Camp Quinebarge was shut down after only six days in session when staff conflicts and food issues became too much for the sleepaway camp to handle. The two-week experience – which costs $3,400 per child – was cut in half. Now furious parents want to know what went wrong and if they will see a full refund after the premature closure.
The New Hampshire summer camp, which boasts on its website that it has “provided a safe, fun, and exciting experience for boys and girls” for over 85 years, shut down amid a flood of problems. In a statement from the camp’s executive director, “two significant issues, combined, proved insurmountable.” Eric Carlson announced the camp’s closure after only six days in session and asked parents to pick up their children following the shutdown.
Carlson told parents that poor dining conditions and a lack of qualified staff were the main reasons for the decision, though parents later learned that there were more issues behind the scenes. Children described their experience at camp, recalling stories of fights between campers, as well as one instance in which a camper attacked a counselor. There were even instances of counselors fighting between themselves.
“We have been in tears, bored, and devastated the whole day. [Carlson] is lying to you all,” one camper wrote in a letter to his father. “You have to trust us. You have to. We are not joking and we are not having fun. So many things are wrong with this place.”
Parents are trying to understand what happened at Camp Quinebarge and why it was shut down. Eric Carlson assured parents that the decision was not based on any unsafe or unhealthy living conditions, but was instead due to a staff shortage and poor dining conditions, which began way before the doors opened.
The rustic overnight camp in Moultonborough, New Hampshire was plagued with problems before campers arrived, including the same staff shortages that have affected businesses all over the country. Two weeks before the sleepaway camp was set to open, Eric Carlson sent a letter to parents explaining that a shortage of counselors was proving very difficult to remedy. He said Camp Quinebarge was “in desperate need of additional staff for this summer” because 15 employees “dropped or ghosted.”
To combat the issue, Carlson planned to hire another 15 to 20 employees, though the rushed process only created bigger problems. One employee told the Boston Globe that there was a minimal vetting and training process. MJ Lowry explained that “I was hired about 4 days before campers arrived. They just kind of said, ‘Hey, you were referred, we’ll send you the application. You seem to be qualified; do you want the position?’”
After she was hired, Lowry recalled a bare-bones training process ahead of the camp’s opening. Camp Quinebarge had not fulfilled its staffing needs and leaders were grasping at straws in order to prevent its eventual shutdown. Carlson confirmed that “15 counselors and one nurse” did not show up despite committing for the summer. He also said that additional employees quit during training in mid-June.
“While it was a cause for concern, my staff and I were confident we could still provide the same outstanding, nurturing experience Quinebarge has for over 8 decades,” Carlson admitted. “Unfortunately, more staff departed at the beginning of camp, and finding new staff, especially under Covid restrictions, proved very difficult and time-consuming.”
The counselor dilemma created a feedback loop, in which staff shortages created unfair working conditions for those employed. Overworked counselors reportedly began quarreling, which included screaming matches in front of campers. At one point, an 8-year-old camper was allegedly hit in the head with a wooden block by another camper – the same camper who was accused of punching a counselor in the mouth.
Beyond staffing conflicts, Camp Quinebarge faced drastic food issues, including shortages that made it difficult to properly feed campers. Sysco, the camp’s main food provider, had severe delays on its end due to labor shortages and supply chain disruptions. Sysco was forced to delay its delivery to the camp for one day. Reps said that while it was preparing the shipment, the company was notified of the camp’s closure.
Sysco described the issue, explaining that “despite our best efforts, some of our customers have been impacted by delayed deliveries. We value our customers and regret the impact of service delays to Camp Quinebarge and the families affected by the Camp’s decision to close.”
Though many parents are shocked and outraged by the food issues – having paid $3,400 for a safe and healthy camp experience for their children – Eric Carlson claimed that “this was a result of complications brought on by the pandemic and not due to any long-term issues with camp operations.” He also explained that “when we communicated this to our families, they were disappointed but overwhelmingly understood.”
Parents of Camp Quinebarge only received a partial refund and there is no confirmation whether the camp will upgrade that refund at a later date. One furious parent said that “shock does not even begin to cover it,” though later clarified that that he doesn’t blame Camp Quinebarge for shutting down.
Brian Roemer, another parent, claimed that while “the kids are annoyed” and “upset… they’re all fine.” Though “they would rather be at camp than with us,” he said that the camp was a “fantastic place” and that his children have attended the camp for years. Roemer shares Eric Carlson’s optimism regarding the future of the camp, as do many parents, according to the camp’s executive director.
Carlson said that “despite the disappointment, we have received many calls and emails of support and look forward to seeing campers once again in 2022.” He concluded, saying that “as always, our most important goal will remain fostering a nurturing environment for all children, where they can grow as individuals and as a group.”