economy casts shadow over summer camp
With parents cutting back and costs rising, camps are forced to modify services, which could impact everything from bug juice to bowling.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As nearly 10 million kids pack their trunks and prepare for color wars, summer camps brace for a season of truncated field trips, shorter sessions and more financial aid.
The economic slowdown has impacted the price of providing services, transportation, food and the overall cost of running a business, according to Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association.
To keep up with record breaking gas prices, many sleep-away camps have had to cut back on field trips or choose destinations closer to home base. Some day camps stopped providing door-to-door transportation and are implementing drop off points.
Other creative solutions include using golf carts and scooters instead of cars for driving around camp, promoting self-propelled sports, such as canoeing and kayaking over speed boats, and cutting back on water skiing, according to the ACA.
Scott Shaffer, owner and director of High Sierra Camp in California, says his camp has not cut back on white water rafting, back packing, rock climbing and mountain biking trips, which are all remote driving destinations, but the rising cost of fuel has forced him to scale down plans to build new tent cabins and extend the camp's bath house.
In light of soaring food prices, more camp directors have joined buying groups to purchase food and supplies at wholesale prices. Smith noted that there has been increased participation in the ACA's purchasing cooperative, which helps camps pool their buying power to buy in bulk at a reduced cost.
The ACA cooperative has negotiated special contracts with hundreds of companies like Sysco, Gordon Foods and Office Max to secure substantial discounts for its members.
After signing on to a purchasing program, the Flat Rock River YMCA Camp expects to save about 10% this year on drinks, snacks, cleaning supplies and office equipment, according to Steve Heiny, executive director.
Enrollments, though, are still on par with last year, according to the American Camp Association, mainly because the enrollment costs and registration fees were set back in fall, before many American households felt pressured to curtail their spending.
In addition, some parents chose to enroll their children in camp this summer in lieu of a pricier road trip or European vacation, the ACA reported.
To further cope with the rising costs of food and fuel, this year many parents picked camps closer to home to cut down on transportation costs, opted to send their kids for shorter sessions, and explored financial assistance options.
In fact, 90% of camps offer some sort of financial assistance, such as scholarships, also called "camperships," payment plans and discounts.
Flat Rock River YMCA Camp recorded an uptick in "camperships." High Sierra Camp, which costs $1095 a week, offered installment payment plans. In addition, many parents cut back on the number of weeks their children will attend High Sierra to an average of two weeks this summer, Shaffer said.
Whether the economic slowdown will affect summer sessions in the years ahead is hard to say, Smith said.