The Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church plans to maintain its 66-year tradition of ministry, camp and outdoor activity by relocating Buffalo Mountain Camp to Bays Mountain, and renovating and expanding the old Sullivan Baptist Association retreat center.
On Thursday, UMC officials held a kickoff for a $4.5 million capital campaign to cover the cost of the project. To date, the UMC has raised nearly half of its goal.
“Camp Bays Mountain is poised to be a gift to our region, for day camps, overnight camps and retreat usage for groups during the week and on the weekend,” said Jeff Wadley, executive director of the camp. “It's a big day for us.”
Four years ago, Buffalo Mountain Camp suffered major damage from heavy rains and floodwaters, forcing the facility to close, leaving its long-term future uncertain. After weighing the options to close, stay and repair the existing facility or relocate to a new site, UMC leaders decided to purchase the 88 acres near Bays Mountain earlier this year and relocate the camp to the old retreat center off Hood Road.
Cleanup work and renovations have already begun on the dining hall and retreat lodge, and earlier this week a 45-foot climbing tower was moved from the old Jonesborough location to the Bays Mountain property.
In addition to the renovations, the capital campaign will also fund the construction of six cabins (with 16- and 24-bed options) and a zero-entry pool with adjoining meeting space, restrooms and showers. The Allison Bell will also be relocated from the old camp to the new one.
“We will have some semblance of camp starting in June 2017,” said Josh Kilbourne, chairman of the Camp Bays Mountain board of directors. “We hope to have as much built as possible, so we'll have camp throughout next summer.”
Wadley said construction on the cabins is expected to begin in the fall of 2017 and by 2019 the first phase of the project should be completed.
Once done, UMC officials are hoping to serve 1,000 kids each summer, along with other retreat opportunities, community events and outdoor activities. Later phases will add other amenities and will likely be done over several years.
“The flood at Buffalo Mountain Camp was devastating to staff, to the Dry Creek community and campers who had used it since 1949,” Wadley said. “It was a traumatic event, but this is our best path forward. It's a new beginning out of a devastating flood.”
The UMC founded its camp in 1949 near Jonesborough on Buffalo Mountain, offering three main programs to the community year-round – summer camp for kids elementary school aged to high school; weekend retreats for corporate and church groups and day use events for schools, churches or community organizations.
Officials estimate the camp has served nearly 40,000 campers over the decades.