AUBURN — Last year at this time, 325 kids were attending summer camp at Central Maine Community College.

This year, there are 259 kids, a 20-percent decrease, said Dave Gonyea, who heads the summer camp programs for the college.

CMCC camps, which encourage college attendance with a “from camp to college theme,” cost $220 and up per week. This year CMCC created a special of $500 for three weeks, which lowered the price to $166 a week.

To accommodate the lower numbers, costs were trimmed and cuts made in some programs.

“We’re doing the same things we’ve always done, but with a smaller staff,” Gonyea said. “It’s still a quality camp. The kids still love to come.”

Other summer camp programs also reported lower attendance.

At Camp Wewannago at the Lewiston YMCA, the aquatic day camp was retooled for younger campers when organizers concluded the tough economy would mean fewer registrations, said director Pam Gallant. The program has 30 campers in grades K-4, compared to last year’s 60 in grades K-6.

With so many families hurting and so many other offerings for older children, it made sense to focus on younger children, Gallant said.

One sports camp whose organizer asked not to be named didn’t hold camp at all this summer. It didn’t have enough kids register.

At the YMCA’s Camp Connor in Poland, 27 more campers registered for the summer but campers signed up for 70 fewer weeks, program director Chris Shea said. “Instead of doing the whole summer, they might do four weeks.” 

Camp Connor costs $125 a week for non-YMCA members, which includes transportation to and from camp.

But the numbers are up at the city of Auburn’s Recreation Department day camps, with 330 children in grades K-8 attending, about 8 percent more than last year, said Parks and Recreation Superintendent Doug Beck.

The price is the reason, he said. “It’s a good value.”

The program, which includes sports, swimming, arts and crafts, and field trips, costs $400 for seven weeks for Auburn residents. The price includes food and expenses. The cost averages less than $60 a week, which is cheaper than day care, Beck said.

With middle-income budgets tighter this year, some people who would have sent their children to other camps opted for the Recreation Department program, Beck said.

Across New England, families still enrolled their children in camps this summer, but there was an increasing demand for financial assistance. There was a larger, more motivated employment pool for camp directors to hire from, said Bette Bussel of the American Camp Association of New England.

Camps have tried to accommodate cash-strapped families by allowing shorter sessions, providing discounts for early registration and siblings, and allowing payment plans, Bussel said. Some worked to cut costs by making small changes, she said, including field trips closer to home or growing their own food.

Despite lean times, parents are still sending their children to camp, Bussel said. “Parents realize camp is essential to children’s development.”

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Zoe Harrington, 11, of Lewiston, left, works on the potter’s wheel as camp counselor Danielle Paul watches at the Arts on the Lake Camp held at Central Maine Community College in Auburn on Monday. In back are Mayada Mini, 10, left, and Mawadda Saidahmed, 12, both of Lewiston.

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