Lutheridge and Lutherock are two traditional coed camps in the N.C. mountains run by the NovusWay organization. I had the privilege of speaking with both camp directors and learned about the unique aspects of each one.
Lutheridge is in Arden, NC, which is in the Asheville area.
Lutherock is located on 762 acres on the south slope of Sugar Mountain in northwest North Carolina. 500 acres of Lutherock’s property are in a conservation easement which provides an opportunity for adjacent camping and hiking, and makes you feel like you’re in the wilderness.
Kara and her husband Jacob have been the camp directors for 5 years. While attending Roanoke College, she spent her summers at Lutherock, which influenced her course of study. Her major morphed from Ecology to Theology to Outdoor Ministry.
Kara went on to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School and to work with Outward Bound and SUWS of the Carolinas, where she worked in wilderness therapy, taking troubled youth on backpacking trips. Before coming back to Lutherock she was the assistant director at Lutheridge for 7 years.
She is proof that you don’t need to have significant childhood camp experience to love camp as an adult. In fact, her husband was the one who introduced her to Lutherock. She did, however, have a background in youth programs; she grew up with five brothers, and they lived on the property of the children’s home her dad directed.
A Day in the Life
Kara and Jacob live at the bottom of the mountain, and the camp office is at the top. Being a co-director has its advantages, as there is someone to trade off with, especially now that they have two young children who need naps.
Kara usually attends breakfast and then handles whichever logistics need attention. She communicates throughout the day with counselors via radio. Sometimes she’ll participate in an afternoon activity if time permits. Every evening the whole camp comes together for an activity, this could be field games, a campfire with songs and skits, or making (and eating!) homemade ice cream! Jacob and/or Kara are always present for the evening activity.
Kara’s favorites are rock climbing and the ropes course, both as a participant and instructor. She enjoys watching the kids quickly transition from fearful to confident and learn that they are capable of more they realized.
With only 50-100 campers per week, there are a lot of camp-wide activities, and everyone gets to know everyone else.
Lutherock and Lutheridge are a bit unique in that all sessions last only one week, and they all have distinct themes and an activity focus. For example, during the Whitewater/Backpack week you will spend one night backpacking, go rafting, rock climbing, and do a high ropes course. During the Nocturnal Adventures session, you will do some night hiking, go on a night alpine tower climb, and check out a cave.
All activities take place with your cabin group; therefore, for better or worse, you are with your cabinmates 24/7. This facilitates fast friendships and bonding. Kara said, “a lot can happen in a week, and the short time frame makes it more intense.”
While the camps are affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Bible lessons are non-denominational. The counselors are all Christian but are not all Lutheran.
Each day begins with Morning Watch, which includes reflection time or a silly skit with a character-building or ethical message. Later in the day, the chaplain leads a Bible study and related games or activities.
Coed vs. single gender
Everyone (parents, kids, camp directors) has an opinion on whether coed or single gender camps are better. Here are some arguments for a coed experience:
The Christian community is richer with the contributions of both boys and girls.
It’s good for kids to have role models of both genders.
Camp is a good opportunity for kids to interact with the opposite sex in a safe environment with boundaries.
What parents should know
Kara wants people to know that Lutherock is a safe camp that provides opportunity for guided adventure and games in nature. Lutherock is accredited by the American Camping Association and all of Lutherock’s staff are Wilderness First Aid and CPR certified as a part of their training. For kids who have not really been turned loose to play outside in the woods, a week at camp is a great way for them to try new things and move past their comfort zone.
The downtime away from screens and regular life is incredibly beneficial for kids today. Camp provides the opportunity for kids to just BE.
Then & Now
Pastor Tim Canniff-Kuhn and his wife Mary have led Lutheridge for 24 years. This gives him an amazing perspective as to how camp has changed over the years.
First of all, he remembers when there used to be pay phones around the camp. The advent of mobile phones has brought about tremendous change, and the impact of technology has strengthened his resolve to get people to unplug. We all need time to “be in a place apart,” he says.
Like most outdoor camps, cell phones and other devices are not allowed. In order to become fully immersed in the camp experience, you need to reduce distractions from the outside world. Further, a week without devices helps both parents and kids to realize that they don’t need to be in constant communication.
Another societal change has been the squeeze on summer vacation. Summers are shorter, and there is more competition for time, especially for middle and high school kids. Packing in sports, internships, and family vacations leaves less time for traditional summer camp.
Because that time is so precious, more specialized programs are needed to attract older campers. For example, in the Launch Explorers session, they create a rocket, play with sling shots, stomp rockets and water balloon launchers, and visit a trampoline park. There are lots of adventure weeks as well.
Encroaching development has also somewhat changed the feel of camp. As Asheville has grown, the surrounding area has become more suburban, bringing more light and noise intrusion. This means that it’s even more important to intentionally create “the place apart,” so that you feel like you are out in nature, relaxed, and unplugged.
Some things have not changed, however, like the core traditions and message of camp. You have to learn how to share a space and get along with cabinmates. You get to do things that are not OK at home, like jump in puddles or build forts with mattresses. You have to make up your own games without screens, and you don’t run inside just because it’s raining.
Camp is an authentic community that promotes having fun, enjoying life, living the faith, and connecting with God and nature. It remains a true place of spiritual renewal.
Traditional overnight camp is usually not the most diverse crowd, both because of cultural traditions and monetary requirements. Tim has actively worked to change that at Lutheridge. By reaching out to various segments of the population, he has gained many converts over time. He built relationships with Latino and African-American communities and brought leaders to tour the camp. They, in turn, sent their own children to camp, and spread the word about its value.
As a result, both campers and counselors now come from more diverse backgrounds. This has weakened stereotypes and prejudices, helping children to understand that we have more in common than not.
Tim has a background in social work, and likes that the camp has the opportunity to help those with special needs. Camp Summershine offers a camp experience for those with cognitive or physical disabilities. Campers in the regular program get to interact with the group, which lessens their fear of the unknown and promotes understanding.
In addition to the adventure programs, Lutheridge offers traditional camp activities such as swimming, climbing walls, crafts, canoeing, and music. Sunday to Saturday sessions have about 250-300 campers, who are divided into villages by age group. Each cabin has six to eight kids plus a counselor (and yes, there are bathrooms and showers in the cabins). There are 95 college students on the summer staff.
You can send your rising second grader or high school graduate – there is something for everyone.
Like most church camps, there is a strong scholarship program, mostly funded by church donations. The preferred model is a three-way split among the camper, their church, and the camp. Inquiries regarding financial assistance should be directed through the registrar’s office.
Also, like most church camps, these are extremely affordable. The average cost per session is $510, which is about the same you’d pay to feed, transport, and send your child to a full day STEM camp over the same week.
It’s not just about the kids
Parents and grandparents can get in on the action also! There is a grandparents camp in July at Lutherock and multiple options for family camp in July at Lutheridge. It’s the family vacation you don’t have to organize and plan – just show up and have fun. There’s tubing, the climbing wall, horseback riding, and all the traditional camp activities.
Pastor Tim says family camp is great for those who have packed schedules and need to combine summer camp with family vacation. Or for those who just aren’t quite ready to send their kids away.
How to register
You can sign up online or with an old-fashioned paper form. The registration link is at the bottom of each website page.
Lutheridge and Lutherock are two of the four camp and conference facilities owned and operated by NovusWay Ministries, headquartered just outside of Asheville, NC. Lutheridge, located on 160 acres in Arden NC, was founded 70 years ago and is known for its summer camp and year-round programs. Lutherock, located on 762 acres on the south slope of Sugar Mountain near Boone NC, was started 60 years ago and is known for its rugged outdoor adventure ministry, high ropes course, and ski camps. All of the NovusWay sites offer Christian camp experiences and programmed retreats for all ages, as well as facilities for events, meetings, conferences, and corporate retreats.