CONWAY — The Conway Parks and Recreation Department kicked off its eight-week summer camp Monday with record numbers. While 2021 was a record-setting summer, with 231 campers from Albany and Conway signing up, more than 290 kids are registered this year.

“It’s amazing,” said Rec Director Michael Lane. “We had 235 campers here on Monday for the first day, which was a single-day record for us. It was very busy, but successful."

He added: "I think we’ve already worked out a few of the kinks from the first day in terms of drop-off and pickup." By Tuesday, he said, it was much smoother.

While 292 campers currently are registered, “more are expected to trickle in” later this week. There is no deadline to sign up for camp, and there is no cap on the number of campers Conway Rec can take.

The department this year ran an early bird special of $299 to register for eight weeks of camp, which expired in May. Assistant Rec Director Todd Gallagher said the discount "was one of the most successful things we've ever done,”  and noted that 205 children registered.

The current price is $359. To sign up, go to conwayrec.com.

Last summer was a banner one for Conway Rec which wrapped up with camper visits that totaled a record 5,851.  In 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were only 147 campers.

"We thought it was crazy last year, but I can easily see us topping last year’s numbers,” said Gallagher.

Both Gallagher and Lane believe the record numbers may be a sign of the economy. With gas prices topping $5 a gallon, more families are opting to stay close to home.

“We’re excited so many people want to take advantage of our program,” said Lane. “We think it’s very family-friendly (in terms of pricing).”

Counselors this summer include Braeden Bailey, Shane Fay, Bobby Graustein, Allie Hussey, Grace Murphy, Reilly Murphy, Robbie Murphy, Courtney O’Keefe, Justin Olson, Julia Quinn, Jack Robinson, Rachel Samia, Remi Snowden, Danielle Solomon and Tristan Witz.

Katie Dundee and Lydia Wiggin are counselors in training.

Full-time employees include Lane, Gallagher, Teen Center Coordinator Robbie Moody, Administrative Assistant Lynore Wagner and Programmer Zack Bradley.

Conway Rec received state and national recognition for successfully pulling off summer camp each of the past two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Not one child came down with COVID during camp.

“Johnny (Eastman, former rec director and pending town manager) proved that not only could you do camp but showed the right way to do it,” Donna Kueffe, of the New Hampshire Parks and Recreation Association, said on June 11 at a celebration for Eastman

In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, masks were optional at all times, health screenings were done on-site and campers were placed in “pods” (staying with the same group) to keep everyone safe. Last year, masks were not required.

But, Lane said, “we kept a lot of the safeguards from last summer in place. We did the pods with kids again (ranging from groups of 10-20 children) but returned to a lot of our normal activities as well.”

Lane said the pod format is back in place this summer.

“It’s more of a management thing,” he explained. “We’ll have four pods for our children in grades K-2; five pods for grades 3-5; and four pods for the grades 6-7 children.”

Conway Rec will again be taking summer trips. The youngest pod will venture to Story Land on Tuesday, while the middle pod will make the trek to Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco, Maine on Wednesday and the older group will head there on Thursday.

New this summer for parents and campers, Gallagher said there will be an early drop-off and late pickup program which extends beyond the normal camp day of 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The service is available for $85 and features early drop-off from 8 to 8:30 a.m. and late pickup after 4:15 p.m.

“That has been well-received,” Lane said.

Lane said the weather has been ideal for summer camp thus far.

“The coolness in the air has been great,” he said. “I think we’re all really pleased with things have started.

Camp, which runs Monday-Friday, is scheduled to conclude Aug. 12.

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