What is your optimal camp size?
Honestly, I think the bigger the better. Space, of course, is a huge consideration when fielding this question, but many camps misuse or abuse space all over the place!
So how exactly do you know? Well, there are the legal / ACA guidelines. They are a good starting block, but should not be a stumbling block. If you need 4 more toilets, then install 4 more toilets! If you need another set of bunks, then put them in. The advantages of more campers far outweigh the hassle / cost of accommodating them.
In a worst-case-scenario, how many kids can you fit into thunderstorm safe areas for an entire day? Keep in mind that they need to be busy and your staff sane! This is a good starting place to figure the perfect number. I think most camps hover around the 200 mark when they could be hitting 400 a session. That's twice as much for you English majors!
But Pete, it's not that simple. We need food, bunks and staff for each of these extra campers, not to mention programming.
Yes, this is all true. First of all, food is always scalable. A kitchen that supports 200 can, in many cases, be reorganized to support 4 shifts of 100 each. Oversimplifying the situation would suggest that the more food bought, the better price per camper per meal... meaning that your bottom line is increased.
Every year you should be adding or redoing bunks. That should be built into the budget. Face it, every camp has that building that time forgot - and it's time to forget it! ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE AN OLDER TRADITIONAL CAMP, you should be rewiring your bunks for the future. If you're not prepared to offer the benefits of the information age to kids who already take it for granted, you'll miss out in the long run.
Staff is the greatest challenge when expanding beyond your imagination. There are millions of potentially good staff members out there, but finding them and recruiting them has always been the tough part. To scale up, you'll want to revisit your staff hierarchy. Is there a way to redistribute power? More staff means there needs to be more eyes watching those staff... I would suggest beefing up some of the lesser director positions to include some managerial responsibilities to ensure that everyone is getting the support and supervision that they need.
Programming is a part of this puzzle that I find the most fun. First, figure out places that cannot be scaled. For instance, if you only have one pool, a larger number may take away from the total average pool time. The same goes for a ropes course or a shooting range. The good thing about these activities, though, is that some campers have a love/hate relationship with them. Is it possible to allow for custom scheduling? In fact, when was the last time you rehauled the way that campers spend their day? I found that at several areas we weren't giving the kids enough time - such as Arts and Crafts. I would rather they finished a bigger project one day instead of having 3 small rushed projects over the week. In addition, the teens never enjoyed Nature. I understand the importance of a well-rounded program, but I'm not going to consistently fight the majority opinion if I can't prove it wrong. Instead, there should be Environmentalism or Tribal Construction (a type of in-house improvement).
One of the major program changes I made was taking teens away from all program activities. This meant that I freed up a lot of space for the other groups to pass through while limiting the *traditional* activities that the teens only really needed to do once during the week. The afternoons were spent on service projects and large activities - both of which were more preferred by all. Of course, this requires a great deal of additional work by your teen staff, but you've been overpaying them for years anyway...
I can be completely guilty of oversimplifying this, but I do believe that bigger is better. There's nothing like an all camp event that roars loud enough to aggravate the neighbors... who live on the other side of the mountain... :-)