‘You’ve got to be ready’: Inspections key to safe summer camp experience in Franklin County

  • Franklin Regional Council of Governments Health District Program Manager Randy Crochier speaks with Camp Apex Director Kara Younger while conducting an inspection of the camp in Shelburne on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Franklin Regional Council of Governments Health District Program Manager Randy Crochier tests the faucets at Camp Apex in Shelburne while conducting an inspection of the camp on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Camp Apex in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2022 5:22:22 PM

SHELBURNE — Getting a summer camp ready for kids is obviously a lot of work, but most people likely have little idea how stringent and detailed the process is.

There’s the obvious things, like ensuring staff are trained and buildings are up to code, but there’s also the smaller housekeeping details that are just as important, such as having contingency plans for all types of emergencies, maintaining medical records and counselor-to-camper ratios.

These sorts of details are worked out by camp staff and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) many months before the first child steps foot on a camp’s facility. At the YMCA’s Camp Apex in Shelburne Friday morning, FRCOG Health District Program Manager Randy Crochier was conducting an in-season inspection.

“These are our most vulnerable populations,” Crochier said of children. Inspections, he added, are “quite intensive.”

While FRCOG does inspections, each local board of health is also looped in on the process, adding another layer. Crochier said they inspect up to 16 camps a year across Franklin County, each with its own unique features. For example, Camp Apex has a pool and archery range, which both have their own regulations the camp must comply with.

“What I think people don’t understand is how much work is done before the season starts,” Crochier added. “The process can be uniquely different in each town.”

Crochier handles the on-site inspection of facilities and strategic planning of camps — on Friday, one of his responsibilities was ensuring hot water was running through the pipes — while FRCOG Regional Public Health Nurse Lisa White handles medical records and medications.

“Sometimes things can be obvious,” Crochier said about on-site inspections. For example, a tree might be dead and ready to fall or a roof might be leaking. “What we try and do is take care of the things we can see.”

It isn’t a one-and-done process, either. There is usually a pre-opening inspection, a visit from White or another FRCOG nurse, and then another on-site inspection during the season.

“In essence, we visit every camp a minimum of three times,” Crochier said. Inspections are done through FRCOG’s Cooperative Public Health Service program, which serves every Franklin County town west of Conway, as well as Bernardston, Gill, Northfield and Erving.

Crochier said they inspect camps in Rowe, Shelburne, Buckland, Conway, Leyden and Heath, as well as several camps at Northfield Mount Hermon School.

For Camp Apex, the inspection process begins in February, when Camp Director Kara Younger starts collecting the required documents and prepares them for Crochier and his staff to look over. She noted the camp has a great relationship with FRCOG, which helps things run smoothly.

“You’ve got to be ready and we can’t do that without this,” Younger said. “Our camp runs as well as it does because of our relationships with the local Board of Health and (with FRCOG). It’s a very good partnership.”

“If everything was perfect, we wouldn’t have permits and regulations,” Crochier added.

Beyond physical regulations, camps are required to have plans for poor weather, medical emergencies and mandatory attendance checks. If one of the 150 campers Camp Apex that sees each week doesn’t show up to camp for any reason, Younger said they call parents and guardians just to make sure the children are OK.

“We check because we have custody and DCF (Department of Children and Families) things,” she said.

The challenge for camps and busy staff like Younger is regulations often change, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said Camp Apex puts out informational booklets in the late winter to give families time to pore over the camp’s options, but sometimes a regulation change comes after that booklet is out. With the help of FRCOG’s professional staff, Younger said they often know about regulation changes before they happen and they can be prepared to comply with them.

“There’s a list of regulations and it’s no small feat. It’s a book,” Younger said, mimicking a thick book with her fingers. “Having people who read the regulations and tell us is incredible.”

Camp Apex runs through Aug. 19 and Younger said there is some “limited” space available for more children. Campers between 5 and 14 are eligible to register.

Crochier said public health is a team sport and working with recreational summer camps is “important for the kids.”

“We’re working for public health,” Crochier said, “and recreation camps for children is part of that.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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