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On Site: Happy Campers

Riki Goldstein

The unsung heroes who fix storm damage, exploded pipes, collapsed roofs, and vandalism wreckage make campgrounds habitable once more for another unforgettable summer

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

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To open up for the summer, each camp needs a permit from the state’s Department of Health. Officials check the smoke detectors and emergency lights, inspect the infirmary for satisfactory first-aid provisions, and test a water sample for the presence of harmful bacteria (Photos: Benjamin Kohen)

Spring Cleaning

Whether you loved camp or hated it, chances are that at some point, you’ll be waving goodbye to your own kids as they board the camp bus. Later, you’ll hear all about color war, sports, and the major trip. But what you won’t hear about are the nuts and bolts that underlie all those amazing experiences, and the unsung heroes who make it all happen, year after year. While for eight weeks, the campgrounds are pulsating with summer fun, those golf carts have been rumbling along the shady paths from office to bunkhouse to basketball court and pool long before opening day, and will continue to roll long after the banquet is over.

There’s still a week until the kids pack up and board those buses, but for the ground crew, it’s been summer season since early spring. After a pounding winter, it takes an entire staff to fix storm damage, exploded pipes, collapsed roofs, and vandalism wreckage, but the men behind the scenes — the maintenance workers who make campgrounds habitable once more — are happy to help make another unforgettable summer.

 

In the Catskills, preparations for the coming camp season move into high gear in early spring. The maintenance manager and his crew are among the first people to start getting things ready on-site, facing the annual challenge of making the sprawling complexes and acres of land habitable again.

First, they take stock of any storm damage. Trees fallen on structures or wires, exploded pipes, and roofs that have collapsed under heavy snowfall are the most common scenarios. “There could also be some vandalism to the camp property,” says J.S, who has worked as part of the maintenance team in several New York boys’ camps, “but thankfully that’s not so common. Years ago, when all the pipes were made of copper, vandals could come during the off-season to cut away the copper, but today the pipes are made of plastic or PVC, which no one wants to steal.”

To fix up the winter damage, some buildings will be renovated, and many freshened up. In Camp Agudah in Ferndale, a crew of between 20 and 30 workers is involved in painting and cleaning.

 

Safety Net

But it’s not only about a fresh coat of paint. “In camp, it’s always safety first,” says Rabbi Yosef Newhouse from Machaneh Bais Yaakov. “Every building needs to be checked for fire safety, for broken windows, stuck doors, tripping hazards. We have to check that each bed is secure. We also get the water back on; it’s turned off over the winter to prevent pipes from freezing and cracking.”

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Safety doesn’t just remain in the hands of the camp administration, though. To open up for the summer, each camp needs a permit from the state’s Department of Health. Officials check the smoke detectors and emergency lights, inspect the infirmary for satisfactory first-aid provisions, and test a water sample for the presence of harmful bacteria.

Yossi T., who spent several summers as part of a maintenance crew at boys’ camps in the New York area, recalls one camp where there was a problem with E. coli — a potentially dangerous bacteria found in animal waste — in the water system. Twice, the camp sent samples to the state, and they were found to be contaminated. “It was crazy — a week and a half before camp began and the water was unsafe. We were thinking of bringing in water tanks, but even that would not help if the contamination was in the underground well that was our water source,” Yossi recalls. “Thankfully, the inspectors recommended a cleaning method for the entire water system and it worked. The third water sample we sent in was fine, and we received the permit.” Parents can relax, because there is usually another full state inspection during the summer, an unscheduled visit when camp is in full swing, when safety will be reassessed and water checked again. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 715)

 

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