Jill Laidlaw has worked at Camp Cavell in Lexington, Michigan, for 37 years, a small piece of heaven on Lake Huron in the heart of the Upper Peninsula. Despite this, she’s witnessed the effects of climate change in her paradise.
When it comes to climate change, Ms. Laidlaw says she’s seen it in a variety of ways: from hotter days and nights to bigger rainstorms and destructive alga blooms in the region’s lakes to an increase in tick populations. Summer campers’ favourite tradition of “flashlight campfires” has been curtailed due to an increasing number of bans on all forms of burning.
The camp experience is also being disrupted by climate change, which has an impact on many elements of children’s lives. A year of pandemic isolation has left the 26 million children who attend day or sleep-away camps eager to get back to their summer routines. There are some camps, however, where climate change and continuous coronavirus precautions are making it difficult to give the unfettered pleasures experienced by previous generations.
Emerging threats from climate change and other factors are making it difficult for camps to adapt. Campers’ safety is increasingly being jeopardised by catastrophic heat waves like the one that hit the Pacific Northwest recently.
Even if the link between a particular weather occurrence and global warming varies, the effects of global warming are being seen in many different ways.
Professor Donald J. Wuebbles of the University of Illinois’ Department of Atmospheric Sciences said, “The reality is yes, they are seeing more high-temperature days, and generally more heat waves, and other affects as well.” Drought is more likely to be more severe because of his prediction that “when we do receive rainfall, it’s more likely to be a heavier rainfall,” and vice versa.
The directors of Camp Killoqua in Stanwood, Wash., decided to postpone the start of their day camp because of the recent surge in heat-related deaths due to a heat dome in the Pacific Northwest. They had no choice but to comply with the state’s coronavirus mandate, which required campers to wear masks in the sweltering heat.
Cassie Anderson, one of the camp’s directors, explained, “We felt it would be too miserable for our campers to be here.” “We didn’t want to risk infecting our children,” the parents explained. Killoqua reopened the following day after a brief hiatus, after things had calmed down enough.
Carrie Lawson, director of summer camp at Camp Sealth on Vachon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, noted that the effects of climate change were clear. Our county went into burn prohibition earlier than ever this year, before the end of June, which is unprecedented in my experience.
Wildfires and climate change have a strong connection: The West Coast of the United States is experiencing longer and hotter wildfire seasons as a result of global warming. Last year’s fire season in California, Washington, and Oregon was the worst on record.
As parents were saying goodbye to their children on drop-off day, Dave Jarvis of the Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp in Hillside, Colo., said wildfires had forced him to evacuate his campers twice in the preceding five years. Both times, a nearby camp was able to accommodate his campers, but the 2011 fire prevented anyone from using Rainbow Trail for five weeks.
For the past three years, wildfires have engulfed “our region, blanketing it in smoke, making it unpleasant or even unsafe to be outdoors,” Ms. Lawson told the audience.
An email from Ms. Laidlaw in Michigan, in response to a question regarding the impact of the burn ban and flashlight campfire restrictions on traditional summer camp activities like cooking s’mores, featured only one image: that of a container of Marshmallow Fluff.
As a result of climate change, the nights aren’t as cool as they used to be. With fans running at night, cottages and campers were kept cool at House in the Wood camp in southeast Wisconsin, the camp’s executive director, Valerie Wright, explains. They installed air conditioning in the cabins about 10 years ago following a “very severe summer,” which increased camp costs dramatically. “About 10 years ago, we observed this was no longer the case,” they said.
Julie Kroll, the director of Camp Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center in Fort Valley, Va., has come to expect the unexpected. With climate change, she’s done extensive research and determined that the best-case scenario involves implementing costly solutions such as air conditioning, improving insulation and upgrading windows to withstand weather extremes such as floods, snowstorms and derecho storms. As she put it in an email, “We are already witnessing all of the ‘best-case’ repercussions today and I expect all of them to continue to deteriorate.”
In an interview, she explained that she’d gone back through decades of camp records to find that climate change and urban growth were having an unsettling effect on her backpacking and canoeing walks and camping trips. According to her, “water sources that used to be reliable in the 1990s that are no longer reliable, or no longer exist.”
As a result, the coastlines are also impacted. Because of soil erosion and sea-level rise, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Fox Island Environmental Education Center, a Virginia institution that has been open for more than 40 years, closed in 2019.
Surveys show that young people are more accepting of climate change research than their elders, thus they are eager to learn about it. Today’s youth are concerned about heat and health, according to Janice Kerber, director of the Everglades Youth Conservation Camp in Florida. Kerber, who was born and reared in Florida, recalls a time when sunscreen was scarce.
She’s been working at the camp since 1996, and she saw “a noticeable difference in how much hotter it’s been.” A heat index of 105 was quite rare in the late 1990s, she added. “A heat index of 115 is not unheard of today,” according to the article.
According to Kyle Winkel of the American Camp Association, the coronavirus epidemic last year caused camp enrollment to drop from 26 million to 19.5 million. Summer camp directors and counsellors will use a number of strategies to deal with rising temperatures as this year’s season begins.
Bill Robertson, the general manager of Camp Longhorn outside Burnet, Texas, paid tribute to the late Tex Robertson, the camp’s founder and his father.
It wasn’t hot — it was midsummer, he added, a knowing smile on his face.
Inks Lake’s refreshing winds have never been enough to keep temperatures down at Camp Longhorn, which has always had to contend with scorching heat. He cited procedures and traditions established by his father’s generation as an example of how a warmer planet necessitates a closer look at what they’ve been doing all along.
From 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Longhorn’s employees shade campers. “When the kids aren’t happy and they’re not going to their activities,” says Mr. Robertson, he knows it’s too hot for outdoor play.
There is water all around. The grass is sprayed with sprinklers, and the campers and the lake are full of activities. The camp built a multi-spigot water fountain known as “Old Face-full” in the era before water bottles were widely available.
As part of their objective to connect children with nature, several camps use their climatic concerns as a teaching opportunity. In Virginia, Ms. Kroll remarked, “We’ve been trying to teach children and adults about nature and our environment since the 1950s.” She also mentioned that they teach climate change to campers at her Michigan facility, and that she has become tired of the politicised debates over climate change research.
“Get out in nature and see the changes,” she advises anyone who are sceptical about the findings.