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.

Camping Boyntons

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.

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;

Camping connections

Campground hosts help plan a fun-filled roster of activities at the campground and in the area. Guests join in everything from pool parties to Native American dances and pancake breakfasts at the Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, KOA. A shuttle bus is available to visit Mt. Rushmore or explore scenic wonders. Typical activities include bingo, bonfires, bumper boats, chili cook-offs, Easter egg hunts, horse-riding, fishing tournaments, guided nature walks, Halloween parties, historical tours, Indy-style go-carts, karaoke, live music, pig roasts, putting greens, scavenger hunts, swimming (in pools with water slides, water polo and volleyball), train rides.

For a free KOA Groups & Reunion Planning Guide, visit to request a free packet or information from any KOA Kampground.