MIAMISBURG, Ohio (WDTN) — A camp in Miamisburg with a long history has been hit hard by the pandemic, but it is still going.
Nestled in the woods near the Great Miami River, Camp Chautauqua spans more than 40 acres.
“We actually refer to ourselves as the best kept secret,” says Jason Harmeyer, the President and CEO of Camp Chautauqua.
The 100+ year-old camp is a year-round destination for kids hosting conferences, retreats, and summer camps. While activities are a crucial part, it also teaches campers life skills rooted in character, integrity, and hard work.
“More than 200,000 people have traversed through this property at some point in their life,” says Harmeyer.
The camp started in 1898, and it’s been located on the property where it is today since 1901.
Harmeyer who grew up at the camp and then moved away from the area, found himself back there to run it. It’s part of his blood. His parents were the camp managers for more than 40 years.
“That is really what Chautauqua has been built on from the beginning is a place of connection but a place of education,” says Harmeyer.
It is primarily an outdoor summer camp with 22 amenities, more than 50 buildings, and lodging for about 800.
“We have zip lines, a giant swing, low ropes, high ropes, outdoor basketball, sand volleyball, just a number of things,” lists Harmeyer.
The camp brings in about 20,000 kids a year. Since the pandemic, the grounds have sat mostly empty. It saw less than 2,000 campers in 2020 and lost $1.2 million dollars.
To continue to be able to function, the camp applied for Payment Protection Program loans early on.
“That was a huge help. It allowed me to keep a big chunk of my staff on salary, but once we realized the pandemic was not going away, and we ran out of our PPP funds, then I had to let 17 core staff members go and furloughed them at the end of May,” says Harmeyer. “What’s amazing about our team here at Chautauqua, those 17 people, they continued to keep showing up at work, day after day as volunteers.”
Their actions proved to be a testament to their commitment and sacrifice.
With its rich, long history, the camp has been through tough times before.
“We’ve been through another pandemic, a global pandemic. We’ve been through two world wars, the Great Depression. Just a few years ago we had a local municipality through imminent domain going after some water under our property, try to shut us down. And in every time and in every season, God has more than protected and provided for this place and I don’t see why he wouldn’t continue to,” says Harmeyer. “We have survived a lot. And not just survived, but thrived.”
The camp is now raising money to continue to keep the doors open.
“Through SBA loans and some other things that we utilized, and a massive amount of donation through partners, past campers, parents who have appreciated the investment that this place has had on their kids, we’ve had an amazing number of donors give,” says Harmeyer.
The current funds are keeping them going through March for the time being, and they’re hoping for a big comeback this summer.
“As much as there’s been a need for safety and caution in some regards, there is also a dual effect, a counter effect that the shutdown has had on students, specifically and children. And I think there is more of a pent up demand and need for camp, and the power of camp, and the potential of camp than ever before. So we are expecting to have potentially our greatest numbers this summer barring a restriction coming from our governor,” says Harmeyer.