HARRISON — School is out, the masks are off and summer fun is in full swing at Crystal Lake Park in Harrison. Perhaps as a result of the pandemic, lock downs and social distancing, enrollment in summer rec. programs for kids six-12 is up by close to 50%.

“Normally we have 100-120 kids for the summer,” said Harrison’s Recreation Director Kayla Laird last Thursday. “Now we have 145 registered and we’re having to turn kids away.

“If we had more counselors we could take in more kids, we could easily add another 20-25 more. It’s still a growing program. It’s not just Harrison residents. We have them from Norway, Waterford, Oxford, Paris, even from Bridgton and Naples.”

There are three age groups in the program, six to seven year olds, eight to nine, and 10-12. Each group is overseen by four counselors. Laird and Assistant Director Alyssa Morin keep things running and the arts and crafts instructor pitches in where she is needed.

Kids line up after swimming at Crystal Lake Park during Harrison’s Summer Rec. Program. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

While the program is booming, one shortage affecting affecting it this year is for certified swimming instructors and lifeguards, the result being that there are no swimming lessons that can be offered.

“Typically we would have swimming lessons,” said Laird. “Everyone in the state is struggling for swim staff this year so we don’t have have it. No one can even find classes to get certified.”


Lack of lessons does not mean lack of water access, however. Laird has instituted rules and guidelines to ensure that kids are able to practice and refresh on their own.

“When each group of kids go down to the water, each has a buddy assigned,” she explained. “We always have staff with them: two in the water, one watching from the dock and one on land. The sixes and sevens aren’t allowed to go deeper than their belly-button, although a few can and some wear life jackets. Eights and nines can go as far as their arm pits and the older kids can actually walk to the rope [boundary] for the most part.

“Some can swim out to the far dock in groups of four with swim buoys and a counselor. But we’re very strict on allowing that.”

Out of caution, another activity still impacted by COVID is field trips; Laird expects them to return next summer. But for the most part daily camp routines have continued as usual this season. Kids can sign up for Friday canoe and kayak lessons. Arts and crafts classes are held three days a week.

Harrison Rec’s arts and crafts instructor Bethany Shaw 9front, right) shows campers how to tie dye last week. Supplied photo

“We’re doing special events instead of field trips,” Laird said. “Today we had Showtime Steve here to do a performance for the kids. He’s from Norway. He has so much energy and kids had so much fun. We will have a professional stunt biker rider coming, and we’ll hold a carnival with bounce houses and a dunk tank and have some old-fashioned carnival games with prizes.”

Check-in starts every morning at 8:30. Each group has an assigned dugout and the older kids go to the bleachers where they gather and then each use the whole infield, outfield and basketball court to play games like hockey, pickle ball and volley ball, and play some they’ve made up.


“In two weeks we have a big tent coming so we can do rainy day activities here instead of going over to the elementary school and using the gym,” Laird said. “Rainy days are pretty nice because the kids get exhausted. Like the last three days were ungodly hot. Today everyone is pretty low key. It’s a cooler day and tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. We’ll have a pizza day and watch movies after lunch.

Mia Randall was awarded as Camper of the Day at Harrison Rec.’s summer camp last week.

“This is a very busy, fast paced camp. I’ll get emails from parents at five o’clock: ‘my child’s already sleeping!’

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Ward is a frequent visitor to Crystal Lake Park, checking on the kids. Laird mentioned one day when he paid for a youngster’s drink from the snack shack when he had no money, adding that some kids know the sheriff from previous interactions with family members so it’s important and beneficial for them to interact with him in positive circumstances.

Even though Harrison kept its summer programs last summer during COVID, Laird said it was definitely different then, with the age groups not allowed to mingle.

“Last year when we started, during the first week it was very different,” she said. “Kids would come and literally be unsure what to do do. Their social skills, they didn’t know what they could do, [coming out of isolation]. We needed to tell them they could talk with their friends and play.

“It was a slow start, it was like they’d forgotten how to play and had to be reintroduced to it. But once they got going, they were so happy. They all wanted to come every day because it got them out of the house and they could actually do things.”

Two weeks into camp in 2021, things are completely normal. No one has to wear masks anymore; there is less hand-sanitizing. Last year kids had to sanitize so often their skin hurt.

“Last year it was a relief to be here for them,” Laird said. “They could get out and see people. I think it was a saving grace for the kids and the counselors. This year there is so much excitement. Yes we still have restrictions, yes we’re still aware of COVID, but it has been a very upbeat, normal start to this summer.”

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