Camp Quinebarge, the ‘Fyre Fest’ of night camps, closed after 6 days


Indeed, the letter from a camper to his parents from the first week reads like the famous parody letter from the camp:

“We have been in tears, bored and devastated all day. [The camp director] you are lying to all of you, ”the camper wrote. “You have to trust us. You have to. We are not joking and we are not having fun. So much is wrong with this place. The boy’s father, who found the folded note in his son’s pocket days after the camp closed and provided it to the Globe, requested anonymity to protect his son’s privacy.

The stories of the injured make Quinebarge the equivalent of the Fyre Festival summer camp, the unhappy music festival which promised luxury accommodation in the Bahamas but instead delivered FEMA tents and cheese sandwiches. The Globe spoke to more than a dozen parents, current and former employees and campers.

Some believe the camp leaders used a delay from Sysco, the food supplier, as an excuse to end the one-season fiasco. (A Sysco spokeswoman confirmed that the company told the camp their food would be delivered a day late in the first week.)

“The shock doesn’t even begin to cover him,” wrote Rebecca Gove, a parent from Foxborough who sent two children to Quinebarge, in a letter to the camp afterwards. She hosts the private “Abandoned Camp Q 2021” Facebook group, where livid parents have gathered to compare their grades.

Camp executive director Eric Carlson said in a statement the camp was destroyed by industry-wide staffing and supply chain complications that were “not due to long-term problems with camp operations “. Carlson, a former Quinebarge camper and instructor, purchased the co-ed camp in April, but has run it with his wife, Lesley, since 2012. It was licensed to operate this summer by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, although it was closed before a In-season inspection has not taken place, according to a spokesperson. for the agency. Quinebarge canceled all remaining summer sessions when it closed.

“We sincerely apologize to all those families and staff whose summer plans were interrupted by our premature shutdown,” Carlson wrote. He also said parents of children quarantined after vomiting have been warned.

The children and counselors said the early days of camp were not “the best time you can have in the world,” as the promotional video promised. Activities were understaffed, overworked counselors yelled at each other in front of the children, and people started quitting (and being fired).

Maybe there were a few red flags at the start. As the Concord Monitor reported, many New England summer camps have experienced a hiring crisis this year. The number of registrations at Quinebarge skyrocketed, but workers were scarce everywhere. And so just two weeks before the camp started, the management sent the parents an urgent email, which the Globe got.

“We are in desperate need of additional staff for this summer,” Carlson wrote, noting that 15 staff members had recently “abandoned or ghosted” the camp. Carlson said he is looking to hire an additional 15-20 people “this week when our training begins.”

A number of employees told The Globe that they were hired during this time and received minimal verification or training.

“I was hired about four days before the campers arrived,” said MJ Lowry, a 21-year-old counselor this summer. “They just said, ‘Hey, you’ve been referred, we’ll send you the application. You seem qualified, do you want the job? “

“I played kickball and got to see the turtle and the frog in the pond and learn about the tadpoles. It was stuff like that, ”Lowry said of their brief training.

Chris Bigler, a 19-year-old counselor who dated Quinebarge in 2018 and called it “the best summer I’ve ever had”, had no intention of working there this summer. But when the camp director contacted him in mid-June, he was in dire straits.

“My options were either emergency accommodation or Camp Quinebarge,” Bigler said, noting that he had received training in CPR, first aid, ropes and archery. An 8-year-old camper later described him as “the counselor who did not quit”.

Carlson acknowledged that some advisors have had to register late due to hiring difficulties, but said “at no point has there been a cut back on staff verification or our mandatory training.” He said 52 advisers and 13 CITS were employed on the first day, five or six advisers resigned and three were fired.

From camper Kayden Gove’s perspective, the whole experience was unusual. Kayden, 8, said he was hit on the head with a block of wood by another camper; his mother, Rebecca Gove, said he bruised when he got home. by Kayden The adviser, Bigler, said he was previously attacked by the same child, who punched him in the face, giving him a bloody lip.

Carlson said Quinebarge “took immediate action and removed the child from the camp.”

Kayden said another of his advisers left about three days after the camp started.

“He came to our cabin and said he was quitting. . . . He said the camp was not like the one he had ever seen, ”said Kayden, who dated Quinebarge in 2019 and loved it. “I thought, it’s sad.”

In the kitchen, the commercial dishwasher was broken, which meant dirty dishes were provided to children during meals, according to Caliban Chesterfield, a consultant known as “Dodger” who worked in food preparation. Chesterfield also said that in the week leading up to camp, a staff member’s child was served a mostly raw meatball with a meal; the cook was then fired. (The Globe confirmed this account with another staff member.) Carlson disputed this account, saying the dishwasher had a problem for a meal and the dishes were always properly washed.

In addition to the daily pitfalls, the camp was experiencing an identity crisis. Quinebarge presents itself as a “LGBT Friendly Summer Camp“Where trans and non-binary campers and staff live in cabins that best match their gender identity. But trans counselors said they don’t always feel comfortable, and a few kids have been taken out because their parents didn’t want them to live with trans counselors, according to Lowry and Carlson. Carlson said the camp’s commitment to being LGBTQ-friendly remains strong.

And then, almost as quickly as the camp was building up, it ended. Carlson first sent a note to parents mid-week, acknowledging that “the last two days have been a bit rough,” but assuring them the kids were safe and “having a tremendous amount of good time.” The next day, the parents were invited to pick up their children quickly.

Of course, after the fact, the parents recognized that there had been warning signs. Delayed letters from children at home. The camp photographer disappearing from the Facebook group a few days after the start of the camp. Unanswered calls and emails to camp administrators. But this? Complete accounting was essential.

Despite the drama, some have remained loyal, saying the leaders have done their best under difficult circumstances.

“[The] the children are annoyed, they are annoyed, they prefer to be at the camp than with us. [But] they’re all fine, ”said Brian Roemer, who called Quinebarge a“ fantastic place ”that his two children have been attending for years (only one has been to this year). From what he had seen on the private Facebook group, Roemer suspected that there might be a disconnect between what a rustic overnight camp actually is and what parents in this highly connected age have come to expect. that is.

A few days after the hasty end of the camp, Quinebarge sent an email to all the camps.

“Upon reflection, we know that camp is only good for children if we can ensure their health and safety,” wrote the Carlsons and camp director Nick Hercules. “This is why as soon as we have completed our closing work for 2021, we will start preparing for the summer of 2022.”

Laura Crimaldi of Globe staff contributed to this report.

Zoe Greenberg can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.

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