By Ed Zwirn
(Originally published in the New York Post on June 11, 2017)
This is the busy time of year for Bradley Solmsen.
As the executive director of Surprise Lake Camp, he needs to make sure that his facility, located on 460 acres in Cold Spring, NY, is ready to welcome its incoming class of 650 kids, who will begin arriving on June 29.
Surprise Lake is among 2,000 licensed summer residential and day camps operating in the state. Collectively, as they pay staff, handle repairs and capital expenditures and cater to both campers and their families, they generate a direct economic impact of $1.3 billion, according to a new report by the American Camp Association, Northeast Region (New England, New York and New Jersey).
Overall, New York camps employ 60,000 seasonal and 3,500 full-time workers who receive more than $411 million in wages. In addition to payroll, New York camps spend more than $1.2 billion on goods and services throughout the Northeast, including food, fuel, supplies and banking, according to the report.
“I just got off the phone with the pool company because we just found out that we need a new pool pump,” Solmsen says. “We have about 200 different structures on the property, and we’re in the process of turning on the water and checking the plumbing in each of them. It’s like running a small city.”
In addition to making sure camp facilities are ready for the onslaught, Solmsen needs to make sure Surprise Lake is ready — and that his people are ready as well. The camp, which employs 12 full-time staff year round, sees its employee count swell to some 250 counselors, lifeguards and support workers by the start of the summer.
“The backbone and most essential ingredient in running an excellent summer camp is the staff we hire,” he says. “Our biggest annual budget line is our staff, which costs approximately $2 million, including year-round full time and summer.”
In addition, the camp association cites the tourism impact of the industry.
“Family trips surrounding drop-off day, pick-up day, visiting day and visits from prospective campers are common,” writes the report’s author, Charles Laughton, who says that New York camps attract 129,000 out-of-state visitors who spend $42 million annually.
“Camps are spending a lot of money to make sure that [they’re] safe and the kids have fun,” says Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, who adds that about 350,000 children attend New York summer camps.
Sam Borek, who owns Woodmont Day Camp in New City, says his business serves 500 campers, mostly from Bergen and Rockland counties and New York City.
He says his staff is swelling from a full-year headcount of 6.5 to a summer staff of 220, including counselors, whose pay varies from $1,500 to $10,000 for the summer.
“We use lots of local work for capital expenditures,” he says. “We just put in a new climbing tower, a new swimming pool and we’re using plumbers and landscapers. We feel a close relationship to the community.”