Camping's Uncertain Future

In southeast Missouri, there is a little town with a quaint ice cream shop, one gas station--and a host of antique and flea shops.

Will old-fashioned summer camps go the way of the small-town ice cream parlor?

One would think it strange to find so many of these shops in such a small town, but a broader look at the map would reveal that this town is on the route to one of the Midwest’s largest tourist hotspots--Branson.

About five years ago, the state's Department of Transportation, in an effort to save travelers the 35 mph slowdown, bypassed this little town with a new highway.  Many of the small shops along that business route simply could not handle the change, and closed their doors.

Bigger and better trumped small and quaint. Much like the challenges faced by summer camps.

The camp experience has evolved over the years to remain relevant to an ever-changing society.  The question is, who will survive the regulatory climate of this “relevant new world?”

Flash back 30 years, and the camp experience generally involved canoeing, field and court sports, crafts, and a lake or pool for swimming.  At best, regulatory oversight required a business license, license plates on the bus, and insurance on the buildings.

However, 30 years of camp development have been met with increased regulatory mandates that camps are left to both interpret and implement.

Let me start with the easy, short list:  HIPAA, Child Care Act, Child Privacy, Amusement Ride Law, EPA, DOT, Mandatory Reporting, OSHA, HASMAT, National Building codes, Tier II, Sect 111, ACCT, ACA, FLSA, and FMLA.

From the camper, to staff, to vehicles, to grounds, to facilities, to activities, and even to the environment, camp leaders are charged with executing regulatory control as outlined by state, county, federal, and industry entities.

Similar to the quaint little ice cream shop located on a road once filled with bumper-to-bumper tourists, the costs associated with “keeping up” in a standard-heavy industry may simply be too high of a price to pay.

The camp operation of the future must navigate this complex onset of industry, governmental, and cultural expectations and standards or risk lagging too far behind.  Camp leaders would be well-advised to include “business continuation and compliance” as a topic of discussion among their off-season projects.

Additionally, the help of key professionals in these disciplines can provide shortcuts to proven strategies and tactics in order to keep pace.

So, who regulates camping in your state? While “camping” is sometimes categorized as a specific industry in some states, in others it is ambiguous.

And, while camping denotes several industry sectors such as transportation, lodging, children, food services, etc., other standards come into play outside of general “camp” standards.

Meanwhile, here are some good places to begin your research:

Camp Depot State Regulations for Camping

American Camping Association

Rick Braschler is director of risk management/senior risk consultant for Kanakuk Kamps/CircuiTree Solutions. He can be reached at