ST. PETERSBURG — Suzie Bristol has sent her son, Dalton, to summer day camp at the city-run J.W. Cate Recreation Center since he was in first grade.
This summer, Dalton, now 12, will be old enough to attend Teen Camp, which is about $100 more in tuition. His parents are relying on a scholarship to afford it.
"I've struggled most summers to make the payments," said Bristol, 37, a medical research assistant who was recently unemployed for a month. Since October, her husband, Ken, has been in and out of work following a knee injury.
Judging by the city's summer camp numbers, the Bristols aren't the only ones having second thoughts about a summer tradition. Once so popular that parents would stand in lines before dawn to secure a spot, many camps have plenty of openings.
"We are not too worried at this point because it's a fairly new trend," said Rick Craft, the recreation manager. "We're just thinking that perhaps people are just taking their time to register. Maybe they want to wait closer to summer."
The decline began quietly in the winter, when registrations for camp at most of the city's 13 recreation centers fell 20 percent. Same thing in the spring. Now, with the big summer camps season upon us, officials are seeing the same shortfalls.
Some of the camps remain popular; the Teen Camp programs at the Willis S. Johns and Shore Acres recreation centers are already filled up.
City officials also want people to know there are scholarships available. The Juvenile Welfare Board offers 800 scholarships for the 11-week Teen Camp program, for seventh- through ninth-graders, and there are still 350 available. Also, subsidized child care assistance is available for the 10-week Playcamp program, which serves elementary grade children.
Officials at YMCA of the Suncoast, which runs camps ranging from a day to 10 weeks in Pinellas, Pasco, Citrus and Hernando counties, said registrations have also been slowing down.
"Our numbers are coming in slow but steady. Obviously, the money is getting everybody a little scared," said Mandy Griffith, a spokeswoman. "We're still doing pretty well, despite the economy."
Griffith, who said registration is down about 10 percent, said there are scholarships available, as well as a policy that no one is turned away for financial need.
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.