Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County is the proud operator of Camp Shankitunk, the oldest continuously-operating 4-H camp in New York State. Situated on the Delaware River, the 165 acre camp features beautiful woods and open recreational areas. The cool, moist mountain setting is ideal for camping, but is also conducive to tick activity. Each year, the camp serves over 700 campers ages 6 to 16. The majority fall into the 8-13 year age bracket, which coincides with the population that is most at-risk for tick-borne diseases. In Delaware county, reported cases of Lyme disease doubled between 2014 and 2016.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. The New York State IPM program uses current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is
used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
With funding from NYS IPM, horticulture and natural resources educator Carla Crim, camp director Corrine Tompkins, and 4-H team leader John Hannum implemented innovative tick control strategies at our camp. We also developed fun and effective educational resources for three target groups: campers, camp staff, and parents.
Habitat Elimination: The staff at Camp Shankitunk take pride in maintaining a clean, open campground. Well before the season, grounds- keeping begins. The perimeters of the cabins and common buildings are kept free of weeds and brush. Leaves are raked away from wooded gathering areas and trails.
Life-Cycle Disruption: The majority of ticks require three different hosts to complete their development. Ticks go through four stages of life – egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. A female lays several thousand eggs at a time, which hatch into the larval stage in the summer. Mice, which live in the woods and can carry disease, are a common host for larval ticks. We are utilized “tick tubes” as a mechanism to kill ticks at the larval stage. The bio-degradable paper tubes contain permethrin-treated cotton which mice readily steal for their bedding. Permethrin, which is considered quite safe for humans, kills ticks on contact, disrupting the life cycle.
Hundreds of tubes were deployed around the grounds by a licensed pesticide applicator from Pestech Pest Solutions in the late spring and the late summer. We used commercially-available Tick Tubes from Damminix. The applicator, Brandon Scutt, is actually an alumnus of 4-H Camp Shankitunk and quite familiar with the grounds.
In the IPM Pyramid, prevention is the first line of defense in the control of pests. In addition to the control strategies employed to reduce tick populations, we relied on an educational approach to prevent exposure to disease. With resources and support from NYS IPM and Delaware County Public Health, we engaged camp staff and parents to maximize the delivery of tick education to campers.
Parent/Caregiver Education: We developed an informational brochure that was mailed to camp families prior to the season. The infographic-style brochure will contained facts and information to encourage packing and pre-treatment of appropriate clothing, as well as recommendations for selection and use of insect repellents. Most importantly, it contained instructions for doing a tick check. Because tick checks are a private matter, we felt that parents were best suited to discuss the details of this process with their children. We also asked that they encourage their campers to shower to 1) wash away unattached ticks and 2) have opportunities to check for ticks. Note: At the end of this post, we have included links to download a zip file that contains editable versions of these materials for use at other camps.
We also included a letter from the camp director. This letter served to not only inform the parents about the project and encourage them to play a role in camper education, but also reinforced our commitment to camp safety. Click here for a full-sized pdf version of the letter.
Just before we sent our mailings, NYSIPM published a series of infographics as part of the “Don’t Get Ticked NY” campaign. We felt that the infographics about permethrin clothing treatment and insect repellent usage were particularly relevant and included them in the packet. To view/download these infographics and many others related to tick awareness and prevention, visit the NYSIPM website.
Staff Training: Educators from Delaware County Public Health services gave an in-depth training to staff during orientation week. Activity directors, counselors, nurses, and kitchen staff were in attendance. Topics covered were tick-borne diseases, tick removal, and repellent usage. Staff were instructed to send all potential tick encounters (attached or not) directly to the nurse on duty. Subsequently, protocols for proper removal and reporting were reviewed with the nursing staff.
Camper Education: Each week at camper orientation, Carla and Corrine gave a brief presentation about ticks. Afterward, a group of counselors put on a skit to demonstrate “tick-safe” and “tick-risky” behavior. Squeaky stuffed tick dog toys were used as props and the cast incited uproarious laughter while getting the message across. Throughout the week, counselors reminded their campers to use repellents, shower, and do tick checks. Signage and handheld mirrors were placed in restrooms and shower stalls to prompt campers to conduct frequent tick checks.
The combination of good groundskeeping practices and chemical intervention likely reduced the population of ticks at camp, however this is difficult to quantify given the already low tick population as determined by pre-season monitoring. In 2017, ticks were removed from six counselors. This year, ZERO counselors reported tick bites, indicating that preventative measures were successful. Conversely, four campers found ticks on their bodies (three attached, one unattached) as opposed to zero in 2017. We suspect that campers did indeed encounter ticks in 2017, but were not as likely to be checking for them on their bodies. This year, the three tick attachments were noticed at very early stages of attachment (no engorgement) and safely removed by camp nurses, greatly reducing the chance of disease transmission.
The majority of parents surveyed indicated that they took at least one proactive measure in terms of packing and preparing their children for camp. Over 60% discussed tick checks with their campers, and more than 50% talked to them about each of the following: wearing protective clothing, proper use of insect repellent, and what to do if a tick bite is suspected. Over one-fourth of the parents surveyed said that the educational materials strongly influenced them to pre-treat clothing with permethrin. Almost all of the all of the parents surveyed encouraged their campers to shower during the week, which increases the likelihood of thorough tick checks.
Over the period of 5 weeks, 700+ campers and 45 staff were educated at orientations, and continuously received “tick check” prompts in the restrooms and shower stalls. They will likely carry this knowledge beyond camping season and will be more apt to take protective measures in other outdoor settings. We also created a display for the county fair, where we talked to community members and visitors about ticks and distributed tick ID cards.
We developed our materials with the hope that other camps will put them to use in delivering tick education. We had the brochures and IPM infographics printed (and folded) through printdirtcheap.com. Depending the size of your order, the cost may be equal to or less than printing in-house, and the results are very professional. The brochure is available in two formats: generic (ready to print) and customizable (can be personalized with organization names and logos). The tick check poster (generic or customizable) is designed to be printed on 11 x 17″ paper, and we recommend lamination. The letter from the camp director is provided in Word and Rich Text formats so that you can add your return address and a picture of the camp director.
Prepare to be Tick-Free Brochure:
Letter from the Camp Director:
Tick Check Poster: