Summer Camp Comeback

From mid-June through early August, Footlight Dance Centre offers a variety of special workshops and day camps for youth. Weeklong DANCEcamp sessions exploring all forms of dance will be held this year for second- through fourth-graders June 13–17 and July 18–22. Photo credit: Footlight Dance Centre

Valley summer programs fill up fast amid pandemic’s ‘minimal risk’ status

By Eric Valentine

St. Thomas Playhouse Company B campgoers perform Frozen at the culmination of last year’s summer camp.
Photo credit: Heather Black

Sometimes the headlines tell a whole story:

  • July 3, 2020, CNBC: “Coronavirus forced 62% of summer camps to close this year”
  • July 12, 2021, AP News: “Summer camps hit with COVID outbreaks—are schools next?”
  • 17, 2022, Washingtonian: “Summer Camp Demand Is Skyrocketing—Despite (or Maybe Because of) Covid”

Firsthand anecdotes around the Valley indicate that the third headline is not fake news. Nearly all summer camps have filled up as Blaine County finds itself resting a little more comfortably these days when it comes to COVID risk.

“Taking all major factors into account, the overall determined risk level is MINIMAL,” the county’s now-green COVID-19 dashboard states.

That means summer camps around the Valley are opening up like it’s summer 2019, and filling up fast, too. At St. Thomas Playhouse in Sun Valley, the theatrical production camp is offering 23 summer camp sessions this year, some of which culminate in a full-scale production of shows like Frozen, Little Women the Musical, and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. As of press deadline Tuesday, only three spots remain open for kids to participate.

That means summer camps around the Valley are opening up like it’s summer 2019, and filling up fast, too. At St. Thomas Playhouse in Sun Valley, the theatrical production camp is offering 23 summer camp sessions this year, some of which culminate in a full-scale production of shows like Frozen in 2021 and Madagascar this year. As of press deadline Tuesday, spots for kids in first grade already sold out, although across all grades and programs roughly 20 spots remain open.
“Last year we limited capacity and increased the number of offerings” to mitigate the impact of COVID and still give parents and kids options,” said Sara Gorby, artistic director for STP.

All this makes STP programs, like its Summer Performing Arts Conservatory Camp (SPACC)—a residential camp with a conservatory model—compelling. This means young artists focus on process not performance. Young artists are encouraged to take artistic risks and are asked to explore new ideas, methods, and practices. SPACC is held at Camp Perkins on Lake Perkins near Alturas Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains. As of press deadline Tuesday, there are roughly two dozen spaces available.


Down At The YMCA

  The Wood River Community YMCA will run two summer day camps this year, back-to-back, “so that parents might be able to access care and enrichment,” from June 20 through Aug. 19, to coincide with the first day of summer and the return of school, respectively. The first camp is an education and enrichment program that  runs from June 20–July 22.

“This program is a fun way to recapture lost learning days while experiencing the adventure of summer camp,” the YMCA said. “This camp began as a YMCA program and has grown to become a partnership between Blaine County School District, College of Idaho, Sun Valley Community School, I have A Dream Foundation, Lee Pesky Learning Center, and the YMCA.”

Camp activities will include field trips, group games, camp songs, and outdoor play. Student campers will need to bring sunscreen, closed-toe shoes, a water bottle, snacks and backpack. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. This program is free and transportation is provided. Register through the school district with Susie Reese at and (208) 578-5000.

A second camp from July 25–Aug. 19 is a more traditional Y program with $230 and $325 price tags for members and non-members, respectively. Financial assistance is available.

YMCA Camp at Horsethief Reservoir is a residential camp program and partnership with the YMCA in the Treasure Valley. It teaches self-reliance, instills a love for nature and the outdoors, and builds character and leadership—all amidst the fun of campfires, canoeing, archery, friends, zip-lining, paddleboarding, mentorships, ropes course, and more. The Wood River Y has a scholarship fund established to send children from the Valley to the camp. To learn more, email Libby Hansen at

Based on current staffing, the Y says it’s unable to open registration for the popular Bonni’s Garden Nature Explorer Camp at this time.

“Should we attract qualified staff in time, we will open this beloved program,” the organization said.

Blaine County Recreation District is even more impacted. Its three summer day camps, which serve kids who range from first through sixth grade, don’t begin until June. All three have no more space available, denoted by a red “Camp is FULL!” note on their webpage.


Editor’s Note: What follows is a Top 10 list with content provided by the American Camp Association, a leading authority in youth development. Visit for more information.


Top 10 Things You Never Knew About Camp

  1. Camp is older than dirt, almost literally.

Started in 1861, the camp experience turned an impressive 150 years young in 2011. The secret behind the longevity? “Camps are adapting to meet the needs of today’s campers,” says Tom Rosenberg, president/CEO of the American Camp Association. “At the same time, the impact camp has on campers, the life-changing experience, has remained after all these years.”

  1. Camp is worth its weight in gold, and then some.

The camp experience is life-changing – developing friendships and memories that last well beyond the final campfire. And, there is a camp for literally every budget. Often camps offer special pricing or financial assistance, and some camp experiences qualify for tax credits or for payment with pre-tax dollars. Visit ACA’s Affording Camp page for more information.

  1. Green is “Zen.”

Research shows that first-hand experience with nature, like those at camp, reduce stress in children and help them better handle stress in the future. In addition to teaching children how to be good stewards of the environment, camps are teaching children how to enjoy the world around them and take a minute to breathe deep and feel the nature, which ultimately teaches them how to de-stress the natural way.

  1. Mommies and Daddies do it too.

Camp is not just for children and youth. There are family camp experiences, and camps for single adults, senior adults, and any adult that wants to relax and enjoy all camp has to offer. Adults benefit from the same sense of community, authentic relationships, and self-discovery that children do. Camp is an excellent vacation option, allowing adults to try a variety of new activities in a safe and fun environment.

  1. Try this on for size.

Camp is a great place to try new activities and hobbies. Afraid of rock walls? According to ACA research, 74 percent of campers reported that they tried new activities at camp that they were afraid to do at first. And, those activities often leave lasting impressions. In the same survey, 63 percent of parents reported that their child continued new activities from camp after returning home.

  1. Manners matter, and often linger.

The camp experience teaches more than just archery or lanyard making. The entire experience is made of teachable moments; perhaps one of the biggest is how to live with a group of people. Campers learn to pick up after themselves, respect each other’s property, and to say “Please” and “Thank you.”

  1. Veggies taste better with friends.

Hollywood and fictional novels may have given camp food a bad reputation but, in truth, camps are constantly exploring healthy food options, and often are at the forefront of things like allergy-specific diets, healthy snack options, and vegetarian meals. According to ACA’s 2011 Emerging Issues survey, 90.7% of responding camps indicated that healthy eating and physical activity was an important or very important issue.

  1. If everyone else went to camp, maybe there’s something to it.

Camp has played an important role in the lives of some of the most talented people in history. ACA’s family resource site offers a list of notable campers – including business professionals, celebrities, artists, and great thinkers.

  1. Camp gets those neurons pumping.

Education reform debate and concern over summer learning loss have pushed academic achievement into the spotlight. Research shows that participation in intentional programs, like camp, during summer months, helps stem summer learning loss. In addition, camp provides ample opportunity for developmental growth, which is a precursor to academic achievement. And, because of the “hands-on” nature of camp, often children who struggle in traditional education settings do well at camp.

  1. Camp builds leaders for the 21st century and beyond.

Independence, resiliency, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and the ability to relate to other people — these are the skills that tomorrow’s leaders will need, and the skills camp has been adept at building for 150 years.