By Woody Woodrick
While maybe not as common as they once were, tree houses still occupy a place in childhood lore.
They are place where kids can be kids; sleeping outside, sharing time with others kids, no adults.
This summer some campers at Camp Lake Stephens near Oxford will get to experience that general idea in the new tree house camp. The camp includes five buildings -- two bunk houses, two bath houses and a dining hall -- connected by an elevated walkway. Each bunk house will have room for 12 campers and two counselors.
"We built them for two main reasons," said Darrell Whitaker, Lake Stephens' director. "First, last summer most of our camps were full and we had to turn campers away. Having the tree house camp this summer will increase our overall summer camp capacity by 168 campers.
"Second, we have wanted to expand our adventure camp program which we started two years ago. Adventure camps are for junior and senior High youth. They will come and stay in the tree houses for three days and then go on a three day ‘adventure trip' such as white water rafting on the Ocoee, canoeing on the 11 Point River in Missouri or rock climbing near Chattanooga (Tenn.). They will then return to camp to stay in the tree houses their last night."
Work on the tree houses began in late January and continued through the spring. Much of the work was done by volunteers from more than 16 churches in North Mississippi. The tree houses are one of the latest projects at Lake Stephens to improve the facility founded more than 60 years ago.
"We have been trying hard over the past five years to upgrade existing facilities by renovating or replacing them as needed," Whitaker said, noting the camp has a new chapel, new cabins and renovated dining hall and administration building.
"We also have had a desire to expand our program in two primary ways. One way is by providing programs throughout the year for children, youth and adults. We are doing this by providing confirmation retreats, youth minister training, days at camp for our older adults, youth retreats and much more.
"The other way we have wanted to expand our program is by providing a greater variety of camp options during our summer camp program, especially for junior and senior high youth, the age that most camps see a decline in participation. The tree houses will, we think, help with this goal. We are already seeing an increase in junior high enrollment. "
And on a strictly fun basis, a new feature has been added to the water activities at the lake -- a double zip line. Two people at a time can go down the 650-foot wire, dropping 60 feet from the start to a splashing stop in the water.
Meanwhile, Camp Wesley Pines in Gallman has added a new camp store for this summer. The store was under construction most of last summer but will be open for the entire 2008 schedule. It will offer T-shirts, Bible covers, blankets, jackets and other items. The building also serves as the nurse's quarters, clinic and summer program director's residence.
Another new feature at Wesley Pines this summer will be a password-protected section of the camp's Web site that will offer parents a chance to see photos of their children at camp.
Camp SUMA (Seashore United Methodist Assembly) in Biloxi plans three camp sessions this summer. The facility is well on its way to being fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina. Frazer Hall will feature condo-style rooms on the main floor with a sitting room, large bathroom and bedroom and new appliances. The new conference room will seat 43 people in a lecture setting.
"We are so blessed on these grounds," said Seashore Office Manager Anne Steinaway. "We were protected so we could care for the workers and God's people. Our grounds are healing and life is growing all around us."