Sporting and Recreational Camps

SIC 7032

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry consists of establishments primarily engaged in operating sporting and recreational camps, such as boys' and girls' camps, and fishing and hunting camps. Establishments primarily engaged in operating sports instructional camps, such as baseball, basketball, football, or karate camps, and those operating day camps are classified in SIC 7999: Amusement and Recreation Services, Not Elsewhere Classified.

Industry Snapshot

In 2010, there were 7,360 sporting and recreation camps operating in the United States, according to Dun amp; Bradstreet's Industry Reports. Together these establishments employed 63,058 people and generated $2.1 billion in revenues in 2009. Of the 2,400 camps that were accredited by the American Camp Association, 14 percent were camps for people with special needs, 64 percent were overnight (resident) camps, 41 percent were day camps, and 14 percent offered both day and resident programs. In addition, 66 percent of ACA-accredited camps were coed, whereas about 29 percent were female-only and 20 percent were male-only.

Organization and Structure

In the early 2010s, about 80 percent of the camps in the United States were operated by nonprofit groups or agencies. These included religious institutions, scouting organizations, and such well-known groups as Camp Fire, Inc., YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The remaining 20 percent were privately owned, for-profit camps. As of 2010 there were no companies operating large chains of commercial camps in the United States.

Establishment Size and Distribution.
Nearly 40 percent of the establishments in the sporting and recreational camp industry were tax-exempt, a figure that was considerably higher than the 9.6 percent across all service industries. The tax-exempt segment of the industry accounted for only about 35 percent of the revenue generated by the industry in the late 2000s, while employing 41 percent of its workers. Whether tax-exempt or not, camps were generally small operations in comparison to the rest of the service sector. Nonprofit camps employed, on average, only six people per establishment compared to 39 per establishment in other nonprofit operations in the service sector.

Geographically, camps were usually found where one finds two necessary ingredients--people and space. California, Texas, and New York, which had plenty of both, had the most sporting and recreational camps in 2010, according to Dun & Bradstreet, with 632, 584, and 412 establishments in operation, respectively. States in the northern Midwest, particularly Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, were also strongly represented in this industry, as were Pennsylvania, Florida, and Colorado.

A voluntary accreditation program has been administered by the American Camping Association (ACA) since the late 1940s. By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, roughly 2,400 U.S. camps were accredited by the ACA. Accreditation of a camp is established through an evaluation process based on up to 300 national standards. Trained volunteers visit the camp and, using a set of established guidelines, grade the facility in a variety of areas, including site and facility, administration, transportation, personnel, programs, health care, and activities. Site and facility criteria cover such basics as sanitary arrangements and food service. Standards for administration include safety regulations and emergency procedures. Vehicle safety and maintenance are examined for compliance with transportation standards. Personnel standards apply to the training, qualifications, and supervision of staff members. Qualifications of activity leaders are among the topics covered by program standards. Health care standards include the availability of first aid care and emergency transportation.

The list of standards used in the ACA's accreditation program has evolved over the course of several decades, beginning as the "Suggested Tentative Standards" adopted in 1935. The first set of official camp standards was adopted at the ACA's National Convention in 1948, after several years of study and debate and with financial support from the Chrysler and Kellogg Foundations. In the 1950s, the standards for camp personnel and programs were adopted, as well as the methods by which conformity to these standards could be ascertained. Further research and development of the standards took place in the 1960s, including the formation of a Standards Rewrite Committee. In the 1970s and 1980s, standards were adopted that incorporated the needs of campers with disabilities and special medical conditions, such as diabetes. In 1990, a new set of standards was adopted that emphasized health and safety issues over the business-related issues that had been emphasized in the past.

Background and Development

The roots of the camping movement are often traced to the second half of the nineteenth century. In the summer of 1861, Frederick William Gunn, a Connecticut schoolmaster, took his class of 40 boys for a two-week campout to Long Island Sound, where they simulated the lifestyle of Civil War soldiers. The outing was so successful that it became an annual event known as Gunnery Camp. The next notable camp experiment was begun in 1881 by Ernest Balch, an undergraduate at Dartmouth. Seeking a summer alternative for children of wealthy families, Balch founded Camp Chocorua in New Hampshire. At Chocorua, boys from 12 to 16 years of age received a taste of wilderness, which Balch theorized was a healthier way to spend the summer than accompanying their parents to the swanky resorts of the day. In the following years, new camps were founded on the Chocorua model.

Fresh Air and Other Programs.
Late in the nineteenth century the Fresh Air movement arose out of concern for the needs of poor children in urban areas. Camps were established near cities where growing immigrant populations were living in overcrowded conditions that were perceived as unhealthy and conducive to delinquency. Some camps that were founded in the early days of the Fresh Air movement are still in existence, including Camp Algonquin, founded by Chicago's United Charities in 1907, and Incarnation Camp, Inc., an Episcopal center that began as early as 1886. Around 1875, Country Week programs were established in Philadelphia and Boston. The Philadelphia program was started by Eliza Turner, who invited 12 girls to spend two weeks at her farm; by 1910, 3,000 children were participating. In New Jersey the publisher of Life magazine founded what became known as Trail Blazer Camps in 1887; by 1918, 40,000 children had participated in two-week sessions at the camp.

Private girls' camps began to appear in greater numbers around 1902. That year, three such camps opened: Kehonka in New Hampshire; Pinelands of Centre Harbor, Maine; and Wyonegonic Camps in Bridgton, Maine. Another camp, Camp Arey, which was founded years earlier as a natural science camp for boys, also became a girls' camp. By 1915, 100 private girls' camps were in operation. These camps offered girls from sheltered backgrounds a chance to wear comfortable clothing and engage in activities that were more rugged than those in which they were usually allowed to participate.

The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) was first formed in Philadelphia as a resource center for women employed in industrial occupations. The first YWCA camp, called Sea Rest, was set up in 1874 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Its purpose was to enable overworked young women to take a low-cost vacation from their 60-hour-per-week jobs. It received an enormous amount of publicity from the start, including a dedication speech by President Ulysses S. Grant.

The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) appeared in the 1850s as a support program for teenaged boys and young men who lived on their own. The YMCA's camping program was founded by Sumner Dudley in 1885. That year, Dudley took seven YMCA boys camping at Pine Point on Orange Lake, only 6 miles from their home in Newburgh, New York. The program grew rapidly over the next few summers. The camp that Dudley founded was still operating 100 years later and now bears his name.

Camps operated by nonprofit organizations began to proliferate in the early part of the twentieth century. Among the groups that joined this trend were the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, Camp Fire Girls, and a wide variety of religious, labor union, and other types of organizations. Like their predecessors, these camps were mainly concentrated in the northeastern portion of the nation.

Government Involvement.
Historically, government agencies have not played an important role in the development of the camp industry, at least not in the sense of operating camps of their own. It is estimated that the percentage of camps operated by public agencies at any given time has never exceeded 5 percent. Government agencies have contributed to the growth of camps in other ways, however. During the 1930s, the National Park Service, which was established in 1916, developed a number of organized camping facilities for lease to camping groups that did not possess their own camping areas.

State parks have also been a source of camping facilities for a variety of groups since the early 1900s. New York, for example, established a camping department as early as 1917. By 1950, there were 296 organized camping facilities in state parks throughout the United States. City parks and recreation departments began setting up camp programs around the same time. Los Angeles, Detroit, and Kansas City had municipal camping programs by 1920.

Emergence of the American Camping Association.
In 1910, the directors of several private boys' camps got together to form the Camp Directors Association of America (CDAA). The CDAA merged in 1924 with the National Association of Directors of Girls' Camps, which had formed in 1916. The combined group was called the Camp Directors Association (CDA). With an organization in place that could establish communication among camp administrations and articulate the goals of the industry, new areas were found on which to place emphasis. In particular, facilities for people with disabilities began to multiply in the 1930s and 1940s. Industry-wide publications such as Camping (the official CDA journal) and Camp News (a commercial venture) came on the scene. In 1935 the CDA evolved into the American Camping Association (ACA), which remained the most widely recognized voice of the camp industry.

According to the ACA, enrollment in the U.S. camping industry grew 9 percent in 1998. Females accounted for 55 percent of the nation's total enrollees. This was the seventh consecutive year that enrollment increased by 8 to 10 percent.

An ACA survey conducted in the late 1990s discovered that parents and campers desired shorter camping sessions, a view that contributed to the popularity of one-week camp sessions over two-week or one-month sessions. This desire was possibly attributed to the increasing possibility of year-round schooling. This emergent trend, which was opposed by the ACA, had implications for the camping industry nationwide and was the subject of study among educators and other interested parties. Dr. Peter Scales of the Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based institution that conducted research on youth development, was quoted by the ACA as saying, "The biggest plus of camp is that camps help young people discover and explore their talents, interests, and values. Most schools do not satisfy all these needs. Kids who have had these kinds of [camp] experiences end up being healthier and have less problems." In July 1998, the New York City Board of Education launched a pilot program to provide an alternative to 12-month schooling. Break-Aways: Partnership for Year-Round Learning combined a nine-month school session with up to 28 additional days in a camp environment in which campers were exposed to both traditional academic lessons and camp activities.

A number of popular activities were added to many camping programs by the late 1990s. These new areas of interest included adventure activities, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, and boating; fine arts, including performing arts, photography, and jewelry making; and organized sports, such as in-line skating, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball, and golf.

At the same time, various special purpose camps had also opened. Some of these were instructional sports camps, which are classified under SIC 7999: Amusement and Recreation Services, Not Elsewhere Classified. Other recent entries included NASA's U.S. Space Camp, ornithology camps, adult band camps, Breakers Etiquette Camp for teenagers, a circus camp called Circus Smirkus, and a host of camps with environmental themes.
Despite the trends of increased enrollment and the inclusion of popular activities, some 2,500 camps have closed since the mid-1970s. A disproportionate number of these were run by nonprofit agencies. One of the chief reasons for these closures was that camps located near urban areas, especially those on the water, had become extremely attractive to real estate developers. Moreover, the prohibitive cost of liability insurance had become a problem for small camps that lacked significant financial resources.

During the mid- to late 2000s, approximately 11 million children and adults attended one of over 12,000 camps located throughout the United States. Although the industry faced increasing competition from other summer activities, camping populations remained level. Operating at over 90 percent capacity, campers were offered an ever-increasing array of choices, from a traditional experience of campfires and ghost stories to specialty camps to meet a wide variety of interests. Although the majority of camps were of the conventional summer camp variety, specialty camps that operated year-round and focused on one of a diverse range of subjects (such as accounting or space travel) grew rapidly. Camps catering to adult participants were on the rise as well and ranged from dude ranches to nudist camps. The cost of attendance varied greatly from one facility to the next. Day camps typically cost between $75 to $300 per week, while the weekly rates for resident camps ranged from $200 to $400. However, specialty camps could run upward of $1,500 for a week's activities.

Despite increased opportunities for summer activities, camp enrollment held steady in the mid- to late 2000s. Traditional camps saw an increase in recreational activities and programming. In 2009, 88 percent of ACA-accredited camps offered swimming; 48 percent, horseback riding; 22 percent, wilderness programs; 12 percent, travel or tour programs; 57 percent, team building; and 21 percent, community service projects. Popular programming additions included challenge and adventure activities, including ropes courses, climbing walls, zip lines, and cave exploring. Over 50 percent of ACA-accredited camps offered ropes course.

Increasing use of technology pushed camps to set down guidelines to determine the overall camping experience. For example, about 90 percent of camps banned the use of cell phones by campers, although most provided some provisions for camper to receive e-mails from (although not send e-mails to) their parents. Nearly 80 percent of camps maintained web sites. Into the late 2000s and early 2010s, the camp industry dealt with the implications of the increasing use of cell phones, the Internet, video games, and the like by American children. Some camps embraced such technology, while others advertised an "unplugged" experience.

Specialty camps continued to grow in popularity, and camping experiences tended toward shorter periods of time, with children more likely to attend numerous one-week specialty camps rather than a four- or eight-week traditional camp. "Fading fast are the days when parents sent their kids to camp with goals no loftier than getting them out of the house and into nature," Michele Orecklin, Leslie Whitaker, and Rebecca Winters noted in Time in May 2005. "Experts say parents want their kids working toward a tangible skill or having a high-caliber experience, preferably one that looks good on a college application." Along with the traditional tennis and music camps, other offerings in the late 2000s included Hollywood Stunt Camp, marine biology, drama, fashion design, yoga, computers, spa and manicure, fencing, rock star camp, and community service camps. As baby boomer parents became more in tune with their health and fitness, camping adventures for their children increased in a proliferation of health, spa, fitness, and well-being camps.

Day camps also continued to increase in popularity, growing more than 90 percent between 1985 and 2005. Year-round school, an increasing number of home-schooled children, and the need for after-school activities led to many opportunities for a variety of day camps. Although industry advocates, including the ACA, opposed year-round school, the camping industry was adjusting to meet the needs of the changing demographics.

Current Conditions

The sporting and recreational camp industry was negatively affected by the economic recession of the late 2000s. Because of the economic recession, many Americans had less discretionary income to put toward such luxuries as camp. A survey by Camping Magazine showed that almost half of ACA-accredited camps had lower enrollments in summer 2009 as compared to the previous year. For-profit camps were the most affected, with 65 percent reporting drops in enrollment. Only 40 percent of camp directors surveyed reported that they operated at or near capacity, which is considered 90 percent or above. Other findings from the study showed that the longer the session, the lower the enrollment, reflecting the trend of parents cutting back on the time their children spent in camp in the summer of 2009.

Despite these figures, camp directors and other industry participants expressed optimism for the future. Some of the issues of concern included finding ways to increase participation of minority children in camps and, relatedly, continuing to develop sources of financial assistance so that children in lower income groups could benefit from camp scholarship funds.

In 2010 outdoor retailer Bass Pro was experimenting with offering a free "summer camp" inside its stores. The Family Summer Camp program, begun in 2009, gave children an opportunity to learn how to pitch a tent, shoot a BB gun, fish, and participate in other outdoor activities. According to Jim Wargo, manager of one of the 56 Bass Pro locations in the United States, the program was helping establish customer loyalty and increase sales. As he stated in Advertising Age, "[We could just] blast out advertising like a shotgun. But we'd rather have something interactive happening at the store that people can come in and experience."

In the meantime, specialty camps continued to spring up around the country, specializing in everything from snowboarding to barefoot water skiing to environmental studies. Organizations such as California-based U.S. Sports Camps, operator of NIKE Sports Camps, offered 16 different sports at its 400 camps, while the YMCA, rebranded "the Y" in 2010, operated in about 2,600 locations in the United States.


The camp industry employs people who work as camp counselors, program and activity leaders, and program directors and supervisors, as well as in numerous support services such as maintenance, administration, food service, and health care. According to the ACA, summer youth camps accounted for about 1.2 million seasonal jobs in the United States. The ACA further reported that the typical salary for a camp counselor is between $1,000 and $3,000 for the camp season. Counselors with special skills, such as trained lifeguards, are often paid as much as $4,000 for the same period. Most camps also provide their employees with room and board, and health care and laundry services are often available. A large percentage of camp counselors are college students on summer break. In some programs, college credit can be earned for camp experience.

In addition to counselors, camps also employ clerical workers, administrators, cooks, drivers, and other specialists. The vast majority of these workers are not represented by unions. In general, salaries for camp workers are fairly low compared to those of their counterparts in other service industries. Private camps usually pay higher wages than camps operated by non-profit agencies. One unique characteristic of the sporting and recreational camp work force is its international composition. Each year, about 75 nations are represented on the staffs of American camps, accounting for as many as 35,000 foreign counselors in the mid-2000s.

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News and information about Sporting and Recreational Camps

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Frozen Food Digest; December 1, 2003; 700+ words
...12) 5,537,957 5,670,868 Clubs, sporting and recreational camps 3,683,241 3,866,970 Community centers...physically disabled (12) 2.4 0.7 Clubs, sporting and recreational camps 5.0 2.3 Community centers 3.0 0.7...
Restaurant industry projections through 2003.(Illustration)
Frozen Food Digest; February 1, 2003; 700+ words
...12) 5,537,957 5,670,868 Clubs, sporting and recreational camps 3,683,241 3,866,970 Community centers...physically disabled (12) 2.4 0.7 Clubs, sporting and recreational camps 5.0 2.3 Community centers 3.0 0.7...
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The Food Institute Report; December 22, 2003; 700+ words
...5,074.6 secondary schools Clubs, sporting and recreational camps $3,672.8 Community centers $1,498...5,023.8 secondary schools Clubs, sporting and recreational camps $3,854.6 Community centers $1,547...
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...New Jersey moving into Wayne County." The fastest-growing industries in the county include excavation, sporting and recreational camps and skilled care nursing facilities. But industry lags behind. "Residential growth is outpacing our commercial...
The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI); May 27, 2002; 700+ words specialist with the state Department of Revenue. Others include such businesses as hotels and motels, sporting and recreational camps, gift, novelty and souvenir shops and public golf courses and, of course, amusement and recreational services...
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...aged, blind, orphans and the mentally and physically disabled (13) 7,200,391 7,387,601 Clubs, sporting and recreational camps 9,041,143 9,091,877 Community centers 1,963,027 2,057,252 TOTAL--GROUP II $46,742...
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