Guest blog by Chris Burtner, Equestrian Programs Director at Chestnut Ridge
It’s hard for me to believe that just a year ago the staff at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center was waiting in anticipation to find out if we would continue our equestrian programs beyond 2011. The pastures so graciously loaned to us for 8 years will no longer be available starting in March 2012, and a decision had to be made to make our horses a new home or to end the equestrian programs at Chestnut Ridge. Because of the big dreams of friends like you, and the commitment of camp leadership, the decision was made to timber, clear, grade, and seed 33 acres of pastures so that horses could continue to play an important role in the ministry and mission of Chestnut Ridge.
So much has happened since then!
Maybe you have met Duchess, Chief, Reba, or Snickers? They are just a few of the new horses purchased or donated last spring to support the big dreams for the future of the equestrian programs. During summer camp 2011, over 170 children learned riding skills and made friends with the horses, each other, our staff, and God. In the fall, riding lessons were held weekly, and families and friends enjoyed trail rides through the autumn splendor each weekend. Horse Slumber Parties, and the first ever Cowboy Camp Out, hosted girls and boys for overnight horse experiences. And the Chestnut Ridge horses were the hit of several birthday parties too!
But there is more that needs to happen now!
Our Equestrian Program is growing right along with the grass in the new pasture. As March draws closer, the final steps of making these pastures livable loom large. To create a happy and healthy home there, we still need to install fences, gates, water, electricity, and shelters. A barn and a cover with lights for the arena would allow the program to grow even more. Spring riding lessons, trail rides, and Summer Camp 2012 are coming up - and filling up - fast, so time is short.
Please join me and my family in supporting the big dreams for the future of the horse programs at Chestnut Ridge by donating today.
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
The other night my son and I built a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and ate smores together in the backyard. Was it a special occasion? Birthday? Friends over for dinner? Nope. We made smores just because it was Wednesday. We had no better reason than that. So we had a special evening together, collecting sticks, being mesmerized by the fire, and getting marshmallow goo all over our hands and face. Just my son and I. It was not a special occasion, but it was an occasion that we made special by spending quality time together.
Summer camp is full of ordinary occasions made special.
- An ordinary Tuesday at lunch becomes memorable when counselors dress up like super heroes attempting to "rescue" the squash.
- A normal day at the pool quickly turns into a party with a little music, a few pool games, and some energetic counselors.
- A climb in a tree becomes a self-esteem boost when that tree happens to be part of the high challenge course
- Digging in the dirt turns into a learning opportunity when a camper says, "oh! that's what a broccoli plant looks like!" and realizes where their food actually comes from.
- Time spent grooming and riding a large horse becomes so much more when a camper who is struggling to connect with peers and won't talk to her parents, connects with the horse she's riding and starts showing affection, love, and displaying a smile not seen in a while.
- A simple walk around the lake turns into a pivotal faith formation moment through the sharing of Biblical stories and God's love.
Summer camp is not about celebrating life's special occasions. It's about celebrating life and making occasions special. It's taking the simple acts of living in community - eating, worshiping, living, laughing, farming - and making them into special memories that last a lifetime. That's why our interviews with potential summer staff contain questions like, "What do you do for fun?" and "Tell me about the silliest, goofiest thing you did this past year" and "You've got a 30 minute time slot to fill with the youngest campers, what do you do?" Yes, we're looking for mature, responsible young people, but we also want to be sure that they are engaging, energetic, and have the ability to make any moment special. That's why so many campers come back year after year. It's not because we have a pool, some horses, and food. It's what the creative, energetic, imaginative staff does with those things that makes the moment, and thereby makes the memory.
Don't wait for a special night, go make this normal night special. Get those marshmallows out and go make a campfire with the family tonight.
Join us for Father/Son or Mother/Daughter Camp to make a normal summer special this year
Blog by Rev. Nick Jeffries, Director - Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Camp Directors all have big dreams. We have big dreams of new programs to create, new facilities to build, and new populations to reach. We churn away every day working to get to the top of that mountain, to make those dreams reality. The problem is that we never reach the top of the mountain, because the target continues to move and we continue to dream new dreams.
But in the midst of the daily churn to reach that summit, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and share with you where our dreams may take us in 2012.
- Chestnut Ridge served more summer campers than ever before. 2011 saw a 20% increase in residential campers over 2010.
- Thanks to generous individuals and churches, Chestnut Ridge gave away over $15,000 in camperships to provide financial aid for summer campers. One college age summer staff member even donated her entire summer paycheck to the campership fund because she didn't want any child to be turned away due to financial hardship.
- CR hosted the 1st annual Valentine's Daddy Daughter Dance and the 2nd annual Trail Run in November.
- CR completed construction of phase I of the Natural Playground - the wavy lawn in main camp.
- The dam was repaired so that Lake Fellowship will remain in place for years to come
- And probably the biggest event of 2011 had to do with the Equestrian Program. At the beginning of the year we had a decision to make. Chestnut Ridge was no longer going to have access to pastures we have borrowed for the last 8 years. Without a home for the horses, we were faced with a decision - 1.End the equestrian program at Chestnut Ridge or 2.Create a home for the horses on camp property. The leadership of the camp decided to keep the equestrian program, which has been one of the flagship programs of Chestnut Ridge since the beginning. Over the course of the year, 33 acres of pine forest were timbered, smoothed, and seeded for pasture. Special attention was given to protecting watersheds and old growth hardwood areas. The new pastures will give our horses a beautiful new home, and allow us to expand the equestrian program offerings at Chestnut Ridge.
Looking ahead to 2012...
- Improved Equestrian Facilities. We are currently raising funds to put a fence around the beautiful new horse pastures. The desire is to add run-in shelters, lights for the arena, and a new barn as funds are available.
- The Natural Playground is designed to be a natural space for kids and adults to reconnect with nature using their creativity and imaginations. Our hope is to begin implementing Phase II and adding safari huts, a sound garden, vine tunnels, a water element and so much more. The additions will occur as volunteers and funding are available.
- Joseph Eaton (a former camper and now summer staff) constructed a new Gaga Ball court as his eagle scout project, and we are currently installing a new Human Foosball court next to it, providing some unique new activity options for summer campers and after-schoolers.
- New Summer Camps for 2012 include Cooking Camp, where kids will learn cooking techniques using healthy whole ingredients from The Community Farm. And AT40, which is a high school camp featuring a 40 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail.
- Look for more info on the Mother-Son Day of Fun coming in May.
As I reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and the dreams for 2012, I am struck by the relational nature of all these ventures. Folks riding horses together through the woods. A dad spending a special night dancing with his daughter. A church group gathering by the lake to worship. Campers spending time hiking an ancient trail together. These are memories that will last a lifetime, and experiences that go a long way towards forming, shaping, and strengthening the community in service to God and one another.
No one knows what the future holds or where our dreams will take us next. But I feel confident that at Chestnut Ridge, our dreams will continue to bring us closer to God, and closer to one another in community.
*If you feel led to donate to camperships, the equestrian facilities, or the natural playground, you can mail donations to 4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Rd. Efland, NC 27243*