Kids’ summer opportunities different, cancelled, or virtual this year

Macon County Schools Summer Edventure Camp includes educational elements as well as recreational. This year’s camp is set to open June 22 and will run for six weeks.

Deena B. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Macon County Schools’ Summer Edventure Camp, which starts on Monday, June 22, is operating quite differently this year. While the all-day educational and recreational camp at South Macon Elementary School may be one of the only local summer camp/activity experiences that was not completely cancelled, operating during a pandemic will require staff and students to practice social distancing and to wear masks. Plus, daily temperature checks will be conducted as well as regular cleaning and disinfecting of the school during each day.

“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ requirements are different this year and more restrictive,” said Todd Gibbs, director of auxiliary services for Macon County Schools. “We don’t have the enrollment that we’ve had in the past. We have under 50 and usually we have about 150. In the past it’s been more recreational focused, but we’re not going to take as many field trips this summer because so much is closed down. And we’re doing some tutoring this year to try get kids back on track. Also, we usually have a four-week session in June and four weeks in July, but this year we’re starting later and just have one six-week camp. It’s a struggle with staffing this summer as well because people don’t want to work because of COVID or can’t work because of COVID.”

To inquire about enrollment to Edventure Camp or to become employed at the camp, call Lenora Clifton, (828) 524-3314. 

Macon County Public Library

Macon County Public Library, usually a hot spot of summer activity, has primarily been moved online, according to Tabitha Johnson, acting supervisor of the children’s program.

“Barry Mitchell and The Science Tellers were really big programs last year and we originally planned for one of them to kick off the summer and one to wrap up the summer,” she said. “But now, because of COVID, through, we are providing virtual programming accessible until Aug. 31.”

Johnson said that there is still a summer reading program, this year titled “Imagine Your Story” with a reading log and themed prompts, and participants can sign up for the program online or interested families can call ahead and request printed materials. 

“Participants can bring in their log after July 31 to exchange for prizes,” said Johnson. “They can also pick up each week a themed activity bag to do and then turn in.” 

Johnson offered that some of the family friendly, summer-camp-at-home activity suggestions for the summer children’s program (available for toddlers through 12 or 13 years old) include, for example, how build an indoor fort. An activity bag might center on a dragon-related theme with DIY instructions, including a suggested video link, on how to make a dragon paper airplane. 

“Anyone who has access to the Internet can look online to see what’s happening, and they can ask to be added to our e-newsletter, which has changes, updates, schedules, etc. or they can follow us on Facebook. Through our website, children and adults with a library card can also check out e-books, watch movies, learn languages, listen to books, take classes to learn skills through UniversalClass. And, on an appointment basis, we can now allow people into the library and we still have a few things for kids, like stuffed animals behind glass displays in particular themes, such as It’s a Zoo Out There. We still want kids to know the library is a welcoming environment, they just can’t play with the toys right now.” 

Thirteen-year-olds can participate in the children’s programs or the teen opportunities, which are available for 14- to 18-year-olds through adult programming at the library. Call Macon County Public Library at (828) 524-3600 for more information or if there is no online access.

Highlands Nature Center 

Nature Center Education Specialist Paige Engelbrektsson of the Highlands Biological Foundation, which is a multi-campus center of Western Carolina University, shared, “Unfortunately all of our summer camps are canceled, and the Highlands Nature Center is closed for the foreseeable future. However we do have several opportunities for children to remotely engage with the Highlands Nature Center this summer. One is our new Plateau Pen Pals program.” 

Engelbrektsson offered the public message about the program: “Have you missed visiting the Highlands Nature Center? Our staff have missed you! In the spirit of staying connected while staying apart, we’re starting a “Plateau Pen Pal” program. We invite anyone who is interested to write to the Highlands Nature Center. If you have a favorite memory from visiting, a drawing, or photo you’d like to share with us, or just want to exchange a friendly hello, we’d love to hear from you! Send your letters to: Highlands Nature Center, 265 N. 6th Street, Highlands, NC 28741

“Additionally we have a series of themed crafts and activities to encourage children to connect with nature in our Nearby Nature program. These are collected and available in our Virtual Learning Center:”

Engelbrektsson has committed herself to answering each letter. She explained, “There may even be responses from a few ‘guest experts’ from the Nature Center – experts of the scaly or salamander variety. I will also be mailing hard copies of our themed Nearby Nature activities, designed for kids and adults of all ages, to any interested pen pals. To learn more, call (828) 526-2623.”

Camp Merrie-wood

Camp Merrie-wood, one of the oldest summer camps in North Carolina and located in Cashiers, along with SOAR in Balsam and Mountain Retreat & Learning Center in Highlands, have had to shutter activities this year. 

“It’s the first time in 102 years,” said Jim Dunn, who co-directs with his wife, Denice, Camp Merrie-Woode at Sapphire Lake. “It was a heavy hit and hard decision.” 

Annually, Camp Merrie-Woode welcomes at least 600 campers and nearly 100 staffers to three-week, five-week, and 11-day sessions throughout summer months. “But we had to err on the side of safety for the girls and the staff,” he said, adding that parents have been “so generous,” with some of them going ahead and paying the full summer camp fees even though the camp had to close. “We are not able to provide programming this summer, but we are already looking toward next summer.” 

Even the Camp Merrie-Woode Lake Trail is closed at Sapphire Valley, due to the N.C. Governor’s phased reopening directives. “While we are heartbroken about the decision to close camp this season and will miss our time this year, we look forward to reuniting with our community in 2021 to rekindle the spirit of Merrie-Woode that we all love so much,” said Denice Dunn. “We know each of our campers, staff, and alumnae hold on to the tiny spark of fire within that represents the Merrie-Woode spirit, and we ask them to share that spark with those around them to keep the Merrie-Woode spirit shining brightly throughout the summer until we gather together again.”