OUTLOOK 2023: Buhl Park, Hermitage partnering on summer camp program

Feb. 25—HERMITAGE — Instead of two different summer camps, local children will have a new program to look forward to this year that combines the best of both through the upcoming "Summer Camp at Buhl Park."

Previously known as the "Summer Youth Program," the upcoming Summer Camp at Buhl Park will be held from June 12 through July 21.

The camp is for children entering kindergarten through those entering sixth grade. Each week will focus on different themes, such as STEAM, animals or police and fire departments, park Environmental Education Director Katie Nowland said.

Registration has opened, and will cost $50 per week or $250 for all six weeks, depending on the parents' preference, Nowland said.

This year's summer camp will be a collaboration with the city of Hermitage, which is why Hermitage and Wheatland residents will receive a discount for all six weeks if they sign up through the city's website, www.hermitage.net.

"Parents can sign their kids up for individual weeks, or they can sign up for the whole program," Nowland said.

The city of Hermitage previously hosted a summer camp for elementary-aged children alongside the city's annual sports-oriented summer recreation program, which was held at Hermitage schools and in Buhl Park.

When planning this year's program, Hermitage Director of Recreation and Community Events Jessica Gotch said that she wanted the city's summer camp program to emphasize physical and educational activities that take place outdoors.

Since the city's summer camp was held at Artman Elementary School, officials considered moving the program outdoors using city facilities, before the decision was ultimately made to merge the city's summer program with Buhl Park's program, Gotch said.

Gotch's daughters have also attended Buhl Park's Summer Youth Program in the past, giving her a firsthand look at the park's offerings.

"Looking at the city's facilities and knowing about the program they already have at Buhl Park, I realized that the park's program really mirrored what we wanted for the city," Gotch said.

The city's summer recreation program will be held as usual, since Gotch said the program is largely overseen by the school district's sports officials. Moving the city's summer camp program to the park will also free up space for the school district's summer academies.

When Summer Camp at Buhl Park begins this year, Nowland said returning children will see many similar activities while getting a chance to reconnect with some of the friends made in previous summers.

"It's funny, because we have so many school districts in the Shenango Valley and a lot of these kids wouldn't have met each other outside of camp," Nowland said. "And yet by the time the program's over, the kids have all made these little buddies with kids from other schools."

However, the partnership between Hermitage and Buhl Park will allow the city to bring some additional resources into the park's summer camp, aside from the discount for Hermitage and Wheatland residents. The borough of Wheatland is scheduled to merge into Hermitage at the end of the year.

This includes special guests who will organize different activities with the children, such as representatives from the Hope Center of Arts and Technology's art department or the Oh Wow! Roger and Gloria Jones Children's Center for Science and Technology.

Gotch said these visitors, among others that are still being determined, are based off of positive relationships previously established by Hermitage officials for the city's summer camp.

"When we did the city's camp at the school, we used to take field trips because it was a much smaller camp," Gotch said. "Since we're not doing field trips at the park, we thought we could reach out to those places we've visited and bring them to the park instead."

But before the camp gets underway, officials are still looking for camp counselors and lead counselors, particularly college-age and older applicants who can work with the various groups of children.

Usually Buhl Park needs about 20 counselors, and about a dozen have been interviewed so far, Nowland said.

Counselors' pay can range between $10 and $15 an hour, depending on an applicant's education and position as counselor or lead counselor.

"We've had quite a few returning applicants, so I think they've had a good experience and they enjoy being outside all day," Nowland said.

Updates will be posted to the park's social media pages and website, and will be shared through the park's newsletter, Nowland said.

Hermitage and Wheatland residents can register their children by visiting the city's website, www.hermitage.net, and clicking the "Register Now" button, which will direct the visitor to a third-party website.

Registration for "Summer Camp at Buhl Park" is already open, while information on the city's summer recreation program will be posted in the near future, Gotch said. Updates will also be posted to the city's website and social media sites, and shared through the city's newsletter.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun and a great time," Gotch said.

For more information on registering your child or applying for a counselor's position, visit Buhl Park's website at buhlpark.org and "Buhl Park" Facebook page.

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