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Another kind of camping experience
The image many of us have of the little run-down church camp in the woods is fast becoming a thing of the past. Families are flocking to church-owned camps and conference centers for ideal reunion locations. Beautiful, modern facilities are an excellent value offering a variety of stay options, from motel rooms to RV sites.
Church camps originated from a need for community togetherness, a tradition that remains their backbone. Today's combination camp and conference center offers a casual atmosphere, plenty of room for group activities and flexibility to accommodate even the most creative family leaders. Families often have the whole center to themselves so children of all ages have room to play, run, and even shout. These unique places scattered all over the country are located in all types of climates and regions, including beaches, lakes, mountains, and deserts most in secluded areas.
Camp Weed and Cerveny Conference Center exemplifies what these resorts offer. Located on 500 acres of rustic beauty in Live Oak, Florida, family reunions are fast becoming one of the center's most popular events. There is a 140-acre, fresh-water lake, canoeing, fishing, bird watching, volleyball, baseball, swimming and nature trails. A golf course is located right next door. A certified guide takes small groups on a lengthy ropes course designed for team building. There are no TV's or phones in the lodge or cabins so conversation dominates.
Camp Weed is a non-profit facility with staff to help organize your reunion. There is a lodge with motel-type rooms, cabins in dormitory set-ups and tent and RV camping.
Camp Weed and the Cerveny Conference Center food service is in a family-style cafeteria. Menu requests are welcomed with the possibility of everything from pool-side barbecues to elegant meals prepared by chefs on the shore of White Lake.
An old tradition is alive and well and ready to help make yours the ideal family reunion. Consider one of many church-owned facilities across the nation waiting to host your reunion.
by Dale Giese
We had not planned on a black bear bashing our ice cooler at our 40th Wedding Anniversary Family Reunion but it happened near Ely, the "canoe capitol" of northeastern Minnesota.
I was a teacher for 33 years, 17 at Welch Junior High in Ames, Iowa, where the kids knew I liked fishing and canoeing. In 1970, an almost 20-year adventure began of taking boys and girls on canoe trips to the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and Quetico Park in Ontario, Canada. My three sons and daughter all loved to go with groups of sixteen to eighteen teenagers.
Happily, my kids were left with good memories of portaging between blue lakes, evening campfires, and lots of good eating. So for our family reunion their first thought was ... the Boundary Waters!
My wife Carolyn and I took an exploratory trip to resorts that would allow camping. We camped and drove for two days from camp to camp, finally settling on Whispering Pines Lodge and Campground, 23 miles northwest of Ely on Highway 116, also known as the Echo Trail.
Questionnaires were sent to our four children and my brother's four children, all of whom had canoed with the Welch Junior High Wilderness Voyageurs. The questions were the same given to kids years ago before accepting them as canoe trippers. It was serious then and nostalgic now. They mixed memories and fun.
Our serious questions were: how many could come; how many wanted to portage; who had tents and sleeping bags and who needed them. Those who had forgotten how to put together a food pack wanted to shop and pack in Ely. That's good if you have a small group. If not, turn your group over to an outfitter, who is very efficient. I wanted to relive my days with the school kids so I surveyed preferences and packed the food.
We settled on two days in the Boundary Waters. Our reunion was but a week, and we wanted to save time to visit, go to the Dorothy Molter Museum, the International Wolf Center and, of course, do a little shopping.
Two days on canoe trails can be a hardship, if essentials are forgotten. Salt, tent flies, ground cloths, a frying pan, fish mix for breading, toilet paper, matches, literally dozens of small items are essential. There is, after all, no corner grocery in the Boundary Waters.
I piled my old Chevy pickup full of campstoves, a miniature kayak, food packs and ice chests, and stacked canoes on top. I went two days early to check the main camp site again and see the first portages to make sure there were no surprises to spoil the canoe campers' two days. The canoe route lay up the Nina-Moose River to Agnes Lake.
Just before the anniversary date, 25 people flooded into the Big Lake campsite from North Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Iowa. Everyone enjoyed hiking trails, fishing, family meals and visiting around crackling campfires. The younger ones spent most of each day at the beach with parents watching from lounge chairs in front of the lodge.
The two-day canoe trip went off without a hitch in good weather. Those who stayed behind satisfied the little ones' desire to be "wilderness" campers by sleeping in tents overnight. Their campsite was on an island in Big Lake. One of my sons "planted" arrowheads among rocks and there were some very excited little finders.
Our last nights in Big Lake Camp were lively. I brought tapes of old time radio favorites; Inner Sanctum, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow and The Whistler. Every night my granddaughters asked to have the lights out and listen to another one. Just as The Shadow was exploring, "what evil lurks in the hearts of men," ice chests began to clatter. Our bear was visiting again.
We yelled and banged pots and Wendy, a daughter-in-law, screamed. After feeding her six-month-old baby boy in their van, she stepped out into the pitch dark to go to her tent and the bear introduced himself from three feet away with a polite, "Whuff, Whuff!" Later the lodge staff captured the bear in a huge barrel trap on wheels and took him fifty miles away.
We believe the Ely area was a perfect "fit" for a reunion of people who love the outdoors and the Boundary Waters. We won't wait long to do it again.
About the Author
Dale Geise retired from teaching in 1990 to build a log house in the country. Now he has time to enjoy places like the Niobrara River in Nebraska where the family will canoe this summer.
Vic Boynton, Kent, Washington, wrote that the Boynton Family Reunion holds its reunions in central California always at a campground. The advantage? Each family group can get their own site and choose to be next to a family member or choose to be on the other side of the campground. This control of "space" has worked very well to control the inevitable squabbles every family experiences.
A wildwater expeditions tradition
by P. Stevenson
Wildwater Expeditions, Lansing, West Virginia, has traditions that run as deep as the New River Gorge. Throughout the years, we have been able to share in traditions of many others: Bob Grossman and Gary Allen have brought their friends and families (and Lucille, their mascot) rafting every year for over twenty years. Several local families, like the Dobsons of Summersville and the Gannons of Oak Hill, host their milestone reunions with us. Greg Ball of Ft. Wright, Kentucky, brought the inductees for the Red Knights to Wildwater for a weekend adventure trip during which the inductees met with many other members, both active and retired. Many college campuses have also begun traditions of bringing students and alumni to meet at our campground.
One of our favorite stories from our Wildwater family involves the Stewart family from Belleville, Michigan. Debbie and Dick Stewart have been bringing their children, Tom and Tracy, rafting for years. Their annual trip grew to include many friends and family. About four years ago, Brian Frink joined their party and we assumed Brian and Tracy were dating but it was not true. When Tracy fell in the water, Brian came to her rescue. After that rescue, Brian and Tracy began dating. The next year Brian had a surprise. He was planning to propose to Tracy in the rapid where he had ‘saved’ her the previous year. We chilled champagne and brought it to celebrate at the end of the trip. When we got to Surprise Rapid, Brian pulled a candy ring out of his PFD and asked Tracy to marry him. Of course, she said yes. The reservationists had organized an engagement party for after the river trip and everyone joined in the celebration. We were invited and some of the staff were able to attend the wedding. The Stewarts still come every year.
There seems to be no common denominator among those who choose to join our rafting family except the desire to have an exciting, fun and hassle-free event. Our reservation staff is pleased to assist with planning, our river and climbing staff take care of preparations for each adventure, and our caterer supplies all the food. Wildwater Expeditions offers camping and hotel packages, and rafting, climbing and kayaking trips. We can reserve horseback riding, mountain biking and ATV tours. Contact Wildwater Expeditions, 800-982-7238; www.wvaraft.com.
Off the beaten path
Sometimes families have something else in mind for their reunion: they want to stay in different places, move around, visit different sites — like Holly Burch’s family. Burch of Rome, Georgia, her parents, along with her sister and brother and their spouses and kids, spent their family reunion exploring Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.
“I imagine we were a challenge,” Burch says. “We had everything from cribs to car seats, and an older person in our group required wheelchair access.”
Burch and her relatives spent some of their time with their own private naturalist guides in Yellowstone. “We weren’t working on our PhD or anything,” Burch says, “but we were full of questions.”
The family also stayed in Jackson, Wyoming, where they went on a wildlife expedition, had a chuckwagon dinner, went whitewater rafting — the youngest and oldest members preferred a scenic float — and the men went fly fishing while the women went on a guided hike.
“The guys got their fishing trips, I got my hiking, Mother got her driving — everyone was happy,” says Burch.
Planning a reunion that makes everyone happy may not be easy, “we take time to understand each group’s needs and get all the details right,” explains Sarah Lundgren of Off the Beaten Path Travel.
Holly Burch’s note to Off the Beaten Path included these two sentences: “Trip still highlight of life experiences. Great memories!”
Contact Off the Beaten Path, 27 E. Main St., Bozeman MT 59715; 800-445-2995; www.offthebeatenpath.com.