2024 Day Camp Opens June 17

Change can be good, right? We’re about to find out.

For the first time in four decades, neither Mark nor Patty Clifton will oversee the Deer Lake Day Camp. Instead, Brian and Jenn Carroll – whom the Cliftons chose to succeed them – will open the 2024 summer camp Monday, June 17, with five sessions filled to near capacity.

Nothing unusual there. It’s happened before. But when you tour the Deer Lake property, you begin to discover plenty beyond its co-directors that’s new about this year’s camp. For instance …

  • There’s a new aluminum dock on the lagoon, with 15 fully enclosed floats and composite decking to replace the wood-and-aluminum moorings that were there. It’s also laid out in the shape of an H instead of a T as in the past. “It doesn’t get hot in the sun,” said Brian Carroll. “It’s splinter-free, and it’s textured for slip resistance.” Bottom line: It’s an improvement over its predecessor. “Now we have docks that should outlast us,” said Jenn, “with very little maintenance.”
  • The eight-week camp includes a one-week break in late July (21-28) to accommodate children enrolled in the Arthur C. Luf Burn Camp ( Connecticut Burns Care Foundation – Benefiting the Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp (ctburnsfoundation.org). Deer Lake hosted the camp a year ago, but it was in August after the conclusion of its summer camp. This time it will occur before the last of the three two-week sessions. “Part of the problem with August,” said Jenn, “is that it’s just too hot for some of these children, and it doesn’t allow them to recover in time to go back to school. We thought this would allow us to accommodate them while giving our staff a break so they don’t suffer mid-summer fatigue.” The camp will be closed to all visitors during the Burn Camp.
  • The Wilderness School for high-school students, which was unable to accommodate two groups a year ago because of staff shortages, can now. They will operate simultaneously on a one-week exercise that includes rock climbing, high-rope elements, teamwork events and two nights of camping.
  • The camp is bringing back a third bus to service local campers, with stops at Killingworth Elementary School, the Robert’s Grocery Store parking lot and the Madison commuter lot.
  • Then, of course, there’s the change at the top. Patty Clifton ran the camp last summer, just as she did the previous 37 years, while Jenn Carroll served as an understudy. That will change, though Clifton is expected to be at Deer Lake the opening week for the first session. Her granddaughter, Anna, who turns 5 in July, will attend for the first time, and Patty has asked to volunteer. “Just helping out with whatever Brian and Jenn need done,” she said. “It’s good to have new blood.”

Now let’s get something straight: There’s plenty about this year’s camp that should be familiar to past campers and their families. Its eight directors, for example, were there the past two weeks, preparing for this summer’s opening, while an assortment of counselors – up to 40 this year – spent the last week participating in camp scheduling, conflict resolution training, CPR and first-aid training and lifeguard certification classes.

“If you step on the property the first day of camp,” said Jenn Carroll, “you will recognize 90 percent of it. I think people who’ve been here before will come back and have all the comforts they remember.”

Per usual, the camp runs eight weeks, with three two-week sessions and two of one-week each. It operates weekdays 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., with early-morning (7:30 – 9 a.m.) and late-afternoon (4-5:30 p.m.) care for children of working parents. Flag ceremonies begin the day and end it. Wednesday evening sleepovers and camper skits continue. Two-week sessions are filled to capacity (180 campers), with waiting lists running as deep as 24 individuals. Nevertheless, there are still openings for the first and last periods, each of which is one week.

So not much different there. But there is with the directors, and so far, so good for the Carrolls.

“This is really the first year where we’re running the camp standing on our own two feet,:” said Jenn. “The steps leading up to it have been a bit nerve-wracking, but the moment the staff stepped on the property I felt a calm come over me. It just felt like they got it.

“I just want to do Patty and the day camp proud and keep the traditions going. I guess what I’m saying is that I just want to do a good job. There’s a new generation of kids coming, and a lot of them are children of previous directors. So we’re excited to usher in the next generation of campers and see them grow as they go through the daily life of camp.”

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