Attention campers: Fun is on the way… maybe

ANCRAM–Ruth Thomas wants to bring back the town’s summer recreation program for youngsters, and she has done her homework.

Mrs. Thomas, a mother, pre-school teacher and the wife of Town Councilman Chris Thomas, brought a detailed proposal to the Town Board’s April 21 meeting hoping eventually to gain approval and a financial commitment from the board to do some fixing up at the town’s Blass Memorial Field, which includes the town pool and basketball court.

Ancram used to have a summer youth program that started in the early 1980s  and stopped 13 years ago, according to Mrs. Thomas, who said she spoke to the town Youth Commission about the idea of reviving a summer program.

The commission thought local kids would benefit from such a program, but that the town did not have the right facilities for it, she said.

According to Columbia Health Department Public Health Sanitarian Ed Coons, the Ancram program, which is technically considered a day camp, would become the 16th municipal program in the county.

Existing programs are in Germantown, Claverack, Copake (Copake Memorial Park and the Roeliff Jansen Park), Chatham, Ghent, Greenport, Hudson, Livingston, New Lebanon, Stockport, Canaan, Austerlitz, Kinderhook and West Ghent, with one on tap for the Village of Kinderhook. There are also four private day camps and eight resident/overnight camps in the county, he said.

Mr. Coons handles the state licensing of public and private camps, both day camps and overnight camps in the county. The state requires licensing when the activities involved present “a significant risk of injury.” Swimming and playing on playground equipment qualify as risky activities, said Mr. Coons.

At least part of the impetus for reinventing the Ancram summer program is that the Copake summer recreation program at Copake Memorial Park has downsized to some degree due to budget constraints and no longer accepts youngsters who don’t live in Copake.

Without a recreation program in their hometown, Ancram youngsters are left to look for organized summer fun elsewhere.

Mrs. Thomas filled out an 85-page application to get the permitting process rolling. Documentation required by the state includes an approved safety plan that addresses all aspects of the program from “the physical plant” to assuring that staff members, whether volunteer or paid, have passed personal background checks and are qualified to work with children.

Mrs. Thomas is proposing a six-week program to run from July 5 through August 13, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

While the centerpiece of the program will be swimming lessons at the town pool, Mrs. Thomas has outlined activities that include working with local artists, learning about local history, horticulture, agriculture, the ocean, Hawaii and nature. Pizza parties, a treasure hunt and field trips are also part of the mix.

The biggest drawback to the program in general is the lack of a pavilion or other shelter where youngsters can retreat from inclement weather. Mrs. Thomas suggested that the town buy a 20-by-40-foot commercial-grade tent for that purpose–pitch it for six weeks in the summer and also use it for other town events.

She estimates the cost to be somewhere between $1,500 and $3,500, depending on the quality of the tent.

Mrs. Thomas also acknowledged the need for a plan to evacuate youngsters to more substantial structure, such as the firehouse or St. John’s Lutheran Church across the street in the event of severe weather.

She asked the board to consider: buying new basketball backboards, hoops and nets and to repair and paint the surface of the court; to buy four new park benches; to paint the pool bathrooms and replace sink faucets; to paint the fence and install a railing on the steep hill by the pool, all for a cost of about $2,000.

In coming up with cost estimates for enrollees, Mrs. Thomas looked at the day camp programs in Pine Plains, which charges $125/child/week, and Millerton, which charges between $75 and $100/child/week.

She suggested starting with an enrollment of 50 youngsters ranging in age from kindergarteners to 12-year-olds, at a charge of $65/week/Ancram child; $75/week for non-residents.

She noted the need to establish a tuition scholarship fund and said, “The goal is to make the program affordable.” She also has plans for a junior camp counselor program in which 12- to 14-year-olds can learn to work with younger children, at the same time helping out seasoned counselors.

In the tentative camp budget Mrs. Thomas developed, she, as director, would be paid $17/hour and an assistant director would earn $12/hour. She estimated: the total revenue for the six-week program would run between $16,500 and $22,250 depending on the number of resident and non-resident campers; the annual cost to run the camp at $15,908; and that the program would generate a $3,000 profit.

Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin said by phone this week that cost numbers presented by Mrs. Thomas are by no means final and she must still sit down with the Youth Commission to nail down details and return to the board next month.

The supervisor said, as with all the town’s “adventures,” the town may put up some “seed money” but donations and grants for the program, if approved, will be sought, making the final cost to the town, if any, unknown at this point.

To contact Diane Valden email .


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