Last week, our team at the local Boy Scout council made the difficult decision to suspend summer camp operations at Camp Dittmer and Sam Wood while also canceling the regional day camps we had scheduled for local Cub Scouts. It was a path of safety and concern also recently taken by other scout councils across the state, the Girl Scouts, and operators of other youth camps.
At the same time, other summer events for kids have been dropping like flies – youngsters won’t get to do things like play in little league, watch Independence Day community fireworks, ride the rides at the Olcott Carousel Park, attend county fairs, or enjoy refreshing splash pads.
As the dad of four young kids and someone who serves local youth, I find this a little heartbreaking.
Childhood is fleeting. Like our precious and short Western New York summers, those years go by so fast ... too fast. As a parent you want every summer to be special, memories to be made, traditions to be created and carried on, and the innocence of youth to be savored.
You can’t let a good summer go to waste.
And, you shouldn’t.
Just because the world has changed so dramatically around us doesn’t mean the kids – and their parents – should be denied fun. Do as the kid running the stand down the block has done: Turn lemons into lemonade. Rather than obsessing over what could have been, what should have been, plan now to make this the best summer ever.
n Invest in your backyard. In this world of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders there’s no place safer to be than home – and, there’s no place better to spend your “play” money. With destination vacations now seeming like some quaint relic, staycations will become the norm for the foreseeable future. Get a swimming pool or a spa. Install a basketball hoop. Set-up a playset. Build a Whiffle Ball park or volleyball court. Make your place the place to be. Your kids will love that their yard has become a playground. So will you. There’s something to be said about relaxation and play just outside your backdoor.
n Go camping. Since you’ll be staying away from theme parks and hotels, go back to basics. Rough it, whether your idea of that is renting a small lodge on an Adirondack lake, taking your camping trailer to a campground, or pitching a tent in a state forest. The opportunities to spend nights in the wilds are limitless and available at any price level, including for free. The memories to be had around campfires, sleeping under a starry nighttime sky, and encountering wild beasts are hard to beat.
n Take to the water. Access to water in Western New York is an embarrassment of riches ... waters of all shapes and sizes abound, from small streams to the Genesee and Niagara rivers to the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes to the history-defining Erie Canal. There are so many opportunities to put a motor boat in the water, go kayaking and canoeing, take up fishing, and do what young kids absolutely love to do – kick around a creek looking for minnows, crayfish and salamanders. You could literally visit a different body or stretch of water every day of summer and still not put a dent in what the region has to offer.
n Go hiking and biking. Equally abundant are the hiking and biking opportunities in the region. Nature trails are everywhere, the Erie Canalway Trail is an absolute gem, there are the “Alabama Swamps,” Letchworth State Park, and countless state forests in the Southern Tier. Get the family on the move. It’s exercise – and it’s also good for the soul to be in nature, exploring, seeing and doing…and getting muddy.
n Hang out at the ballpark. Just because there’s no baseball, softball or soccer this year doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be opportunities for your sons and daughters to develop their skills or play pick-up games with the whole family. You don’t have to be the second coming of Ted Williams expounding on the science of hitting a baseball – just be you and focus on fundamentals, with an emphasis on the “fun.” Your kids will appreciate that they have the chance to hit and field. Ten or 20 years from now they’ll likely more fondly remember the nights spent shagging flies with dad than they will the team practices held in normal years.
I could go on and on about what families can do to wring every drop of excellence out of this summer. There won’t be summer camps, day camps, and crowded places to visit, but that shouldn’t cause one to believe that the next few months will be duds.
Life is what you make of it.
So is the summer.
So is childhood.
Don’t let any of those go to waste.
Bob Confer is a Daily News columnist and president of Confer Plastics. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.