Kickball and capture the flag aren't in the cards this year for children attending summer day camps at Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.

Tag, on the other hand, is still on -- although participants are using pool noodles instead of their hands to tag each other 'it,' said Audrey Beam, Metro Parks' camp and events coordinator.

This is just one example of the ways in which the parks system has modified its summer camp activities to enable the programming to be available during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The park system's weeklong camps began June 15, and its Outdoor Adventure program -- offering canoeing, rock climbing and kayaking -- resumed June 13, said director Tim Moloney. But until something changes for the better with the pandemic, that is the extent of the programming the parks system will offer, he said.

"I see our programming model changing as we come out of this," Moloney said.

By mid-March, the parks system had suspended its programming, he said.

The return of the Outdoor Adventure program came with some new safety protocols.

Some groups could have as many as 50 people, but the parks system since has limited that number to 10, Moloney said. Staff members also have built more time between activities to sanitize equipment after one group uses it, he said.

The parks system also has reworked its day camps to enable 6-foot distancing. It's the only program the parks system offers that isn't free, Moloney said.

Franklin County Public Health supports the Ohio Department of Health's guidelines regarding youth day camps and residential camps, said Mitzi Kline, FCPH director of communication and marketing.

"We are happy to work with any camp organizer to offer assistance, such as reviewing of plans for events/activities and operations at their location," she said.

The Ohio Department of Health has released detailed mandatory and recommended practices for day camps operating during the pandemic.

This summer, the parks system will offer only part of its camp programming.

Preschool camps, which typically are offered twice per week for a half-day, have been canceled for the season, Beam said.

The day camps that began June 15 are for children ages 6-12, Beam said. Each camp lasts one week; new camps begin every Monday. The last day of camp is Aug. 7.

Camps this year are smaller in scope, too.

The parks system typically has seven camps operating in a week, Beam said, but it has six camps per week this year.

Camps are operating under capacity, too, she said. Prior to the start of camp June 15, staff underwent a three-day training session for safety protocols, she said.

Each camp is divided into pods, with a maximum of nine students and one counselor per pod, Beam said.

Moloney said the parks system reallocated its seasonal staff and full-time naturalists to help serve as camp counselors. Each pod takes part in activities together during the weeklong camp program, maintaining distance from other pods.

Staff members wear masks at any point they're within about 6 feet of people and during first aid and food handling, Moloney said.

Masks aren't required for campers, though, except during check-in and checkout times, he said.

Participants and staff also have to undergo daily health assessments, Moloney said.

Each morning before camp, students submit to temperature checks, Beam said. Families stay in their vehicles, and counselors wearing masks check campers' temperatures. Temperatures below 100.4 degrees are safe for camp, she said.

Beam said her favorite part of the first day of camp was how excited campers were to see each other. She said they seem to understand how things are different because of the pandemic.

"The first day went smoothly, so we're very thankful for that," she said.

For a list of available Metro Parks camps, go to metroparks.net/programs-and-activities or call 614-891-0700.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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