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Summer camp is back with permit for 1st time since 2011

PAUL SMITHS — Regis-Applejack can officially call itself a camp again.

For the last seven summers , state health and safety rules have not applied at this classic summer youth facility on Upper St. Regis Lake, which was opened in 1945. Too few campers attended for the state to call it a camp and inspect it as one, but that changed on Sunday when it was granted its permit to operate by the state Department of Health, according to DOH press officer Erin Hammond.

Since 2011, it has not had a permit to operate from the state, although it has had campers since then. The total number of campers it could have without a permit to operate was 10 total throughout the whole summer.

The owner, Michael Humes, said in an interview in 2017 that the decline was due to him being sick with cancer. At that time, he revealed that the camp was no longer working at full capacity, which then was 250 people. In the past it had been upward of 350, according to DOH records.

Also in 2017, Humes did not disclose to Enterprise reporters that Regis-Applejack was not running as permitted summer camps do. He gave interviews with two reporters about normal-sounding operations before later saying it was below the DOH’s 10-camper limit.

The camp’s website advertised it as a normal-sounding camp experience throughout that time. Since 2017, however, it has added this paragraph to the history section of that site. “In 2011, Michael scaled down the size of camp as he worked through a health crisis. He ran camp with smaller numbers, but every year he maintained Regis Applejack traditions as well as the highest health and safety standards, in addition to ACA (American Camp Association) accreditation. Starting in 2019, the camp will once again operate with higher numbers, with the goal of reaching full capacity by 2020/2021.”

Reports of the camp from the DOH show that between 2001 and 2007 (the only years the enrollment numbers were available) the enrollment dropped from 331 to 178. In 2002, a girl drowned at the camp while swimming unsupervised after taking more than her prescribed dose of anti-depressant medication.

DOH reports from 2001 to 2011, obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, showed that there had been issues with how the buddy system — used to keep swimmers safe — was not always implemented or implemented well, and supervision around the water was not always adequate. There were also instances of crumbling infrastructure and spoiled food, but most issues were able to be addressed on the spot, the report said.

The new camp director, William Bettman, said he is unsure what the cause of the decline was. He recently started working at the camp and knows little of its recent past, but he said Friday afternoon that he had received word from the DOH that the camp had received its permit this year.

“Everything that they have asked of us we’ve provided to them,” Bettman said.

Bettman said that this year the camp expects to run with 65 campers, 30 of whom will stay overnight. They will be spread out between two sessions, from June 30 to July 20 and July 21 to Aug. 10. Bettman, who started in October 2018, said he has been drawing in campers since spring.

Bettman, 49, attended the camp as a child, as did his mother, and has been in Saranac Lake for most summers of his life.

“I’ve been here every summer of my life except one,” Bettman said.

Last summer when he and his mother drove by the camp, he asked her how it was doing. She told him she wasn’t sure.

Bettman said he earned a master degree of school administration and education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and had worked at Wellspring Camp throughout New York state from 2005 to 2012, eventually working up to becoming a regional director and running the Wellspring Camps in Wisconsin, England, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Wellspring was a weight-loss camp that is no longer operational, according to its website.

Bettman said he reached out to Humes, who is still the owner of Regis-Applejack, and eventually was hired to be its new director.

Bettman hopes to include much of the outdoor learning that he was fond of when he worked at Wellspring. His own kids will be in attendance. He hopes that this year the camp will have more campers than the last few summers.

He said he hasn’t had to change much in regard to how it will run, as he said there are great traditions at the camp.

“I don’t really have to reinvent the wheel,” Bettman said. “It’s just rebuilding the enrollment.”

Regis-Applejack is currently accredited by the American Camp Association, according to ACA Web Manager Paul Bidwell. Accredidation is voluntary but is validated through inspections by trained ACA volunteers every five years. The years a camp is not visited, it must write a compliance statement and report that answers questions of its operation. The last time Regis-Applejack was visited by the ACA was in 2016.

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