July 2, 2012

Summer camps boost state economy by $153M

Contributed Photos
Contributed Photos
Campers at Camp Wah-Nee in Torrington take part in various activities offered at the facility. Camps such as these provide $153 million to the state economy and $3.2 billion to the Northeast economy.

The more than 400 youth summer camps in Connecticut deliver a direct financial benefit of $153 million to the state, despite the economic slowdown, a study finds.

"We have local shops actually ask when our summer starts so they can stock up with extra supplies," said Keith Garbart, president of the Connecticut Camping Association and director of Winding Trails Day Camp in Farmington. Garbart uses local restaurants for pizza days and patronizes nearby stores for summer provisions.

A study commissioned by the American Camp Association found the total impact on nine states in the Northeast region to be more than $3.2 billion. The report, released June 14, combines the figures for payroll, operational and capital spending in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Donna Stricker, owner of Camp Wah-Nee in Torrington, knows her camp holds an influential place in the community. The Litchfield County camp serves 400 children annually and employs 160 staff members.

"We go to the bowling alley here and the movies here and shop here," said Stricker. "It's a big boost to the local economy, absolutely."

Northeast camps spend more than $1.6 billion on goods and services including food, supplies, fuel, marketing, banking, maintenance and repair in communities that rely heavily on the income, the study said.

"Many camps are buying food locally and supplies locally. Visitors are coming in on tours or on visiting days, buying gas, staying in hotels and getting food. It goes far beyond the boundaries of the camp," said Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England.

Connecticut camps employ 700 full-time staffers and more than 12,000 seasonal staffers, many of which are youths in the 16-24 age group who often have difficulty finding summer jobs in other industries.

The 190,000 seasonal and 11,000 full-time camp staff members in the region receive more than $900 million in wages, the report said. Between 2007 and 2010, the total payroll of Northeast camps increased 7.3 percent while the total payroll of all businesses during the same period fell by 0.7 percent.

Although the national economy has struggled, the region's summer camps continue to flourish, Bussel said. The industry's tradition helps camps remain steady.

Youth camping originated in Connecticut more than 150 years ago. Frederick William Gunn, founder of The Gunnery School in Washington Depot, is credited with popularizing leisure camping in the 1860s when he traveled with his students to Milford to practice their wilderness skills. Since then, the tradition has been a prominent part of the state's culture and economy.

Connecticut's location, resources, and varied camp programs draw children from all over the country and the world.

"It's beautiful, the weather is perfect, we're on a gorgeous lake, and a lot of our campers are from the tri-state area so the distance is perfect for parents," said Stricker.

Enrollment at Winding Trails increased in the past three years, Garbart said, because some parents have turned to camp as a childcare option during the summer.

"Parents are finding the need to work more than take extended summer vacations and are in need of a child care option, and camps, while we are not just child care, provide an experience that is unique from the school environment," said Garbart.

Stricker, Garbart and Bussel all said the main reason the camping industry remains successful is due to the lasting memories campers take away with them at the end of the summer. Both Wah-Nee and Winding Trails have high return rates.

"We have some of the finest camps around. The experience they provide is amazing," said Garbart.

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