CROSSLAKE, Minn. — After a silent summer with no scampering campers on the spacious grounds of Camp Knutson, staff at the Crosslake, Minn., camp that hosts people with disabilities eagerly anticipated last week’s return of campers.

“That’s what you miss most; you miss hearing the laughter of the kids,” said Jared Griffin, Camp Knutson senior director. “So it’ll be good to have some of that laughter back on the grounds this summer.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota camp on Lower Whitefish and Big Trout lakes to in-person campers last year. Virtual programs took place, and volunteers and staff wrote postcards to campers and offered fun activities online and through social media.

Family Camp at Camp Knutson the week of June 14 was a special time for Hunter Kirby's family from Woodbury: Roger Swanson (left), Hunter, Brenda Kavanagh and Afton Kirby. Submitted Photo
Family Camp at Camp Knutson the week of June 14 was a special time for Hunter Kirby's family from Woodbury: Roger Swanson (left), Hunter, Brenda Kavanagh and Afton Kirby. Submitted Photo

But it wasn’t the same as having the Camp Knutson grounds bustling with people having fun.

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That changed last week as campers returned after Camp K personnel consulted with its 11 nonprofit partners and took precautionary steps designed to keep campers safe and healthy.

“We’re not where we want to be yet, but it feels good. We’re taking steps in the right direction to get to where we want to be,” Griffin said while sitting in a gazebo at camp on a warm June day.

Those steps include hand sanitizing stations throughout camp, a touchless drinking fountain, more picnic tables for outdoor meals and changing cleaning procedures.

“There’s a lot of adaptation we’ve needed to do to be flexible,” Griffin said.

Campers must have a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before arriving at camp or proof of vaccination. They will have to answer COVID-19 screening questions, have their temperatures checked and undergo other daily health checks.

One cabin is set aside for those who become unwell and may need to quarantine.


"That’s what you miss most - you miss hearing the laughter of the kids. So it’ll be good to have some of that laughter back on the grounds this summer."

— Jared Griffin, Camp Knutson senior director


The goal is to filter out as many risks as possible to provide safe, accessible programs for those who need it most — people with disabilities or significant health issues — so they can have a worry-free camp experience, Griffin said, noting that’s Camp Knutson's mission.

“With COVID, we’ve learned how to adapt and adjust and work through all those layers just like everyone else,” he said.

Sam’s Malin's family, from Westby, Wisconsin, enjoyed time on the lake during Family Camp the week of June 14 at Camp Knutson: Lou Ann Ryan, Laura Malin, Sherry Monson and Sam. Submitted Photo
Sam’s Malin's family, from Westby, Wisconsin, enjoyed time on the lake during Family Camp the week of June 14 at Camp Knutson: Lou Ann Ryan, Laura Malin, Sherry Monson and Sam. Submitted Photo

To that end, following Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the number of campers will be limited and they’ll stick with smaller cohort groups. Usually Camp Knutson hosts a specific specialty camp each week. This year those specialty camps will be intermixed with people doing activities in small family units as Camp K hosts Family Camp for the first time.


"We’re grateful for people who held our hands, walked beside us, prayed for us and provided their own generosity."

— Jared Griffin, Camp Knutson senior director


Also new this year is a camp for kids affected by cancer. There will be three sessions for autistic campers and a capstone session for kids with heart conditions who are in their last year of camp.

“Overall it just feels so good to be back doing what we do, even if we’re serving a small capacity and in a different way,” Griffin said. “It’s too important to campers to sit out another summer.”

Like in 2020, Camp Knutson will again offer virtual camp programs for those campers who aren’t yet comfortable coming to camp in person or who simply can’t come for health reasons. Volunteers and staff will write postcards to campers again too.

Hunter Kirby (left) and Roger Swanson, of Woodbury, roast s'mores over a campfire at the first Family Camp held the week of June 14 at Camp Knutson in Crosslake. Submitted Photo
Hunter Kirby (left) and Roger Swanson, of Woodbury, roast s'mores over a campfire at the first Family Camp held the week of June 14 at Camp Knutson in Crosslake. Submitted Photo

History

With continued support from the community, volunteers and Camp Knutson’s partnerships, Camp Knutson staff was able to do grounds and accessibility improvements, as well as create new programs over the past year.

Founded in 1953, Camp Knutson is nearly 70 years old. Griffin believes 2020 was the first year camp had to be shut down. Innovation, creativity, grit, determination and resiliency has kept the camp’s mission and reputation strong and camp moving forward.

“We’re grateful for people who held our hands, walked beside us, prayed for us and provided their own generosity,” Griffin said.

“We’re just inching our way through this. There’s a long way to go to feel out of the woods, but we’re turning the corner. The tide is turning,” he said.