New plans for camps presented at annual conference

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New plans for camps presented at annual conference

May 17, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0487}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on news related to the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland.

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

FRUITLAND PARK — A children's camper enjoys the pool at the Warren W. Willis Youth Camp. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, Photo #06-349. Web photo only.

Florida United Methodists will soon learn significant details about an effort to integrate ministry with management at the conference’s four camp and retreat centers.

Lay and clergy delegates attending the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland will hear what’s in store for each site through a presentation based on what conference leaders are calling an ambitious master plan.

“It’s been an extraordinary process, with excellent leadership from Kaleidoscope, the consulting company that we used,” said the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, conference director of Connectional Ministries. “It’s given us a kind of blueprint for the development of ministry and property over the next 20 years. There’s enough in this master plan to keep us going for 20 years in making all of the sites more compelling and more usable to a broader range of people throughout the annual conference. That’s what pleases me — the physical plans that people will see are there to undergird some really exciting ministry that’s going to be developed in the future.”

The master plan presentation will be part of conference business during the morning session June 2. While the presentation will be a “very quick look at things,” Burkholder said, the camping ministry staff will have an exhibition booth with plenty of details regarding the proposal for the facilities. “I really encourage people to go look at that,” she said.

The master plan proposal has its roots in a spring 2004 Conference Table that focused on camp and retreat ministries. The Table gave birth to the creation of the Board of Camp and Retreat Ministries, which quickly formed and last year hired the Rev. David Berkey as executive director of the ministries. Berkey and the board then launched into developing the master plan, the first phase of which involved staff realignment and the second focusing on development of the conference’s four camp sites.

“This is an example of how the Conference Table can work to bring about change,” Burkholder said, adding she is pleased with how quickly the camp plan has progressed. “I thought we’d be bringing this next year. It’s a sign of the commitment and intention of the members of this board to get this moving forward. They have met every month to get through his process.”

“I think that those of us in leadership on the board and staff are excited that we’re on the right track,” Berkey added. “We have accomplished a lot over the past year. We’ve completed a master plan ahead of schedule. We’re excited about a future that can be envisioned in ways that maybe people hadn’t thought of before, of how camp and retreat sites can serve the conference and the local church.”

Since coming on board Berkey has hired Melinda Trotti, a veteran camping and retreat center director, to address the ministry’s programming and hospitality efforts. He also named Mike Standifer, who has overseen the conference-wide summer camp program for many years, as director of Fruitland Park’s Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp. Martha Pierce has become director of Riverside Retreat (formerly called the South Florida Camp) in Alva, and Scott McClendon continues as manager of Lake Asbury Retreat Center (LARC) near Jacksonville.

The board has also drafted a mission/vision statement that says: “Serving the churches of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, we provide welcoming natural places set apart for sacred retreat and community; nurturing experiences in Christian faith, discipleship and leadership; and a witness to the servant life of hospitality, earth care, justice and love.”

Berkey and his team are applying seven biblical and theological principles for the camp and retreat ministries, developed by a summit of United Methodist camp and retreat ministry leaders from across the United States in November 2005. They seven principles are titled A Place Apart: Sabbath, Solitude and Silence; Christian Hospitality and Community; Earth Care and Faith; Nurturing Christian Discipleship; Developing Christian Spiritual Leaders; Partnering with Local Churches, Conferences and United Methodist Agencies; Inspiring All Guests and Guest Groups to Love and Service.

Listening sessions for the master plan’s proposals for the four camp sites took place during March and included stops in Jacksonville to focus on LARC, Ft. Myers to focus on Riverside, Lakeland to focus on the Warren W. Willis camp and Fruitland Park to focus on the LEC.

Berkey said the sessions were extremely helpful. The Jacksonville site had the largest attendance, with 80 people expressing hope the LARC site would be included in the overall plan.

The Willis session was also well attended. “We have 400 to 500 campers there at any given time and not a lot of places for people to do outdoor activities, a challenge that the master plan addresses,” Berkey said.

“What was most exciting was that there was a lot of consensus about the master plan and what we already had put together. There was not a lot of controversy. I think everybody felt we were on the right track,” he added.

Plans proposed for each site

FRUITLAND PARK — The Life Enrichment Center provides a place of ministry for adults and families, Photo #06-350.


“The basic concept of the LEC is that its niche is adults and families,” Berkey said. “The idea is to make it attractive so people will come and help it to grow into its initial purpose — to have primary accommodations for adults, but also facilities that can include families.”

The plan calls for maintaining the LEC’s sleeping capacity of 400 people, but adding meeting and gathering space on the property. Two-story meeting rooms will be added to the sleeping quarters that face the lake, along with smaller lounge and meeting room areas at the building entrances, additional staircases, and breezeways in the center re-opened for better access.

Meeting and gathering space would also be added to the LEC’s dining hall, along with an increase in office space and a rerouting of the entrance road to bring it closer to the camp office. The plan would more clearly define areas for vehicles, enhance landscaping and open up the lake area for better visibility and enjoyment.

“We hope to renovate each room, converting some to suites, singles or meeting rooms, and replace them ultimately with a cottage or village that is further down in the lower southeast corner of the property for smaller group gatherings. Some of the beds would be distributed to this cottage retreat center area, but the total capacity would remain at 400,” Berkey said. “We also include in the plan day camp facilities and a recreation pool area that would be in the field behind the auditorium.”

The LEC’S laundry facilities would be moved to a new location more centrally located between the two Fruitland Park camps and further away from existing meeting areas, reducing noise for camp participants and serving both sides of the road more efficiently. Berkey said the plan also calls for an additional meeting building to be placed between the existing Buildings 1 and 2, with rooms similar to the present Gold, Green and Blue rooms.

Wireless Internet access has already been added to the LEC lobby and dining room, and another proposal independent of the master plan calls for a new phone system to be installed at both Fruitland Park camps to permit wireless access in every building and room. “We’re looking at a proposal to get started on that this year,” Berkey said.

Warren W. Willis Youth Camp
It’s a camp whose focus is on youth, children and families, according to Berkey, who said the primary need is to “maintain the 500 beds, but also to provide more recreation and meeting space.”

“The orange grove area would be a place for a new pool, softball and soccer fields and a basketball pavilion,” he added. “A lot of the grove would remain.”

FRUITLAND PARK — Youth participate in group activities during summer camp at the Warren W. Willis Youth Camp. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, Photo #06-351. Web photo only.

The plan also calls for a new maintenance facility to be constructed in a central location between the two Fruitland Park camps, with a crossover road linking the two sites. A new welcome area at the Barnett Lodge would become the site for camper drop-off and registration, allowing for a tighter traffic loop and more clarity on the location of the Willis camp’s central office, which would be moved to Barnett. There also is a proposal to build a new auditorium seating about 700 people, and the current maintenance building would become a large parking lot to serve the entire camp.

Berkey said each of the sleeping areas would be clustered into villages, while many of the craft huts would be removed and replaced with program centers for each of the villages, but keeping the same number of meeting spaces. “This would provide greater flexibility and functionality,” he said. “There would be elimination of the more rustic cottages, and more modern lodges would be built there. Each village would have its own recreation and meeting room area.”

Berkey said there is a need to build staff housing for both Fruitland Park sites. This would be a combination of stand-alone homes and duplexes, all meeting conference parsonage standards.

Berkey said LARC is a “more traditional camp” with a focus on children, youth and families and accommodations that can be adapted for adults.

“Day camp is to be a major part of the mission there. We want to create a day camp and provide more bed space,” he said. “There currently is only one lodge with 48 beds. We also want to add a dining facility and a program multi-purpose facility as part of the central campus and expand the existing RV park in a new location. We want to build a director’s house and a better office.”

Berkey said the plan envisions LARC eventually supporting sleeping, dining and meeting space for up to 150 people.

“The wave of the future is summer camp going on at all four facilities at once,” he added. “Warren Willis is maxed out, and that’s only 4th grade through 12th. There’s a lot of opportunity for LARC, Riverside Retreat and LEC to host summer programming for children.”

Currently, the North East District’s Camp AMP takes place three weeks each summer at the site. The site’s current 48 beds are also used for various weekend retreats, but Berkey said the number of beds limits further use of the site for such purposes.

“The day camp will bring in revenue and activity that will help grow the overnight camp in terms of the summer,” Berkey said. “Clearly, staff growth needs to be a part of things there.”

Riverside Retreat
The master plan calls for an increase of 100 beds above and beyond the 150 beds already in place. Located just 30 minutes from Ft. Myers, the site serves a growing population encompassing all ages.

“It is successful and currently full and booked a lot,” Berkey said. “The idea is to grow the beds; provide more meeting space and a nature center.”

ALVA — Campers enjoy outdoor activities at the Riverside Retreat, formerly known as the South Florida Camp. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, Photo #06-352. Web photo only.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on nature there,” Berkey added. “The phrase they are using is, ‘It’s the nature of the place.’ It’s right at the edge of a tropical climate. It has quite a level of wildlife, birds and river life, and can be utilized as a center for school groups and church groups to come out and experience God’s creation in nature education. We also want to expand the RV area.”

Berkey said both the LARC and Riverside camps are considered “self-service retreat facilities,” whereas the LEC and Willis sites are “full-service retreat facilities” where guests have expectations that food service will be provided. At Riverside and LARC, retreat groups are expected to cook for themselves, although they have the option of contracting for food service.

Burkholder said funding for the overall master plan will be approximately half of what will be proposed next year for the Bishop’s Capital Campaign, still currently in development. However, portions of the master plan already can be implemented through existing resources, Berkey said.

The entire conference event will be web cast live through the Internet for those who are not able to attend the event. Individuals who would like to log onto the webcast at any time during the annual gathering may do so by going to the Florida Conference Web site at and following the instructions posted there.

Details about the gathering can be found by going to the conference Web site and clicking on the event graphic posted on the right-hand side of the home page.

This article relates to Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry and “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011