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Family and Faith Remain Focus of Cherokee Cove Christian Camp

The Cherokee Cove sign welcomes guests to the retreat

By Sherrie Norris

Just a short drive from Boone and Mountain City, tucked away in the beauty of nature near the North Carolina-Tennessee border is one of the area’s best kept secrets known as Cherokee Cove.

Previously owned and operated for more than 15 years by the Stu Stephens family, the Christian-based camp is under new ownership and anxious to reconnect to the High Country and beyond.

With over 200 acres and surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest, the “diamond in the rough” as it is easily described, can house around 100 people at any given time, offering private cabins, bunkhouses, family duplexes, treehouse tent platforms, and multi-use conference centers.

Its “back-to-nature” feel offers quiet, peaceful, meandering trails and the perfect location for a much-needed reprieve from the hustle-bustle life that many of us have come to know.

Cherokee Cove offers the perfect get-away, said Brad Hager, who, along with his family, friends and fellow church members, are breathing new life into the camp property. “It has been a place for groups to stay, learn, eat and fellowship, as well as a destination for retreats, events and conferences.”

Among past groups and events the camp has hosted include music writing camps, church groups, youth groups, volunteer/mission teams, marriage retreats, family ministry weekends, scrapbooking getaways, wildcrafting and foraging seminars.

The camp has long held to the scripture verse found in Psalms 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” which Hager said is easy to do at the camp — in the quiet serenity of the natural environment where it is easier to hear God and discover the details of his artwork. “Cherokee Cove has been that place of rest and discovery for many people and groups over the years. It is our hope and mission that God will continue to use this property to bless many people.”

What’s New at Cherokee Cove

While Cherokee Cove has always maintained a family- friendly focus and atmosphere, that has only intensified in recent months as five families from the Florida Keys Have come together to invest their time and interest in purchasing and operating the camp.

According to Hager, it was when friends from a tight-knit church family Iglesia Bautista El Faro, a Spanish speaking congregation in Marathon, Fla., came to the area for a visit that a surprising turn of events occurred.

In December 2018, the families from Marathon called the Hagers, who had moved to the area from Marathon three years earlier, letting them know they wanted to visit and were looking for a place to stay the day after Christmas. Knowing his country home could not accommodate such a large group, Hager said, after searching everywhere, he was able to find lodging for the group at Cherokee Cove.

“The families braved the mountains, stayed at the camp, played in snow for the first time and fell in love with the camp,” Hager said. “Through much prayer and consideration, they decided to change their lives forever and try to purchase the camp.”

Thus, five families from the Florida Keys — Pastor Alexis and Marisol Estevez, Pavel Bacallao and Yadira Blanco, Jaasiel and Betsy Bacallao, Jose and Alynn Souto, and Landy and Nayana Hernandez — are now calling Cherokee Cove their own, their mountain home.

“It has become evident through God’s perfect timing and purpose, that this group of families has become part of Cherokee Cove Camp,” said Hager. “What started as a last-minute vacation to the High Country, quickly became a new way of life and adventure in this beautiful location.”

These families have always done a lot together, Hager said, including mission trips to Cuba, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Pastor Alex has also served as a pastor to a Spanish speaking population in the upper Florida Keys.

Unbeknownst to the Hagers, they discovered, during this process, a surprise connection to Cherokee Cove — they had attended church and were close friends with the former owner’s brother in Marathon before they moved to the area.

“All four families (which have recently became five – Jaasiel Bacallao married the pastor’s daughter Betsy at the camp in June) have all come from Cuba in the last 19 years,” Hager explained. “ All the families have grown up in and witnessed living under a communist regime. Their training and talents include construction trades, vocational ministry, food (yummy food), and a barbershop business.”

Hager describes each family, their many talents and interests:

  • Pavel and Yadira are partners in a design/build firm that works throughout the Keys. Interestingly enough, Yadira was in the medical field in Cuba and Pavel was once on the Cuban National Sailing Team. They have two adult children, a new granddaughter, and a daughter in high school. They look forward to moving to the mountains full time.
  • Jose and Alynn are living at the camp fulltime with two young children, and have just started homeschooling. Jose is in construction and is the camp handyman. He has also had his own pizza business and barbershop. Alynn helps keep the camp facilities in tip-top shape as she teaches the kids.
  • Pastor Alex and Marisol have been serving the Lord for many years. They have two adult children, both in college. Alex and Marisol will be moving here by winter and look forward to continuing their ministries here, including their passion to reach to the unchurched Spanish population. Alex loves the country, horses and roasting pigs. Marisol is the best cook in the Keys and will be helping continue the camps’ “foodie” history.
  • Landy and Nayana have two young children and will be moving here in the New Year. Landy has a background in construction and trucking. Nayana has marketing, design, and photography experience. Neither can sit still for long and I expect that everyone in the area will get to know them quickly.
  • Jaasiel and Betsy were recently married in June at the camp and they are already settling in. Betsy plans to continue her schooling and Jaasiel has been working in the electrician field for a few years. They will bring youthful excitement and vision to the camp.

All of the families that are moving here are making big changes in their lives, Hager surmised. “They are leaving life on the ocean to live life on top of a mountain. They are leaving behind the rat race and conveniences of big cities. They are leaving behind family and friends. They will leave a void in the local Cuban community and in particular, Pastor Alex and Pavel, who have been examples and leaders in their community for years. They have provided discipleship, employment and support to hundreds of people.”

Most importantly, Hager added, “They are purposeful in choosing to move to a place that values faith, family, hard work and simple life, where they intend on raising children, grandchildren — and focusing on their families.”


The Vision Remains Clear

While Cherokee Cove will continue to serve as a natural environment where guests can experience God’s creation, divine nature and eternal power,” Hager said. “We aim to keep the facilities and land Christ-centered and look to bless many youth, families and groups. The camp offers two conference centers, various lodging opportunities, dining areas, a full commercial kitchen, food services, hiking trails, amphitheater and stage and play areas.”

Plans for the Future and Financial Needs

Plans for the future include expanding and improving the sites with a grassed activity field, basketball court, archery, volleyball and ropes courses.

“We hope to host events, such as local music and BBQ nights, music camps, team building weekends, scouting camps, ski and Christmas tree weekends, Cuban food nights, family retreats.”

Cherokee Cove Family Christian Camp is non-profit organization, and as in the past, its livelihood has relied upon camp bookings, donations and volunteers for operation expenses, maintenance and improvements.

“We hope to host every group that desires to experience the camp, and we will continue to make every effort to make that possible through outside financial sponsorships and fundraising.

Additional Support Needed and Appreciated

Cherokee Cove is also hoping to enlist groups to stay and do volunteer projects at the camp. In October, a group of 30 from the organization known as Carpenters for Christ will be staying at the camp for four days and offering their building skills to multiple projects.

Another group of approximately 35 is coming from Indian rocks Beach, Fla. in November. “They have been coming here for 15 years.” Hager said. “They stay at the camp and also go on hunting trips while they are here.”

Daily volunteers are also needed to help with hosting and food during camp events and bookings.

“We ask that you help us spread the word – please tell your churches, church leaders, friends, family and work friends about the camp. We are continually seeking and asking for prayer. Please continue to pray for our vision, finances, safety, and that those who need it most will be blessed.”

To learn more about Cherokee Cove and how you and your family, organization or other interested groups can help, contact Cherokee Cove by calling 828-406-1935, visit cherokeecove.org or email yelisama@gmail.com.

New owners of Cherokee Cove include five families from the Florida Keys who discovered the camp during a holiday getaway last December and are passionate about keeping the vision of the Christian camp alive. They are joined by the Brad Hager family who helps coordinate camp and community activities.
Scenes from nearby Cherokee Cove Christian Camp that illustrate the beauty of the property, as well as its amenities and special events.