Spring has been a solemn reminder of the battle between Buffalo Mountain Camp and nature that took place almost a year ago. Organizers had to cancel camp this summer, but have decided to offer daylong outings for families and groups.
The August 2012 flood raged through rustic sleeping cabins and damaged the dining hall where hundreds of campers ate and laughed just a month before.
“I still find myself just going ‘wow’ anytime I walk around and see once-familiar places and I’m awe-inspired by the power that came through to change all that landscape,” said Jason Onks, executive director of Buffalo Mountain Camp. “Visually, it can be tough to look at sometimes.”
Following the loss of five cabins that slept 100 people and a dining hall that could serve up to 120 hungry campers, Onks and fellow camp organizers put their heads together to figure out a way to make camp as close to normal as possible for summer 2013. Onks says they decided to tweak the schedule and host only small groups of 46 youth for half-week periods, instead of the normal 120 campers per week.
In the end, half-week stays weren’t interesting to campers or convenient for parents’ schedules. Plus, other camps in the area offered more economical prices. Buffalo Mountain Camp was out of options.
“Whether there are 10 or 100 campers, there are hard costs,” Onks said. “In terms of economics, we just couldn’t do it with overhead and cost.”
The cancellation was definitely disappointing for Onks, who lives at the camp with his wife and young son. Fortunately, staff and board members have rallied around him to find new ways to use the camp and think about its recovery and future.
“Now we really have an opportunity to reinvent camping ministry,” Onks said. “It’s the right time to do that.”
As an alternative, Buffalo Mountain Camp will be offering opportunities for families and groups to use the camp throughout the summer. Onks says the new swimming pool is in working order, as well as the climbing tower and zip line.
Special hiking trips and other open events will be announced on the “Buffalo Mountain Camp and Retreat Center” Facebook page or by visiting http://www.buffalomountaincamp.org and signing up for the Camp Chronicles newsletter. Patrons may also call the camp office at 423-753-6678 for more information.
A task force is currently working with consultants and engineers to produce a plan and price tag for the recovery of Buffalo Mountain Camp post- flood. It may take upward of $3.5 million to replace lost infrastructure and to remodel and take care of the facilities that are getting heavy usage to compensate for the losses.
The task force is looking at the camp’s long-term needs and safety. New buildings won’t be erected where floodwaters are likely to rise again and cabins will be less rustic and more comfortable with bathrooms, air conditioning and heat, plus easier access.
Onks says recovery efforts at Buffalo Mountain Camp have gotten off to a great start. Fundraisers and work days have been fruitful and several people have already pledged to build two new cabins.
“As time goes on, I grow more and more encouraged for the future,” Onks said.
To learn more about recovery efforts and participate as they develop, visit the Buffalo Mountain Camp webpage or call their office.