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State says Regis-Applejack isn’t a camp

PAUL SMITHS — If you’re thinking about sending your child to Camp Regis-Applejack, know that state health and safety rules don’t apply there. So few kids go there now that the state doesn’t even consider it a camp.

The New York State Department of Health hasn’t given Regis-Applejack a permit to operate since 2011, but camp still happened this summer — the 72nd in a row under the Humes family, which founded it in 1946 on the shore of Upper St. Regis Lake.

Confronted with the lack of this key permit for the last six years, owner Michael Humes said the sleepaway camp doesn’t need one because it has fewer than 10 campers in total for the entire six-week summer season, which ended this year on Aug. 5. He wouldn’t say exactly how many campers were there this summer, but he insisted, “I’m absolutely operating within the legal confines of New York state and the federal government.”

Health Department spokesman Ben Rosen confirmed that “The Department’s regulations apply to children’s camps that are occupied by ten or more children.”

The DOH reports that its staff paid Regis-Applejack a visit on July 5 and confirmed it is not operating as a summer camp — at least not as the DOH defines one.

That means Regis-Applejack does not have to follow the state Sanitary Code that protects campers’ safety. The code sets standards for camper supervision, drinking water, sewage, medical requirements, transportation, recreation and food. The DOH inspects other children’s summer camps in the Adirondacks to make sure they follow these rules, but not Regis-Applejack.

There’s nothing about that, or the tiny number of campers, on the camp’s modern, professional-looking website or its social media accounts, and Humes never mentioned it as he described the camp for a profile story the Enterprise published last Thursday. He was not happy about being confronted about it for this story.

Asked in an interview for the profile story how many kids attend the camp, Humes instead answered it has the capacity for 250 campers, plus 100 counselors. In a follow-up interview, he pointed out that he never said the camp had 250 campers, just that this was its capacity. Asked if this was misleading, he suggested that a restaurant owner, asked how many customers it had, would probably answer what its capacity would be instead.

A “Safety & Security” message on the camp’s website reassures parents that “safety of all campers is paramount” but offers few specifics. It doesn’t mention the Health Department.

“A very small camp”

Humes said the camp slowed down around the time he got cancer a few years ago. Asked why he thinks enrollment dropped off, he declined to answer.

“My intent is to build the camp back up and find a partner,” he said.

What does Humes tell parents who send their children to Regis-Applejack and then find out how few campers there are?

“I tell the parents we’re a very small camp,” he said. “At this point, we have X number of campers. We’re trying to get 20.”

He said campers still took part in sailing, a play and other advertised activities this summer.

Regis-Applejack is a private camp, not connected with a nonprofit organization. The Humes own the 60-acre waterfront property and pay tens of thousands of property taxes a year, according to the Franklin County treasurer’s office. The camp charged $4,500 for a child to attend its first three-week session this summer, $3,950 to attend the second session and $7,350 to attend both, according to its website.

Enterprise mistake

For the feature article profiling the camp, part of the Enterprise’s “Summer Camp Snapshots” series this summer, Humes said he did not want a reporter to meet on the camp property, instead offering to do an interview over the phone and to communicate by email. The reporter agreed, and Humes answered questions on the camp’s philosophy and goals, the property’s acreage, the percentage of returning campers and where campers travel from. He also mentioned a free-tuition program offered to residents in the town of Brighton.

Based on the information Humes and the website provided, the article’s headline was “Regis-Applejack offers the full camp experience.” The lead sentence said, “Regis-Applejack is what you’re likely to have in mind when you think of ‘summer camp.'” The Enterprise has since suspended the article on its website.

“It was my mistake to publish that summer camp feature article, knowing the reporter had not visited the camp,” Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley said. “We are making up for it by getting the story right the second time around.”

After the article was published, someone emailed to say the camp is not what the article depicted. This person declined to be interviewed. Reporters responded by visiting the camp property, but Humes refused to say much. He told reporters at the camp he did not want any more visits by New York state agencies.

State agencies

Later over the phone, Humes said representatives from the state Health and Labor departments had visited the camp after an Enterprise reporter interviewed him at the camp for a July 3 article about a bill before the state Legislature, loosening regulations on bug repellant for summer campers.

“I don’t need New York folks coming in here anymore,” Humes said.

Children’s camps, as recognized by the state, must be inspected twice yearly by a Health Department representative, and at least one of those inspections must be during the camp’s operation, according to the DOH’s Rosen. If a camp is found in violation of the Sanitary Code, the operator would be subject to fines and/or closure, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

If a camp is found to be operating without a permit, the department would first assess the risk to the children there and then either work with the owner to obtain a permit or pursue closure, Rosen said.

Since Regis-Applejack is doing business as a summer camp but is not one, according to the state, could the state press charges? Glen Michaels, head of the state attorney general’s Plattsburgh Regional Office, said the AG’s office might represent the DOH in such a matter if a complaint is made in writing, but he would not comment on the matter.

Online reviews

Clearly, many people love Camp Regis-Applejack. A Facebook group of its alumni has more than 1,800 members, and their comments on the page are unfailingly positive.

There are no reviews of it on popular consumer rating websites Yelp and TripAdvisor, but there are 24 on CampRatingz.com, a consumer site for more than 5,000 summer camps nationwide. These reviews are all anonymous and date from 2007 and 2014. Many are glowing, but others are harshly critical. All told, Regis-Applejack averages 3.7 stars out of five, which the site considers “a good overall rating.”

It averaged 2.5 stars out of five on the older Epinions.com, which shut down in 2014 but still exists online. Its page on Camp Regis-Applejack contains six widely varying reviews from 2004 to 2010. Some mention a camper who drowned there in 2002 after taking more than her prescribed dose of an antidepressant medication.

Accreditation

Camp Regis-Applejack’s website shows it is accredited by the American Camp Association and the New York State Camp Directors Association. Accreditation is voluntary but is a mark of legitimacy.

An ACA official said the group validates camps by having trained volunteers conduct on-site, in-person evaluations every five years — it used to be every three years — and that the last time they visited Regis-Applejack was in 2016. The official wouldn’t say what the evaluator saw there but said the camp passed.

In the years a camp is not visited, it must write a compliance statement and report, answering questions about its operation. If the report raises concerns and indicates it is not following local laws, the ACA can do a follow-up visit. The ACA might also investigate if a complaint is filed.

The ACA’s website lists 237 standards, but only 28 are mandatory in order for a camp to be accredited.

A camp doesn’t lose accreditation if it chooses to stop operation for a year, but it can if it doesn’t meet ACA standards or doesn’t have a permit to operate from the local health department.

UPDATE: Other camps

Most other local summer camp directors declined to comment on Regis-Applejack operating outside of Health Department regulations, due to its small size, but Glen Butler, director of 4-H Camp Overlook in Mountain View, offered this observation:

“I do not know much of Camp Regis-Applejack but I can say that I deeply value the work that the New York State Department of Health does to maintain proper health and safety conditions in regards to children’s camps. It’s their job to ask questions that camp administration might not think of. If a camp operates with 10 or fewer campers, I would encourage the administration of that camp to strive to become permitted. It helps minimize potential risk at the camp and being allowed to house more campers means a broader experience for those kids in attendance.”

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