DAWSON, N.D. — For the first time in 73 years, Elks Camp Grassick won’t have campers this summer.

The camp for people with special needs, located south of Dawson, is one of many summer camps that was forced to weigh its options and decide whether to close for the summer or make adjustments to account for concerns regarding the coronavirus.

“We didn’t know what the next months were going to bring,” Executive Director Dan Minmagh said. “But we wanted to make sure we played it safe for campers. We know how much the campers love the summers out here with their peers. It was a tough and sad decision to make.”

It is an especially difficult decision to make for Minmagh, who is retiring at the end of the year after being the director there for 40 years. He won’t get to have the exit he imagined.

“I wanted one last big thing to go out with the kids in the campouts and the campfires and make it one of the best summers of their lives,” Minmagh said. “But we can't have it.”

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Missing out on a summer of campers visiting the grounds is a major loss for Tim Bryantt, the executive director at Cooperstown (N.D.) Bible Camp, which elected to close for the summer as well. He and the camp's staff would normally be ramping up to prepare for the beginning of the summer months and another flood of campers.

“We enjoy people; we enjoy our campers,” Bryantt said. “We like to be around them regardless of the age or the group. We struggled making that decision.

“Camp people are a whole different breed of people. They can’t wait — that’s around 22 people who we have on for summer staff — that’s their summer. They live for that every summer.”

The rock climbing wall at Cooperstown Bible Camp won't have campers climbing to the top this year because it's closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Special to The Forum
The rock climbing wall at Cooperstown Bible Camp won't have campers climbing to the top this year because it's closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Special to The Forum

Rusty K Ranch, a day camp that focuses on horseback riding in Davenport, N.D., is still planning to stay open this summer. Owner Sari Kraft and her staff are working on ways to alter programming to accommodate pandemic-related concerns, including shorter sessions and smaller groups.

“We’re still planning to have the kids here,” Kraft said. “We haven’t decided exactly in what capacity — smaller groups, shorter terms. We’ll probably be required to wear a mask. But eight hours is a very long time to have a kid wearing a mask and keeping them apart so they stay safe.”

Kraft said she has heard a mixed bag of thoughts from parents regarding how they feel about sending their kid to camp this summer. Some, she says, have told her they are very concerned and don’t want their kids out in public at all, while others are enthusiastic about getting them outside and active again. The camp is giving refunds to people who decide not to attend.

“Because our camps are mostly outside, people might feel a little more comfortable,” Kraft said. “We’re going to try to open it up to as many people as possible. Kids are getting squirrely and it’s hard to be at home, so we know people want to get out and do something outside. We’ve had kids who have come out year after year after year, and a lot of those kids are looking forward to coming out again.”

Camps that are shut down for the summer are still finding ways to reach out to campers. Cooperstown Bible Camp is planning a free virtual camp for three hours a day for the entire month of June, for example.

Instead of congregating at the lodge for meals at Cooperstown Bible Camp this summer, campers can check in on the camp's Facebook or YouTube page for virtual camp. Special to The Forum
Instead of congregating at the lodge for meals at Cooperstown Bible Camp this summer, campers can check in on the camp's Facebook or YouTube page for virtual camp. Special to The Forum

Campers will have the opportunity to virtually interact with camp staff and other campers as they do outdoor activities, arts and crafts, cooking projects and other activities free of charge.

“We said we were going to have virtual camp and all of the staff wanted to be involved,” Bryantt said. “They’re all working on their projects for when summer camp starts.”

Camp Grassick is ramping up its social media presence and trying to engage its campers as much as possible while they’re unable to visit. It’s putting out daily challenges on its Facebook page, including “sing your favorite camp song” or “build a fort,” and sharing videos of people doing the challenges with the aim of keeping campers connected to their friends.

“It’s their camp," Minmagh said. "In our case, they’re children of special needs. They have friends here they’ve made through the years and are accepted for who they are. To see the smiles on their faces and hear the chatter on the sidewalks here is going to be truly missed.”