The Changing Landscape of Summer Camps

The Changing Landscape of Summer Camps

By Jody Oates, Kaleidoscope CEO

Summer camp starts soon!! Let’s take a look at the changing landscape of summer camps. Sessions are full with waiting lists. Or, registration is down from last year and the year before. Or, camp is closed and the property is for sale.

Some camps are thriving; some are closing. 

There is a definite shift in the industry.

We have a large map of the United States in our office and since 2011 we have placed a pin at the location of a project with which we are engaged. One day we may take the time to place pins on all of the camps we have worked with in our 38 years of consulting. It’s fun to track the many places our work has taken us – to very remote places far from a population base to camps surrounded by some of the largest cities in the world. 

Sometimes camps operate out of a leased building, or a camp may span thousands of acres with a viewshed that is unbelievable! Those who came before us had such great vision for creating places away for children, youth, families and adults to disconnect from everyday to reconnect with themselves, others, or a holy one (however defined). These are places for campers and leaders to find their best selves and form a community with other unique people and natural places.

The Changing Landscape of Summer Camps

The gap between thriving and closing

Thinking about the map of all of the camps in the United States, I can imagine a timelapse of the pins shifting pretty significantly in the past five years. Some camps are thriving; some are closing. There is a definite shift in the landscape of the summer camp industry.

Kaleidoscope is helping many camps dream, plan, expand. We are having many conversations with people who want to launch a new camp. It is a crazy exciting time to work with innovative, passionate organizations and individuals!

Unfortunately, we are also asked to insert our wisdom, insights and strategy for camps that are in crisis. Some camps are not recovering from the pandemic. Attendance isn’t reaching 2019 levels. Registration slides a little lower each summer. The level of crisis ranges from serious to just needing some course correction.

For faith based camps who have primarily served their churches or synagogues, the pool of potential campers has dramatically declined, especially since early 2020. Attendance at churches and synagogues has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. But children are still in communities, families are still seeking the formation of tradition, values, and spiritual connection.

Faith based camps can serve in the name of their tradition, teaching core principals. Camp can be the catalyst to renewal for faith traditions – revitalizing the relevance and connection to the next generation of families, breathing new life and connectivity to ancient texts. Camp is the best place to know true community, full acceptance, and personal growth.

And, again unfortunately, we are mourning the loss of camps that are being shuttered and land being sold. In the best of scenarios a new visionary and dreamer is able to imagine and execute a new start for camp property. Sometimes alumni can breathe new life into the old bones, creating an updated model of program that connects with what families in the area are seeking. In other cases, it’s simply time to say goodbye.

As summer camp is starting soon, we are keenly aware the storyboard is wide in the industry and we are grateful for all who have brought their passion and resources to create the camp opportunity. We are profoundly excited about the new expressions of camp with programs that have life long impact on campers and staff. Wherever you find your expression of camp, we are grateful you continue to share with campers who will be at camp this summer!

  • To camps that are thriving, fully subscribed for the summer, congratulations and thank-you for your work! 
  • To camps that are seeking a new path of revitalization, focus all of your energy into delivering the best possible camp program this summer for the campers who will attend. We believe in your capacity to lead and share life changing experiences!
  • To camps that are closing or closed, we mourn with you your deep loss of a sacred place with sacred stories.

The camp landscape is shifting, maybe in ways unseen in 75 years or so. 

We are grateful we get to walk alongside all of you.

Jody and the Kaleidoscope team
Kaleidoscope’s mission: We Help Camps and Retreat Centers Thrive
Jody’s personal mission: To increase the number of kids attending summer camp

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