There’s no virtual substitute for the bonds you make with your peers while attending overnight camp.” — D’Arcy Munn, RKY Camp Director
Canoeing, swimming, roasting smores, telling ghost stories around the campfire—these are some of the fun activities hundreds of kids normally get to do at RKY Camp on Eagle Lake, about an hour north of Kingston.
With the pandemic’s lockdowns and restrictions, RKY Camp has had to pivot this year to a family camping model instead.
While grateful that RKY camp can still open this year, Camp Director D’Arcy Munn said that “there’s no virtual substitute for the bonds you make with your peers while attending overnight camp”.
Conversations with families over the past two years made him more motivated than ever to come back at full capacity next summer and to make sure that kids who need summer camp will be able to attend.
As RKY’s camp director for the last seven years, Munn can “write a book” about running overnight camps and all the challenges that come with that job.
Pivoting to family camp
Munn explained that it’s been a common alternative adopted by many campsites similar to RKY to pivot to a family cabin rental program during the pandemic.
“It’s a great way to still offer something to our community. We did give preference to our families that have [pre-registered their kids],” he said.
The timeline to make decisions for RKY’s summer operations had passed before the pandemic’s third wave subsided and the province had given approval for campsites to re-open.
“We made a decision as an organization to pivot to a family model for the summer,” Munn said.
Asked how the family cabin rental has been received, Munn acknowledged that spots filled up within a few days. Families can still book, he said, as some families do change their plans.
“As we’re discovering with restrictions being lifted, some families change their plans, but we’ve been able to fill cancellations with the waitlist. Things change from week to week,” he said.
RKY Camp starts welcoming families on Thursday, Jul. 8, 2021. Each household gets two cabins, exclusive use of a bathroom per family, and take-out food served out of the brand new dining hall.
“We decided to allow six families on site at a time,” said Munn, adding that the cost varies depending on the length of stay.
For a family of four, a one-week stay costs approximately $1,500. The amount includes food, cabin rental, and a full offering of programming while on site, albeit with different levels of supervision and COVID-19 restrictions.
Silver lining during COVID-19
Munn said that the pandemic cost the camp its core revenue and has put a strain on the organization’s resources. The family rental program is not a substantial replacement to the camp’s revenue.
However, with the help of the government’s wage subsidy program and other grants, RKY Camp had been able to make improvements to the site and keep the camp’s full-time team employed.
“[We were able to] do things that would have otherwise been difficult had we been operating, that has been the silver lining,” Munn shared.
Three main improvements to the camp were made during the pandemic. A new $2 million dining hall called The Homestead has been built and named in recognition of the camp’s largest supporter Brit Smith of Homestead Land Holdings.
Secondly, the old dining hall was renovated into a year-round education centre with the help of Jim and Maryln Stewart—an alumni family who donated $200,000.
The education centre serves as a place for schools and community groups to come out and experience the outdoors in a facilitated setting, to “get away from the city in all four seasons,” according to Munn.
Third, the waterfront was revitalized through the Rotary Club of Kingston’s $70,000 centennial grant program.
The 90-year old RKY camp is a charitable organization with a well-established reputation in the community. RKY stands for its three founding organizations Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and YMCA of Eastern Ontario.
“There’s not really a substitute for the social experience that is the overnight camp. We plan to return to that model as soon as possible,” Munn said.
For more information, visit https://www.rkycamp.org/.