This summer, Holston Presbytery Camp and Retreat Center celebrates 60 years of summer camp. Located in Banner Elk on Wildcat Lake, Holston Camp, Inc. was formed as an outdoor ministry in 1955 by Presbyterian churches located in western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and east Tennessee. The original 36 acres on the banks of Wildcat Lake were leased from the Edgar Tufts Memorial Association, a Presbytery ministry in Banner Elk. The Reverend Edgar Tufts establish Lees-McRae College, Cannon Hospital, Grandfather Home for Children (orphanage) and Banner Elk Presbyterian Church.
Church groups, architects and hired contractors worked from 1953 through 1958 clearing roads, establishing infrastructure and building the cabins, lodge, and dining hall. During this period, campers were often lodged at Grandfather Home for Children. By the summer of 1959, the camp was ready for its first Summer Camp.
The sub-committee on camp and conferences of the presbytery stated in 1957: “In lengthy discussion of the objectives and philosophy of our camp and conference program, all agreed camping should be done in small groups, informally, out-of-doors and in simple housing facilities, with activities that are different from what can be done at home or in our local church programs. Care should always be taken to instill in each camper a healthy respect for nature, a loving response to the God who has given us this beautiful world and a personal commitment to the One whom this same God has sent, providing for our spiritual need as well as our material needs, even Jesus Christ, in whom all life is abundant.” This statement remains in the camp’s mission today.
Jim Austin, Director since 2015, attributes much of the camp’s success and legacy to the directors who preceded him. “Rev. Barrett Gilmer, Rev. Roger Rabey and Craig Bell among others put Holston Camp on the map. Their faith and dedication to the camp, counselors and campers have an echoing effect as many who have spent summers here continue to send their children and grandchildren to camp.” Rev. Gilmer called the camp a laboratory for Christian community. I hope that we continue to honor that mission, Austin stated.
Many new families are finding their way to Holston Camp–some as far away as Florida. The mountain climate is ideal in summer for escaping the season heat. All children are welcome at Holston–it doesn’t matter what denomination or where they are on their spiritual path, Austin said.
In 2019, overnight camp is scheduled for 7 weeks in June and July. Sessions are from Sunday through Friday for rising second through twelfth graders. Day camp is offered for 10 weeks for riding first though six graders. Campers participate in activities such as: ziplines, rock climbing, archery, team building, low ropes, field games, mountain biking, boating, swimming, hiking, dancing, arts and crafts and, of course, singing around the campfire.
Older campers will have options to venture off-campus to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), canoe the New River, raft the Nolichucky River and bike the Virginia Creeper Trail. Younger campers will visit Grandfather Mountain. Day campers take weekly field trips to nearby attractions as well. “We like to take advantage of our proximity to wonderful natural destinations to add variety, education and challenge for our campers,” said Austin.
“We engage our campers in a mindful community of compassion and acceptance of all people. Jesus teaches us to take care of each other, our earth and ourselves as we seek greater understanding of God. We ask kids to “unplug” from their electronic devices and listen for his voice while enjoying new friends and experiences within our wooded sanctuary.”
Now known as Holston Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center, it is located on Hickory Nut Gap Road near Banner Elk. The camp offers visitors year-round access to 150 acres of mountain forest, pristine streams, 2 lakes, delicious dining and comfortable, affordable accommodations. Holston Center hosts retreat groups, family reunions, wedding parties, birthday celebrations and more.
Holston Prebytery Camp and Retreat Center, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Holston Presbytery, of the Presbyterian Church (USA).