Jill Laidlaw worked for 37 years at Camp Cavell in Lexington, Michigan, a little slice of heaven on Lake Huron. But she saw problems in paradise: climate change.
Temperatures in Michigan have risen an average of two to three degrees over the past century, and Ms Laidlaw said she has seen the effects of this warming in several ways, from warmer days and nights to torrential rains plus strong, harmful algal blooms in the lakes of the region and an explosion of ticks. And the increasingly common bans on most outdoor fires have even curtailed one of the most popular aspects of summer camps, she said: “We had” campfires at. flashlight “over the past few summers.”
Climate change, which affects many aspects of children’s lives, is also disrupting the camp experience. After more than a year of pandemic isolation and disrupted schools and social lives, the 26 million children who typically attend day and night camps are ready to resume their summer activities. But the stewards of many of these camps say the effects of climate change – not to mention the ongoing coronavirus precautions many camps face – make it harder to provide the carefree experiences that past generations have enjoyed.
Rising temperatures, smoke from forest fires, shifting ranges of species and many others pose risks and camps are struggling to adapt. And with deadly heat waves, like that of the Pacific Northwest, dealing with extreme heat becomes a necessity to keep campers safe.
Of course, beating the heat has long been part of what makes camp a camp, and while the link between a single weather event and climate change varies, the effects of global warming are being felt in several ways.
“The reality is, yes, they have more days of high temperatures, and usually more heat waves, and other impacts as well,” said Donald J. Wuebbles, professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the ‘University of Illinois. “When we get rainfall it is more likely to be more rain and when we get drought it is more likely to be more drought,” a- he declared.
As a thermal dome trapped citizens of the Pacific Northwest in record high temperatures that caused an increase in heat-related deaths over the past week, directors at Camp Killoqua in Stanwood, Wash., Have made a decision: to delay the start of their camp day. The heat – made even less bearable by the state’s coronavirus demand that campers wear masks – forced their hand.
“We realized it would be too miserable for our campers to be here,” said Cassie Anderson, camp director. “We just didn’t want to put our children at risk of getting sick. The pause was brief, however; in one day, things calmed down enough for Killoqua to reopen.
At Camp Sealth on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, summer camp director Carrie Lawson said the effects of climate change were evident. “This year our county went into a burning ban before the end of June, the earliest I’ve ever seen.”
The link between forest fires and climate change is strong: global warming is making regions like the American West warmer and drier, with longer forest fire seasons; last year was the worst season on record for fire activity in California, Washington and Oregon.
Dave Jarvis of Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp in Hillside, Colo., Said wildfires had forced him to evacuate his campers twice in the past five years – once, on the day home, as parents told the see their children again. A nearby camp was able to accommodate its campers both times, but the 2011 fire kept everyone away from the Rainbow Trail for five weeks.
And Ms Lawson said that in two of the past three years, “our area has been covered in smoke from forest fires, making it unhealthy or even dangerous to be outside.”
When asked how bans on burning and flashlight campfires affect camp traditions like the making of s’mores, Ms. Laidlaw from Michigan responded with an email that simply contained a single image. : a jar of Marshmallow Fluff.
It’s not just the camp days that have changed; with climate change, the nights are getting colder. Valerie Wright, executive director of House in the Wood camp in southeastern Wisconsin, said night fans were previously sufficient to cool cabins and campers. “About 10 years ago, we noticed that was no longer the case,” and they installed air conditioning in the cabins, dramatically increasing the expenses of the camp, after a “particularly brutal summer”.
Unpredictable conditions have become a part of life for Julie Kroll at Camp Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center in Fort Valley, Virginia. She studied the likely effects of climate change on her facilities, and her best-case scenario involved taking costly measures that included installing air conditioning, increasing insulation, and replacing windows to combat increasing extreme weather conditions, including severe weather conditions. floods, snowstorms, microbursts and echoes. get worse, ”she wrote in an email.
In an interview, she added that she looked at the archives of hiking and canoeing camps and campsites dating back decades, and found that climate change and urban sprawl were having a disturbing effect. Water sources “that were reliable in the 1990s are no longer reliable or no longer exist,” she said, and “river levels are no longer constant”.
The ribs are also affected. Fox Island Environmental Education Center, a Virginia institution run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for more than 40 years, closed in 2019 because soil erosion and sea level rise destroyed so much from the island’s salt marsh that its owners have declared it dangerous.
Recent surveys show that young people are accepting the science of climate change in far greater numbers than older generations, and are therefore learning from it. Young people today are aware of warmth and health, said Janice Kerber, director of Everglades Youth Conservation Camp in Florida; they carry water bottles and use sunscreen. Ms Kerber, who grew up in Florida, said sunscreen was scarce when she was a girl.
She has been involved in the camp since 1996 and said: “There was a marked difference in the fact that it was much warmer. In the late 1990s, she said, a heat index of 105 was highly unlikely. Today, a “heat index of 115 is not uncommon”.
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic caused camp registrations to drop to 19.5 million from 26 million, said Kyle Winkel of the American Camp Association. At the start of this year’s season, managers and camp counselors will use a variety of techniques perfected over the years to cope with spikes in temperature.
At Camp Longhorn, outside of Burnet, Texas, Camp General Manager Bill Robertson quoted the late Tex Robertson, the founder and his father.
“It’s not hot, it’s summer! he said with a knowing smile.
Camp Longhorn has always faced high temperatures, as despite the nearby cooling breezes of Inks Lake, the thermometer can go above 100 degrees. A warming planet just means more attention to the things they do from the start, he said, citing the procedures and traditions established by his father’s generation.
Longhorn staff members keep campers out of the sun from 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. And Mr Robertson says he’s watching for signs that it’s too hot for rigorous outdoor play, such as “when the kids aren’t smiling and they’re not running to their activities.”
Water is everywhere. The sprinklers spray the grass and the campers, and there are many activities taking place in the lake. Even back in the days when water bottles were ubiquitous, the camp built a multi-tap fountain that produced a refreshing but difficult to control explosion known as “Old Face-full”.
Many camps turn their weather woes into a learning opportunity – part of their mission to connect children with the natural world. “We have been trying to educate children and adults about nature and our environment since we started since the 1950s,” said Ms. Kroll, Va. Ms Laidlaw from the Michigan camp also said they teach campers about climate change and added that she is tired of politicized arguments about the science of a warming planet.
To those who would dispute the evidence, she has a suggestion, “Get out into the wild and see the changes. “