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Despite Snow, Summer Comes in February

Summer Activities Fair draws 1,100 summer camp hopefuls.

Outside, cold winds blew across snow banks and icy roads. But inside the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, parents relieved their cabin fever and children talked of swimming, hiking, horseback riding and camping.

From 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, over 1,100 people gathered for the county’s annual Summer Activities Fair, sponsored by the County Council of PTAs and Arlington Public Schools. Representatives of more than 100 educational and recreational camps and programs came to present their camps, with setups ranging from basic table displays to videos to live animal demonstrations.

Despite apparent competition for attention, many camp representatives said they expect no trouble filling their programs.

Yorktown Girls Basketball camp is looking forward to another year of booming business again this summer. “I’ve had to turn people away the last three years,” said Kip Davis. The former girls varsity coach retired last year. But the camp was so popular, Davis said, that he couldn’t stand to shut it down, so he’ll be coming back for another year.

Davis has expanded enrollment as much as possible, but he said he makes sure to keep a one-to-nine ratio of staff to campers. “You want it to be comfortable for the kids and the staff,” he said.

Staff consists partly of current players, like Yorktown junior Ashley Mannes. “It’s very, very fun,” she said. “The kids are just wonderful. It’s very rewarding.”

Davis was quick to give credit to Mannes and her colleagues. “What brings the kids back is that I have a great staff,” he said. Whatever the reason, campers do come back – at the fair, Davis already had 50 girls signed up.

OTHER LOCAL CAMPS reported strong interest from youths and parents as well. Camp Patahontas is the longest-running and most popular camp sponsored by the county’s Parks and Recreation department.

“There’s some magnetic pull to this camp that just keeps pulling you back year after year,” said Alex Workman, the camp’s director. Workman, 23, has been working at camps since she was a teenager and attended camps every summer for years as a child.

Like many of the staff at Camp Patahontas, she was a camper here years ago. “It sucks you in when you’re little,” she said.

The camp runs a trio of two-week sessions beginning July 7. During the first week, campers stay in the area, participating in friendship- and trust-building activities. In the second week, campers head to the woods to camp out in Prince William Forest Park.

The split itinerary helps campers feel more comfortable, said Workman. “It’s a good transition for kids who have never been away,” she said.

SUMMER CAMPS built strong memories for Workman. While setting up for the fair on Friday, she caught sight of Greg Cronin, a camp director at Congressional Day Camp of Falls Church. Cronin had been Workman’s camp counselor when she was 8 years old. They recognized each other immediately.

Cronin said moments like that help show the impact summer camp can have on the lives of youths and counselors alike. “The most fun thing for me is watching the kids’ development from the beginning of the summer to the end,” he said. “There’s a lot of growth and development… but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Cronin’s camp offers traditional camps for children age 3-14 as well as specialty programs like teen travel, culinary camp and robotics camp.

VARIETY ABOUNDED at the fair, which was one of the things that appealed to some parents. “They have a broad range of offerings for people of varying interests, and the kids are having a great time,” said local parent Laura Leigh.

The fair was more than just fun though. It’s sometimes difficult for parents to expect how children will react to summer camp, she said, particularly when it comes to younger children who have spent little time away from parents. But by taking daughters Rebecca, 6, Catie, 4, and Megan, 2, to the fair, Leigh said she was better able to judge which camps the children would enjoy.

Parents looking for more information on summer camps in the area can call the school information center for the Arlington Public Schools at 703-228-7660.