One year after COVID hiatus, Fitch Camp makes triumphant return

DOWAGIAC — The sounds of children splashing in the lake and basketballs bouncing on the concrete court were music to Chris Cox’s ears.

Cox, the longtime director of Fitch Camp, 506000 Fitch Road, is thrilled to be conducting the 81st year of camp this year after last year’s season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The kids really missed it,” Cox said. “They’re really happy to be back.”

Named after E. Root Fitch, who endowed the program with the property in 1941, the camp is open to Dowagiac elementary school students, with attendance, transportation and meals costing $1 per day.

Led by the camp’s 10 high school and college-aged counselors, the campers are divided into groups each morning, where they participate in games like dodgeball or recreational activities like kayaking, Cox said.

Unlike most years — where the camp is open to both elementary and middle school students — the camp is open only to elementary school students this year. Children completing first, second or third grade attend camp Monday and Wednesday while children finishing fourth and fifth grade Tuesday
and Thursday.

Cox said attendance this year is at roughly 50 campers. Before last year, camp attendance would hover at around 100.

“We’re down to about half of that because of the way we’re splitting them up,” Cox said. “It has worked out really well, I don’t know if we will go back to what it was, but this is actually pretty nice. It’s easier to manage and the kids get more attention. In a lot of ways, the pandemic made us become more streamlined and better organized.”

While the children enjoy the camp, Cox believes parents benefit, too.

“I’m sure they are happy the kids are able to do something like this,” he said. “It’s only $1 a day, so it’s a lot cheaper than daycare. These kids can’t be left alone.”

Fitch Camp will enter the fourth of its six-week season next week. Cox said there are a few openings left for children wanting to join. Registration forms will be available on buses located at the camp’s nine bus stops — Dowagiac Middle School, McKinley Elementary, St John’s Lutheran Church, Kincheloe Elementary, Justus Gage Elementary, Patrick Hamilton Elementary, Eagles Wood and Trace Apartments and Lighthouse.

“We won’t open registration up online like we did before the season,” Cox said. “We’re going to go back to the old way for the second half of the season. I don’t know how many more kids we will get that aren’t already with us, but we have room for more if families are interested.”

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