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Days in the sunshine

Camps for kids packed with activities, participants

Business is booming at Spokane Valley day camps, with camps run by Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley running at maximum capacity.

This is the first year that Liberty Lake’s day camp has filled up, said recreation coordinator Troy Mullenix. “We sold out in mid-May this year,” he said. “It was awesome.”

This is the third year of the camp, which operates in Pavillion Park for children in grades K-6. Not only did the camp fill its 35 slots, but there is a waiting list of 25 children. In light of that, the camp will expand next year, but Mullenix isn’t sure by how much. He wants to maintain the program’s quality.

“The main concern is the safety of the kids,” he said. “We don’t want to grow too fast.”

The camp offers arts and crafts, games, a splash pad and weekly field trips to places like Splashdown, Cat Tails and Manito Park. This year the hours of the day camp increased from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Camp ended at 3 p.m. every day last year.

Mullenix isn’t sure why his camp has experienced such a surge in attendance. Last year an average of only 10 to 15 kids per day attended. Attendance was spotty. This year, many kids are returning every week, he said.

That may be due in part to a change in payment requirements. Parents can now pay week by week instead of paying cash for the entire summer up front. “The response to that has been fantastic,” Mullenix said.

At the main day camp run by the Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Department, there is space for three children the week of Aug. 3. All other spots are filled, said recreation coordinator Jennifer Papich. There are 50 spaces available each week. About half of those are regulars who attend every week. “We do have kids who only come for one or two weeks during the summer,” she said.

It’s normal for the camp to sell out, she said, but there’s actually a shorter waiting list this year. Last year the waiting list was huge and Papich hired more staff to expand the program from 35 children to 48. But that blip could have been an aberration since it hasn’t been repeated, she said.

The camp for ages 6 to 11 is based at CenterPlace, but the kids only spend about two days a week there. The rest of the time, they’re on field trips and visiting different parks in the area. “They’re really active,” Papich said. “They go lots of places during the week.”

The program has been offered since the city incorporated but looks a little different than it used to. “It used to be just out in the park,” she said.

While Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley have only one camp, the YMCA is running four day camps out of its Valley HUB sports complex. There’s a traditional camp for grades 1 through 5, an adventure camp with overnight camping for grades 4 through 8, a camp for sixth graders only and a camp for grades 7 through 9. About 400 youths attend the camps every week, and spaces are still available. “We can accommodate quite a few more,” said program director Heather Irmer.

Program numbers are down a bit from last year, which Irmer said could be due to the economy or the fact that the program is being offered at the Valley HUB instead of at the Valley YMCA.

“We are a little bit further out at the HUB rather than the Valley Y,” she said.

Still, Irmer said, she loves the new location and thinks the benefits outweigh the extra few minutes on the freeway. “We’re an outside day camp,” she said. “In the afternoons we don’t have the hot sun.”

The prices also increased by $10 a week this year. The camps are the most expensive of all the day camps in the Valley, running $152 to $174 per week compared with the $100 per week in Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake. The camp does accept state vouchers. “It’s still just break-even,” Irmer said.

The space inside the HUB is being donated by several local businesses that sponsored the group. The different day camps use it as a home base and a place to do arts and crafts before heading to the Valley YMCA to swim in the pool or on a field trip to a local attraction.

“We really utilize the facility,” she said. “We’re using this as our hub for our day camp. We’re constantly on the go.”

Because donations cover the cost of renting the HUB, Irmer isn’t sure if the program will be back next year. For now, she’s just going to enjoy the rest of the summer. “I think it’s been a wonderful thing,” she said. “It’s set up to be a pretty good summer.”