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After the Flood: Faith-based camp in Jonesborough looks to rebuild, possibly relocate

March 29th, 2014 2:00 pm by Marci Gore

After the Flood: Faith-based camp in Jonesborough looks to rebuild, possibly relocate

All photos contributed, showing the camp both before and after the flooding.

For more than 60 years, Buffalo Mountain Camp in Jonesborough provided faith-based summer camps, environmental education and retreats for area children and youth.

But on Aug. 5, 2012, torrential rains and a resulting flash flood heavily damaged the camp.

"When we experienced this heavy rain event, we had also received record rainfall for the previous month," said Camp Director Jason Onks. "The result of that was a pretty significant flash flood that came through our base camp area. This is where our developed area is, where all of our facilities and infrastructures are."

Onks says during the days following the flood, the extent of the damage was fully realized.

"The next morning, as the water receded and we had a chance to look at things, we saw just how bad the damage really was," Onks said.

A newly built outdoor pool, climbing tower and pavilion survived the flood. But the main lodge and most of the camping cabins did not. Portions of the wooded area, where many children and teens from Kingsport and surrounding areas spent their summers exploring and hiking, needed to be restored.

As a result, all camp operations were suspended in 2013.

But now the board is looking to the future and has decided to focus all attention and energy on developing a new, vibrant, sustainable camping ministry.

To facilitate the redevelopment process, the board hired Kathy Trotter, a consultant for the nationally known camp consulting firm KALEIDOSCOPE inc.

While Buffalo Mountain Camp, which is an outreach of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, has its beauty and history, the extent of the rebuilding that would be required has led the board to consider other properties if they offer a better opportunity for future ministry.

In the search for properties, the board has put a high priority on a naturally wooded site readily accessible to campers in Kingsport and Johnson City with buildable acreage not in a flood plain and preferably with a water feature.

Onks says the board is also willing to consider a partnership or collaboration to impact a larger group of people.

"We are interested in partnership opportunities with the community and interested in listening to whatever needs may be out there as we work to develop a new ministry model. This, for us, in a sense, is kind of a new start-up. We have a core, in terms of who we are and who we serve and that is primarily the children and youth in our faith-based summer camp program. But there may be some opportunities to partner with groups or organizations or other churches that could really enhance what we have always done — maybe even offer some year-round opportunities. Everything is on the table for us and we're really considering all the options that are out there. We really don't have any limits to the conversations we would like to have and we're trying to dream big right now," Onks said.

Onks says he hopes by the summer months, plans can be articulated to the community about what the future holds for Buffalo Mountain Camp.

"We should be in a place at that time that we will have some feedback from our constituents and the community about where we're headed. And assuming that all goes well and we get all of our ducks in a row and new programming ideas developed, we will then begin a capital campaign to help try to fund it all," Onks said.

Onks encourages anyone who may have some ideas or suggestions for Buffalo Mountain Camp's Project: Recovery to visit the camp website at or to call (423) 753-6678.

Additional Photos

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