Santa Rosa cancels city’s summer day camps due to coronavirus

Santa Rosa has canceled all city-run summer day camps through at least July, compounding the challenges Sonoma County parents are facing with the closure of school campuses and many public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic.

The news that the popular Wa-Tam camp at Howarth Park and several similar programs were canceled came as part of a sweeping announcement from the city covering its parks and recreation services, including the cancellation of all senior programs and annual Senior Expo, until further notice.

In addition, Finley Aquatic Center and Ridgway Swim Center will remain closed until further notice, as will Howarth Park’s train, carousel, boathouse, snack bar and animal barn.

“It saddens our staff to have to make these cancellations, as our recreation and parks team looks forward to summer programs as much as our community members do each year. However, our number one priority will always be the health and safety of our program participants and our staff, and therefore this was a necessary decision,” said Kelley Magnuson, deputy director of Santa Rosa Recreation & Parks.

“We will continue to work with and follow the direction of the Sonoma County Health Officer to determine when it may be safe to bring some of our programs back online,” Magnuson said.

The camps typically draw 2,400 registrants every summer, and 875 have already registered for this season.

Nick Caston, who lives in Roseland, had been planning to enroll his 6-year-old son in a summer camp. While he’s disappointed that the programs have since been canceled, he said he understands and supports the decision.

“If it’s a decision that the health (officials) are saying it’s the right one, then it’s the right one,” Caston said. “It’s going to be rough - it’s going to be sunny and all (my son) wants to do is go swim and play, but it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.”

The city will issue refunds for fees already paid.

For fees paid with a credit card, the city will credit the amount directly back to the credit card whenever possible. Those who paid by another method can request a refund check by emailing or calling and leaving a message at 707-543-3737, ext. 1.

Payments can also be left as credits on accounts toward future purchases like recreation programs or rentals.

“We’re working through our list of customer contacts today,” said Adriane Mertens, Santa Rosa’s chief communications officer, on Tuesday.

The city of Santa Rosa continues to operate under limited conditions but has expanded some services and operations following the release of relaxed orders from the Sonoma County Department of Health Services last week.

The city has reopened neighborhood parks and will resume construction on some public works projects, including at Coffey Neighborhood Park, beginning this week. City parks closest to residents’ homes are open and accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists for basic exercise, but only to those who live close by. Parking areas are closed and anyone visiting a park must set out from home, without a car.

Bennett Valley Golf Course reopened Monday with strict social distancing and hygiene protocols in place.

All community centers and facilities will remain closed. No park, picnic or event permits will be issued and room rentals are suspended, at least until June. To learn more about the suspension of recreation programs and services, go to

In addition to Wa-Tam, other canceled city summer day camp programs include the Yu-Chi camp at Youth Park and Doyle Adventure camp at Doyle Park in Santa Rosa.

Lucas Warnell, a freshman at Cardinal Newman High School, had applied to be a paid counselor at Wa-Tam. For the past two years, he volunteered there as a counselor in training. Before that, he was a camper there. This will be the first time in nine years that he won’t be returning to the camp.

“I completely understand why they did it and I agree that it’s the right choice to make,” Warnell said of the cancellation. “(But) it just breaks my heart. I’m going to miss being able to work with all the kids.”

Staff Writer Chantelle Lee contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at

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