Year-round and summer camps in Wisconsin contribute 7,844 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs to the state annually, with an estimated statewide impact of $717 million in economic activity.

Those are two of the results of a new study conducted by Neighborhood Analytics, LLC, in Wauwatosa, and the Strategic Research Institute at St. Norbert’s College in De Pere, that focuses on the 348 day and overnight camps in Wisconsin that annually serve more than 600,000 campers.

The findings are supported by the direct and significant effect camps have on the state economy, with $184.8 million in labor income and $518.5 million just from operating expenditures. 

The new study details how a single overnight camp in one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties contributes, on average, $2.3 million in economic activity to that county.

According to the American Camp Association (ACA), there are more than 20 summer camps in Vilas, Oneida and Forest counties.

In addition, 52.5% of camps that participated in the study operate year-round programming, representing job security and viable career paths in the Wisconsin camp industry.

Reopening planned

Since many camps were closed last summer or had limited campers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic impact was absent in most areas in 2020. Georgianna Schrader Starz, owner/director of alumni relations and advancement at Camp Nicolet, Inc., east of Eagle River, said expectations are high for 2021.

“Like most camps in the North Woods, we are planning to open this summer. We will be operating a full six-week ‘bubble’ for our traditional camp program and implementing testing, smaller group activities, and many other COVID protocols,” said Schrader Starz. “We have a very comprehensive operations guide and feel the camp can operate safely and successfully by following these guidelines. Hopefully, this will hold true for all of our area camps for the sake of our campers, staff and local economy.”

Camp experience

Beyond the substantial economic impact of summer camps in Wisconsin, camp owners and leaders also note the positive social-emotional learning outcomes achieved through the Wisconsin camp experience.

Laurie Browne, PhD, director of research at the ACA and a Wisconsin camp staff alumni from Clearwater Camp for Girls, shared, “Decades of summer camp research now shows how incredibly beneficial the camp experience is for youth.” 

Beyond attending camp, Browne highlights how “the opportunity to work at camp provides young adults with a skill set that’s beneficial in college and early in their careers.”

Camp Director Maggie Braun of Camp WeHaKee, said, “When young adults work at camp, it’s a win-win-win for the state of Wisconsin, positively impacting the economy, supporting the social-emotional health of our children, and providing young adults with college-ready skills and early career strategies for success.”

Summer camp is clearly an integral experience for campers and families in Wisconsin, a tradition started in 1906 by Camp Helen Brachman and an important industry for the future of children across the state. 

Revenue lost

Of the camps that participated in the study, most reported revenue between $1 million and $2.5 million annually.

“While the camp industry is still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, camps may be able to serve more campers this summer and next if the state provides camps with the opportunity to apply directly to the state for out-of-school and outdoor recreation funding from the American Recovery Act Plan,” said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the ACA.

With approximately 830,000 children of school age, Wisconsin camps’ legacy of economic contributions and playing a crucial role in child development is secure.

“Camps continue to provide whole-child health through time away from technology, opportunities to spend time outdoors in nature, access to new experiences, and 21st-century learning skills unique to the camp experience,” said Rosenberg. “Our kids will need camp experiences to recover from the isolation and disruption brought on by the pandemic. Summer camps in Wisconsin are ready to answer the call to serve our kids this summer and beyond.”