Ticks and tick borne illnesses are now endemic to all of the lower 48 states of the USA. While the wider public perception of illnesses is more recent, ticks themselves have always been around, and we have been minimizing camper and staff exposure for many years. Indeed, at Maine Teen Camp in summer 2017 we only had 2 ticks found crawling on a member of camp reported to the health center.
We take a two-fold approach to tick management. The first, and hardest part, is maintaining the camp property to reduce the tick population. We do this in a systematic way that involves eliminating habitat (so cutting back of scrub, keeping lawns mowed very low, eliminating weed growth), encouraging natural predators (specifically – chickens and wild birds that eat ticks), minimizing squirrel and chipmunk habitats in areas where campers will frequent, and environmentally appropriate, highly targeted application of tick controlling organic pesticides/biopesticides.
The second part is education and awareness. Through the use of posters, songs, notices and announcements, we educate campers and staff about how to use tick repellent and clothing. Tick repellent is provided to campers at multiple locations around camp, especially at activities like Mountain Biking and Trail Running classes that have the greatest chance of tick exposure. We also educate the camp community about how to perform routine and thorough tick checks. We don’t really view this as a camp specific skill, but as a life skill.
Finally, our Health Center staff are very well informed on the appropriate response to a tick bite – identifying the particular species of tick, and taking the correct follow up action, if deemed appropriate.
We are concerned about ticks, of course, and view them as a safety risk to be managed like any other. We know that risks must be managed to ensure kids can reap the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle while avoiding obvious safety concerns – much like we clear the waterfront when a thunderstorm threatens, or ensure bike classes wear helmets, we feel that with diligent effort and good education, we can mitigate the risk from ticks also.
Mosquitos & Black Flies
Luckily for our campers and staff, the Maine blackfly is a spring time critter, emerging in late April or early May, living large for a couple of weeks, and rapidly diminishing by early June. A healthy blackfly population is indicative of pristine lakes and streams, so we take comfort in that during warm spring days at camp, cleaning up from winter, prepping for summer, and windmilling our arms furiously around our heads. Blackflies are not a vector of disease, and are gone from all but the deepest parts of the northern Maine woods by mid-June.
Mosquitos also hatch in the spring in Maine. We see the bulk of our mosquitos from mid-May to late June. Unlike blackflies, mosquitos do persist throughout the summer in Maine, just as they do in pretty much every climate. They can however, be quite effectively managed. Again, we take a two fold approach to managing mosquito populations.
Operationally, we use a variety of strategies to minimize mosquitos. We keep habitat to a minimum – keeping grass and weeds short, removing or treating sources of standing water that would be suitable for larva. We have also been diligent in increasing the amount of natural light around camp by reducing undergrowth. The additional sunlight and reduced humidity across the camp property that results is a habitat unfriendly to mosquitos. Further, we encourage natural predators – dragonflies, martins and swallows, and bats, by creating habitat suitable for these species. We ensure cabin screens are well maintained, and doors shut well. When we have outdoor evening events, we use citronella flares to drive mosquitos away from areas being used. Finally, as with ticks, we will apply environmentally sensitive organic pesticides at critical times and places to disrupt the mosquito life cycle.
In terms of education, we again teach camp members of the importance of using repellent, how to do so correctly, and make sure it’s readily available at several central locations around camp.
As with any community of children and teenagers, we are concerned about the potential for a head lice infestation at camp. Our policy is focused on prevention. We ask all parents to check their campers for head lice in the days before they depart home for camp, and if needed, treat accordingly. Parents are responsible for insuring their camper arrives at MTC without a head lice infection, however, we realize that this is not 100% foolproof. We therefore conduct active headlice checks of ALL incoming staff & campers, as part of our standard health screening, as soon as campers arrive. If a head lice infection is suspected, it will either be treated immediately at parent expense or the camper will be asked to return home to have it treated.
During the summer we educate campers about avoiding potential for communicable conditions, headlice being one. Campers are told not to share hairbrushes, hats, pillows or accessories. Camp helmets in ropes, Mt Bikes and wakeboarding are treated frequently to prevent possible spread.
It is super important to remember that camp is in a beautiful natural setting. The benefits of this setting are simply unparalleled, kids need time in the outdoors to be healthy and happy. With some hard work behind the scenes, a little bit of education, and the smart use of a little bit of bug spray, our campers are free to enjoy all benefits of time in the wonderful Maine outdoors.