Campfires Burn On


When it was announced last September that the four Missouri Conference-owned camps would not be open for use in 2015, the plan from the Camping and Retreat Ministries Board was for camp directors to continue to offer camps at leased facilities.

In October, Scott Burdin, former assistant site director at Camp Jo-Ota, was hired to help make that happen.

Burdin was charged with inventing a new camp program, and finding places to do it, while working with a core of volunteer camp directors, some of whom were upset about the proposal to sell the Conference-owned camps.

It happened. In the end, there were 16 overnight camping opportunities at five locations in Missouri, one in Illinois and a performing arts travel camp that went to Chicago.

In late June, the camp at Mound Ridge near St. James was half-full of United Methodist campers at Camp Kerusso. Most were former Blue Mountain campers, from places like St. Louis, Farmington and Fayette. The camp had 24 campers and six counselors.

Racheal George is one of three core camp staff who spent the summer staffing camps at the various locations, helping with programming and serving as a lifeguard. She had been a camper herself at Blue Mountain, and one year at Galilee. Last year she worked at Big Surf at Lake of the Ozarks, and this summer she was happy to be on staff at a Missouri Conference camps.

“The people have been great to work with,” she said. Her first week on duty with campers was at one of the traveling camps, a Performing Arts Camp in Chicago. This camp had particular challenges regarding navigating the inner-city of a large urban environment, and she found it stressful. She was glad to be back in Missouri at Kerusso.

As the name indicates, Mound Ridge is on a hill, and consists primarily of historic facilities. It is right on the Meramec River. Grace Mohan, age 11, was at Kerusso for the first time, and was the only person from Libertyville. She was having a good time. 

“I like the crafts a lot,” she said.

Jason Stethe from Fenton UMC was also there solo, and enjoying it.

“I’ve liked the swimming and the games,” he said.

Zack Adams and Trist Baker are cousins, and veteran campers. They were the only two there from their church. “It’s just us,” Zack said.

The biggest Missouri Conference camp of the year occurred a few weeks later at Mound Ridge. Sanctuary Kamp. It nearly filled the camp to capacity, with 64 campers.

“They had to open up a cabin for us without air conditioning so we would have enough space,” said director Andi Ricks Young.

Young has a history with the camp. Her father, Chris Ricks, was director when it was called Keely camp, and she’s been part of the camp all of her life. This wasn’t her first move. In her senior year as a camper, the Missouri East Conference sold Epworth, and the camp was moved to Blue Mountain.

“I understood very well how the campers who were attached to Blue Mountain felt this year,” she said.

Sanctuary has a loyal following. Young had 18 adult counselors this year, and another 10 on the waiting list. Young has been a counselor at the camp since 2002, and the director for the past four years. The camp has been as large as 110 campers. Last year it had 82. Young hopes to see the numbers build back.

“I liked Mound Ridge, but we’re going to be looking for more capacity,” she said. “The lower numbers don’t mean we failed, it just means it’s time to start building back.”

Overall, though, it was a good year. Mound Ridge was discovered by Sanctuary camp pastor Rick Lasley. Young had visited the site last fall, before the Missouri Conference had opted to lease it as a Conference site. She had a retreat for the counselors there in May to give them an opportunity to become familiar with the facility, and said she would encourage other past directors to take time to travel to new facilities before the start of camp to make plans for how things will work.

Young said the Sanctuary campers enjoyed the river, zip line and swimming pool. She said the staff at Mound Ridge were good, Christian people who would do anything that they could to help.

“Changing locations was hard, but it was very doable,” Young said. She said she wouldn’t have wanted to consider going a year without offering Sanctuary Camp. “We do this for the campers. God is going to be wherever you are, whether it’s Blue Mountain or Mound Ridge.”

Rev. Andy Bryan and his family, together with the Garner family from his church, led a family camp at Camp Windermere.

The camp was previously at Wilderness. This first year at Windermere was one of learning how to fit in.

“One of the other camps at Windermere while we were there had, literally, hundreds of campers,” Bryan said. That initially made navigating the dining hall a little challenging. “We had it figured out by about the second or third meal.”

Eight families, for a total of 31 people, participated in the family camp, with 15 children ranging from age two to 17, and 16 adults. There were two-parent families, single parent families and grandparents with grandchildren.

“Our goal for the week is for each family to grow closer to God and closer to one another,” Bryan said. “Families have a lot of time on their own. And it’s cool to see how the different ages interact together. The younger kids really look up to the older ones.”

Burdin said his staff of three for the summer ended up being the appropriate number.

“It was a little challenging the week we had camps going on at three different locations at once,” he said.

Burdin wasn’t just the coordinator of the camps this summer, he was also a participant. He participated with in a parent-child camp with his own child at Cross Pointe. The camp is in a heavily developed area of Lake of the Ozarks. He said some people missed being out in the woods with trails around, but also appreciated things the camp did have to offer. “I think each camp ended up working well in its own way,” he said.