ASHFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford was badly damaged in a fire last year. It is now ready to welcome back campers and kick off the summer season.

Chief Program Officer Hillary Axtmayer walked through construction happening at Paul Newman’s infamous camp, set to finish this fall. She admits the new building is a long time coming.

This site is a reminder of what happened a year and a half ago when a quick moving fire destroyed a series of beloved buildings at the camp.

“In February of 2021, we experienced a fairly significant fire which destroyed our arts and crafts, our wood shop, our cooking zone, camp store,” she said.

Along with COVID, the damage from the fire caused major setbacks, where in-person programs at the camp dedicated to kids battling severe illnesses had to be scaled back or even canceled.

“Because our kids are all immunocompromised and everyone coming to camp has a serious illness. COVID has been a real challenge for us over the years.”

But this summer, they’re bringing their traditional program back, something Axtmayer said the campers and their families have really missed.

A total of 500 campers will visit this summer and 26 different families.

“This is our coming out party. We’re going to have an amazing summer and the energy, we have staff here, they’re learning and training as we speak and they are more dedicated than ever to make this the best summer possible for the kids and families. They deserve that and they need it,” she said.

It is where Newman wanted kids to let loose and be themselves.

“He wanted to create a place where kids who otherwise would not be able to go to other camps, kids with serious illnesses, to find a place where they could be kids, where they could have fun and what he always said is raise a little hell.”

The fun isn’t just limited to the campgrounds. Camp counselors are also dedicating time to patients either in the hospital or at home who cannot physically be there to get the camp experience.

The camp season at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp officially starts June 23 and lasts until August 21. The cost of camp is free for participating kids and their families, covered by donations.