Campers return — but with COVID-19 precautions

A view of a waterfront for a youth camp.
Kayaking is one outdoor activity offered at Minnesota Elks Youth Camp.
Courtesy of Minnesota Elks Youth Camp

Updated: 9:48 a.m.

Young campers are going back to sleeping in cabins and tents in the wilderness, but Minnesota’s overnight camps are not out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19. Among the concerns: Campers under age 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

As the pandemic continues at a lower ebb, the state’s Health Department has issued guidelines to try to keep the coronavirus at bay. And camps are trying to be conservative.

YMCA Camp Ihduhapi in Loretto has limited interactions by putting kids in pods of 10 to 12 for their week at camp. Campers largely interact with their counselors and other campers in their pod.

PJ Marth, a youth advocate at the camp, says the pod system has some added benefits, such as creating “lasting relationships.”

Gov. Tim Walz's order in May 2020 allowed day camps to continue, but overnight camps were not allowed to begin operating until July 1, 2020. Some took the year off, while others operated in limited ways.

Other precautions at Camp Ihduhapi include wearing masks inside, requiring negative COVID-19 tests before arrival and rapid tests on site. They’ve even scheduled longer bathroom times so campers don’t have to wear masks where they shower or brush their teeth.

To the north, the Minnesota Elks Youth Camp in Nisswa usually welcomes campers in early June, but delayed opening — in part to implement COVID-19 safety precautions.

“We're really excited to get kids back on campus. It just gives it a different atmosphere and kids having fun and running around and making the noises that kids make. It's going to be a blessing,” said Joel Baumgarten, camp director. He said the camps were canceled last summer.

The 300-acre camp on Pelican and Markee lakes hosts kids ages 9 to 14 tuition-free.

Baumgarten said the Minnesota Elks camp is a close-knit operation, and spirits are running high as they prepare to operate at full capacity.

“We do it as a family. We still have to have our kids working with us at camp and, you know, some of the staff members have been with us the whole time. So we kind of consider them family, too. It’s an exciting time to get together.” 

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