WHEN WE WERE KIDS, we loved our summer stays at overnight camps. To this day, the smell of wet vegetation after a summer rain takes us back to those days when we slept outside in tents, hiked in the woods and swam in the lake.

So the news that Camp William Penn, the city-run, taxpayer-subsidized camp for underprivileged youth has closed after 56 years is a sad commentary on several fronts. City officials say the camp in the Poconos is run down, and enrollment had declined over the years. Other camps are experiencing a drop in attendance, too. Some reasons: video games, technology, a desire to stay home and hard-strapped parents. But Richard Louv, who wrote a book about "nature-deficit disorder" notes that a society that no longer encourages kids to experience nature "reduces the richness of human experience."

The fate of the camp is still up in the air. If it's sold, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown wants the proceeds earmarked for children's services. Maybe someone can figure out how to "repurpose" the camp for young people, or have the school district take it over for a special summer school. The camp is an asset we shouldn't give up too easily. *