A Letter from Adam and Stephanie

On Tuesday, May 19th, Adam and Stephanie sent the following letter to our current camp families

Normally, when I sit down to write an update or Arrowhead article for the camp family, the task is easy.  There are so many truly incredible aspects to the Camp Nebagamon experience and community that the words and thoughts come effortlessly. Today, I have been staring at a blank screen for the better part of two hours.

The words are not coming. This is hard. Ok…here goes:

It is with tremendous sadness that we are writing to let you know that we feel the need to cancel the 2020 camp season due to the continuing uncertainty and risks surrounding COVID-19.

We know that this announcement comes as a tremendous disappointment to all corners of the camp family, but that it hits the campers, parents, and staff of the summer of 2020 particularly hard.  First, let me say that we are sorry.  We have been working really hard to try to figure out a way to make this work.  We considered many different plans for running camp while keeping our community safe. And although we could hope that we could keep camp 100% clear of COVID-19 if we acted on these plans, we had to acknowledge the likelihood of the illness finding its way into camp and then managing it as it sought to spread throughout our community.  In fact, virtually every expert we spoke with on this topic told us that the idea of keeping the virus out of camp is unrealistic. Ultimately, we just couldn’t get past the reality that, as much as we are well-versed in directing Camp Nebagamon, we are not well-versed in managing global pandemics.  After consulting with many medical professionals, studying the guidance provided through a joint effort of the CDC, American Camp Association (ACA), and an environmental health consulting firm, and accepting the fact that reliable testing is not readily available, it became clear to us that the risks of this situation felt too significant for our kids, our staff, and the community.

You may be thinking, “but camp will be just fine since the virus seems to have little effect on children.”  This is largely true (although, even this “fact” seems to be changing in recent days with medical studies suggesting possible links between COVID-19 and an inflammatory disease that strikes children). However, it is important to remember that while the majority of our camp population consists of kids, camp is executed by quite a few adults, some of whom fall into demographics that tend to get hit harder by the illness.  We have had many sleepless nights considering what would happen if the key camp leadership team fell ill during the season.  Ironically, one of our biggest bragging points over the years has been our mature leadership team (our village directors, our office folks, our caretakers, our specialists, our doctors, our kitchen staff, and even our camp directors). It is critical to consider these folks as well — and what the ramifications would be if many became ill once camp was in operation.

Another cruel twist of irony is the fact that, unlike many camps, Nebagamon proudly draws campers from all over the world. Of course, this same geographic diversity is now more problematic in our new reality. Last summer we hosted kids from over 50 different communities around the country plus international campers. This is a significant strength of Camp Nebagamon. In this case, the fact that we would be bringing in kids and staff from so many different corners of the country, some hard hit by COVID-19, is a complicating factor.  Further factoring into our decision is that while Douglas County, Wisconsin has been lightly hit by the virus, we are aware of the impact we might have on that community by introducing people from all over the country.

Finally, we couldn’t ignore that, if we moved forward with camp, once we had implemented the necessary changes and restrictions, Camp Nebagamon would no longer feel like Camp Nebagamon; it would no longer be a Nebagamon summer. In reviewing the guidance provided by the ACA working in concert with the CDC, there are many structural changes that would have to be made that would change the very nature of a summer at Camp Nebagamon. It is strongly suggested that cabin groups stick almost exclusively together, for meals, activities…and everything. This would mean a summer without Council Fires, Sunday Services and talent shows as we know them. The guidance also states that we not eat in the Rec Hall whenever possible and when forced to, that we eat in shifts. That singular, jubilant, exciting three-times a day dining experience, that is so quintessentially Nebagamon, would be gone. Our wilderness tripping program, a hallmark of Nebagamon, would, practically speaking, be impossible to run. However, potentially the greatest loss is the loss of community. According to these guidelines, a Lumberjack couldn’t work with a Swamper teaching him how to light a fire in CNOC. The beauty of inter-age mentorship would be gone. Campers wouldn’t get the opportunity to connect with the whole of our amazing counseling staff, and find those really special relationships, because they would be limited to their cabin groupings. Friendships would largely be limited to those in their cabin. You see…if there was ever something that Nebagamon is NOT, it is a place of social distance.  At camp we hug, we high-five, we throw our arms around each other and sing….one of the main tenets of Nebagamon is social convergence….not social distance. This would simply not be a Camp Nebagamon summer.

This is hard stuff.  We waited and waited (and planned and planned) for some degree of certainty about how to safely run camp this summer.  But if there is one thing that has been quite clear throughout this experience, it is that even the medical and scientific communities have very little certainty about much surrounding this virus.  If all of these experts are so uncertain as to how to manage this situation, we certainly don’t feel as though we are in a position to assume that we know how to manage it.  Simply put, we feel that the scientific and medical world just needs more time to catch up to a virus that got a huge head start in this race. And they are not there yet. This certainty will obviously come at some point, but clearly, it is not here yet.

I know that for many boys and their families, and staff, camp was supposed to come to the rescue.  A summer to vanquish the isolation and containment and restrictions we have all had to contend with. Steph and I are just so sorry and feel so personally awful to be a source of just one more disappointment.  We very much want Nebagamon to be that light at the end of the tunnel. And it will be, just not in 2020. We are sorry.

I am guessing, as parents, you have the same stone in the pit of your stomach that we have been feeling when thinking about informing your son of this news. It will be important to empathize with his disappointment, recognize the disappointment. He may need space and time to be sad.  We are here if you want to call and discuss how to share the news with your son. Please remember that we talk a lot at camp about being our BEST SELF – both at Nebagamon and then when we return home. We overcome challenges – be it a wilderness trip or an archery target or a swim test – and we become better for it. We hope that your son will eventually be able to view this disappointment as another challenge to overcome, bettering himself and his family in the process. Please feel free to access some resources that we have added to our website that we hope will be helpful to you as you navigate this news with your son – you can access those here. In addition to those resources, on that webpage is a video message for your camper from Adam and Stephanie.

Finally, I just want to be clear. There will be a summer 2021 at Nebagamon. And anyone who was supposed to be a camper in 2020 is welcome to be there. That includes our 2020 9th grade campers who will be invited to be our first ever 10th grade campers. They will have the full final summer experience including Quetico Big Trips, a special final Council Fire, and all of the great leadership opportunities that they were hoping for this summer.

Without a doubt, the summer of 2020 is a major disappointment…but we will be working like mad to take all of that disappointment and channel it into incredible positivity and the most amazing summer ever imagined in 2021.

Thank you for your love and support and the patience you showed us in our journey to a decision, as we worked through the new COVID-19 reality we have been dealt.

We will be hosting ZOOM meetings with all of the boys throughout the next couple of weeks. We hope to see them there.

With a heavy heart and a clear conscience…

All is quiet in the North Woods…

Adam and Steph