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Editor's Note: With summer right around the corner, here is a snapshot of some of the great resources Western New York offers for family and children Christian Camp. Originally published in our sister publication THRiVE! in 2009.
By Christine Setlock
It’s not too late to reserve local campsites for family or church retreats and provide a memorable summer of fun and excitement that is spiritually nourishing.
Whether the economy will effect all camp rosters this summer is yet unclear, according to some camp leaders, while others are already noting a sizeable increase in reservations as vacationers plan smaller, less expensive getaways in the local area.
“Our camp numbers are up quite significantly,” said Angela Bertie, who handles public affairs at the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “That’s pretty much the case across the state. We’re seeing huge numbers across the board.”
Reservations for the Niagara region, which includes campsites such as Evangola, Four Mile Creek and Golden Hill, increased 18.4 percent. That’s 453 reservations more than last year, with 2,914 advanced reservations as of mid-May.
Reservations are up 3.5 percent over last year at Allegany State Park, the most popular campground in the WNY region. That’s 351 more reservations then last year, with 10,361 advanced reservations.
Reservations at Letchworth State Park increased 1.4 percent, or 70 more reserved spots than this time last year, with 4,902 advanced reservations.
Some retreat and conference organizations, such as LeTourneau Christian Center, are running special discount offers due to the bad economic turn. Instead of a “vacation” LeTourneau’s 2009 family camp is being advertised as a “staycation,” keeping families closer to home and going easier on their wallets.
Other campgrounds are expecting spots to fill as usual.
“We are actually down just a little,” said Ray Milholland of Camp Hickory Hill, which operates a summer youth camp in Varysburg, NY. “It was thought that more people would be coming to camp because of the economy, but when registrations started coming in, it was pretty slow. It’s picked up a little, but we’re still close to where we were at this time last year.”
Big Tree Wesleyan youth pastor, Rob Engler planned his church’s youth camp at Allegany State Park and had no problems reserving the spot. “We reserved it really early,” he said.
In addition to regular camping facilities at state parks, most Christian camping organizations run youth camps throughout the summer, and spots are still available. Local youth pastors say that Christian camps provide an enriching spiritual experience that can be most valuable in a child or teenager’s formative years.
“Out of all the events we do throughout the year, I would say that our youth camps have the most impact,” said Steven Johnson, youth pastor at Fellowship Wesleyan Church in West Seneca. “I think when students leave what’s familiar to them, there’s this openness and chance to examine their lives and get a new perspective on who they are and where they are.”
The following highlights a small handful of the many camps within driving distance of the greater Buffalo - Niagara region:
Camp Findley, Clymer, NY
Driving Time: About an hour and 30 minutes from Buffalo
Summer Camp Cost: Average cost for one week is $360, $175 for half-week camps, $420 for horse camp which includes lessons at a professional riding stable. Camp Findley is a 140-acre retreat and conference center that also operates as a Christian youth camp from mid-June to mid-August.
Children can go swimming, boating, kayaking and canoeing on the beautiful Findley Lake. Tubing and waterskiing is available for the older kids. Other activities include nature hikes, crafts and sports. The campground has a soccer field, volleyball net, and baseball diamond.
“Once the kids get away from the cell phone and they can actually be with the people around them, instead of texting all the time, they really have a good time,” said Aliechia Post, summer director at the camp.
In addition to a chapel, the center includes dorm-style buildings and four cabin buildings with a separate shower area and a dining facility. The camp has seven main counselors that are supplemented with volunteers.
Kids attend a praise and worship chapel service in the morning, a bible study during the day, and an evening service where local pastors are brought in from the area. The camp has United Methodist roots with a focus on fellowship, evangelism and discipleship. “We don’t get too doctrinal with kids; it’s basic Jesus loves you,” said one camp worker. “We teach them Christian values. Anyone can come.”
Registration is available online at the camp’s website and can be completed right up till the day of camp. “We try very hard not to turn people away unless we’re really filled up,” said Post.
In addition to the youth camp, Family Bible Camp is offered July 19—25.
Churches and educational groups can also rent the facility for retreats and seminars of up to 160 people, during off-season. The camp can assist in retreat planning and provide food packages through their dining hall.
Visit campfindley.org for more information, or call (716) 769-7146.
Circle C Ranch, Delevan, NY
Driving Time: About one hour from Buffalo
Summer Camp Cost: $150 to $325 for specialty camps
When parents drop their children off at this summer camp they find themselves in the middle of the Old West where they witness a live shoot-out, complete with outlaws, deputy sheriff, and a town jail.
“We have a western town so that you think you’re on a TV set,” said Circle C Ranch founder, Wes Aarum. “Horses come in and out. We have stunt work done.”
“It’s so much fun watching the adults. They don’t realize the shot gun is coming and they jump right off the bench,” he said.
The camp welcomes boys and girls, ages 8 to 18 throughout the summer months for unique Christ-centered fun. Activities include swimming in two pools, volleyball, basketball, soccer, and softball. Horseback riding is offered with 50 to 60 well-trained horses that stay on the property year round. The camp also has a recreational center with fooz ball and ping-pong. Or, kids can scale a climbing wall or join in a game of Lasertron.
And in the midst of this, teenagers even memorize scripture.
“Thousands of kids’ lives have been changed here,” Aarum said. “We teach them to share their faith with their friends, how they can live for the Lord. Parents are often surprised by how much the children learn.”
Aarum described the camp, now in its 40th year, as Bible believing, but non-denominational and non-charismatic. He said that 370 teenagers accepted Christ at the annual Snow Camp held this past winter.
Circle C recently added a new entrance to the chapel where campers attend a large evening welcome service. And when parents pick their children up for departure on Sat. mornings, they’re invited to view them on a big screen due to trusty cameramen who go around filming the young campers throughout the week.
The cabins hold large groups of 28 and there is an emphasis on safety. Each cabin sleeps 24 campers and four counselors (one counselor for every six kids). Camp administrators hold fire drills and lost child drills beforehand to train for the unexpected. This year brought such a good response for summer staff that administrators at Circle C had to turn 30 applicants away. And workers often return for subsequent summers.
“They love it here; it’s like a family,” Aarum said.
Aarum is the not only the camp’s founder, but also CEO, which he humorously said stands for Crazy, Eccentric and Old. At age 82, he swims a mile a day in the summer months in addition to riding horseback, roller-skating and working out three times a week. “Aging is inevitable, but growing old is your choice,” Aarum said. “You work with kids and they keep you young. ”
Aarum has worked as a WNY youth pastor, but was an 18-year-old lifeguard attending camp when he first dreamed of starting a Christ-centered camp of his own. “God finally opened the door,” he said of the time when the 350-acre parcel of land was purchased for $14,800 and Circle C Ranch began in 1968.
Today, the camp also features cookouts, an all-you-can-eat dining hall and country store. “Kids like fun and they like food,” Aarum said. “And then we give them Jesus.”
Visit circlecranch.org to print registration form or call (716) 492-3687 to register with credit card by phone.
Covenant Acres Camp, Pike, NY
Driving Time: About 1 hour and 25 minutes from Buffalo
Summer Camp Cost: Pre-K—2nd grade,$140; various camps for grade levels 3—12, $275, with additional fees for paintball camp.
Covenant Acres was founded by the Conference of the Free Methodist Church and serves youth from all Christian denominations in various camps from late June through early August. The campground is located on 165 acres of land, which includes wooded hiking trails and the 40 acre, man-made Wiscoy Lake, which is stocked with largemouth bass for fishing.
A variety of cabins and lodges are available for rent, some overlooking the lake. The site also includes an outdoor pavilion, park, and swimming area with a rope swing and 70-foot waterslide. Canoe, boat and kayak rentals are also available. Other activities include swimming, soccer, volleyball, horseshoes, archery, and paintball.
In addition to the summer youth camps, RV camping and scheduled retreats are also accommodated.Youth camps include Kidz Jam Camp (June 28-July 3) and Grade School Camp (July 5-10, July 12-17, July 19-24) for grades 3, 4, and 5.
Junior Teen Camp (July 5-10, July 12-17, July 19-24, July 26-31) is offered for grades 6, 7, and 8. “You can expect to meet new friends, laugh harder than you ever have and learn about how exciting having God in your life can be,” states the camp website.
Senior Teen Camp (July 12-17, July 19-24) is offered for grades 9-12. “Each day you will be challenged spiritually and learn how God’s love is life-changing,” states the website.
Older, braver teens can sign up for Highland Camp (July 26-July 31), where they set up camp in the woods, sleep in tents, and learn outdoor survival techniques. KREW Camp (Aug. 2-7) is also offered for teenagers interested in becoming summer camp counselors.
Covenant Acres staffs two trained counselors in each cabin, which sleep up to 10 campers, as well as two counselors for activities of 15 campers or more. Counselors trained in first aid and CPR are also on-hand.
Visit www.covenantacres.org for more information.
Hickory Hill, Varysburg, NY
Driving Time: About 45 minutes from Buffalo
Summer Camp Cost: General camp cost of $280, Specialty camps range from $315—$399, depending on transportation and/or equipment involved. Special mother/daughter, father/son camps are $260 for a pair, and $60 for each additional child (not exceeding $320 per family).
The heart of Hickory Hill is its Christ-centered focus and lively Bible learning. Morning begins with praise and worship following breakfast. Campers participate in Bible exploration with cabin leaders. And nights include special camp fires where kids gather round for songs, fun drama skits, or stories with Biblical application. Many campers end up making decisions for Christ at these bonfires.
“It’s a blessing to see God work when we get kids away from all the distractions,” said Sam Richbart, who’s been serving as executive director of Hickory Hills for 23 years.
Boys camps run through July, serving ages 8-12 in the younger camp, and ages 12-16 for the older camp. Girls camps run through August, likewise serving ages 8-12 in the younger camp, and ages 12-16 for the older camp.
Camp leaders introduce the importance of personal devotional time, and two camp pastors are on hand for each week (one for each age group).
Activities include an opportunity to do archery or target practice, paint ball and Nerf gun games, fishing, canoeing, hiking, swimming and crafts. The camp site also has a soccer field, swimming pool and climbing wall.
One of the specialty camps offered for boys, called Brigade Air, involves bus trips to Akron Airport where boys meet pilots and learn about airplane mechanics and map reading. Another specialty camp includes a golf program where boys practice their swing at a local golf course located just five minutes from camp. Since the girls camp coincides with the annual Kingdom Bound Festival at Darien Lake Theme Park, the camp runs a special camp excursion just for that event.
Hickory Hill has 13 cabins to offer, all comfortable facilities with electricity and foam mattress bunk beds. The cabins sleep 12 people, with an additional larger cabin that sleeps 24.
Church groups can rent facilities during off-season (Sept. through May), including heated cabins for winter retreats.
Originally founded to meet the needs of the Christian Service Brigade, a national church organization aimed at equipping the younger generation for discipleship ministry, the camp has now expanded to serve churches and individual campers from the surrounding area. Staffing for summer camp can reach up to 200 as Hickory Hill has an on-going leadership development program. “It’s neat to see a young leader get excited that God is using him,” said Richbart. “They want to live for Christ for the rest of their lives.”
Now employed by Hickory Hill, Richbart said he remembers coming to the camp for the first time at age 10. His grandfather was also a Hickory Hill board member. The camp’s founders took second mortgages on their homes to purchase the land in 1955, which was then an old farm.
“Time after time, we’ve seen God’s provision over the years,” Richbart said.
For more information or camp registration phone (585)535-7832 or visit their website at camphickoryhill.org.
LeTourneau Christian Center, Rushville, NY
Driving Time: About two hours from Buffalo
Summer Camp Cost: Weekend rate (Apr. through Sept.) — $150 for weekend, $120 per person for shared room, and $95 per person for a heated bungalow. Weekend rate (Oct. through Mar.) — $140 for weekend, $110 per person for shared room, and $90 per person for a heated bungalow. Weekend packages include three meals a day through the dining hall.
Located on Canandaigua Lake in Central NY, the focus of LeTourneau Christian Center is spiritual nourishment and furthering the Gospel. It’s a specialty camp that caters to churches and church organizations and typically serves groups of 20 or more. The center is used for retreats, seminars, and family camps focused on Christian evangelism.
Visitors can enjoy sand volleyball, an outdoor basketball court, or miniature golf course. The recreational hall has fooz ball, ping-pong and pool tables. Campers can make use of free canoes and row boats, or pay to rent a motor boat and enjoy the lake.
Folks at LeTourneau know that pastors need time away for vacations and spiritual refreshment, too. The center offers two cabins specifically reserved for pastors in full-time ministry. One cabin accommodates up to five people, and the other pastoral cabin can sleep up to seven, for a reduced rate of $20 per night.
LeTourneau is running a special Family Camp from July 30 to August 2, with reduced family prices that include an entire weekend stay. Age 18+ -- $90, ages 13-17 — $75, ages 5-12 — $50, and age 4 and under — free. The family camp will utilize the bungalows, which sleep up to six people.
Visit letourneau.org or call 585-554-3400 for more information.
Mission Meadows, Dewittville, NY
Driving Time: About an hour and 15 minutes from Buffalo
Summer Camp Cost: $325—$335 for one week, per person
Owned by Evangelical Covenant Church, Mission Meadows is located on Chautauqua Lake and offers a variety of summer youth camps with kids from all different Christian denominations attending.
The camp has a Christ-centered focus with chapel services offered once or twice daily, depending on age level. “Most kids are changed in some way, challenged to consider their relationship with Christ, or take that next step,” said Barb Hungerford, assistant director at the camp.
Activities include boating, swimming, arts and crafts, nature hikes, and athletics. The campground has a ropes course, climbing wall and indoor gym.
Mission Meadows recently completed construction on a new chapel and renovated the dorm last winter. Campers sleep in a variety of cabins and dorms, divided by gender. The dorm and some of the cabins have in-house showers, with separate shower facilities for the other cabins. Meals are included through the dining hall.
The site offers a family camp from June 28-July 4 and July 19-25. Kids camp, grades 3-8, runs July 5-11 and Aug. 2-8. A kids camp, grades 7- 9, runs July 12-18. And, a camp for grades 9-12 runs July 26-Aug. 1.
For more information call (716)386-5935 or visit missionmeadows.org.
Oh — did we mention that most youth camps require cell phones be left at home?