Anyone who has ever driven into Beaver Creek Presbyterian Church Camp in East Liverpool, OH, knows that the half-mile-plus dirt road that leads into the facility is part of the camp’s charm. It is also in need of significant repairs. The same can be said about the 30-year-old walk-in cooler and the 40-year-old stove that are centerpieces of the kitchen.
All told, an estimated $600,000 in upgrades are needed at Beaver Creek Camp to keep it going, a price tag that is too step for Upper Ohio Valley and Eastminster presbyteries and their congregations to take on. Facing a no-win situation that seemed to have a sale and loss of use of the 70-year-old camp in its future, the camp board found a way to both get the camp the improvements it needs while also being able to continue to use it.
In March, the 120-acre camp was sold to the Ohio Valley YMCA for $1 with the stipulation that the Presbyterian churches in the area can continue to utilize the camp going forward. It’s a partnership that will benefit everyone involved.
“They’re non-denominational but still a Christian outreach,” said Steve Cramer, the president of the camp’s board since 2018. “The local ‘Y’ is part of a consortium that goes from Marietta up to East Liverpool and up and down the river. The Y’s that exist are part of this association. It’s not just the local ‘Y’ that can take advantage of this.
“The ‘Y,’ to their credit, while making major improvements, wants to keep the feel of the camp as a rustic camp,” Steve added. “The ‘Y’ is going to do them (the renovations), but they’re not going to do them in a glitzy kind of way. It’s going to feel like the camp it is now, it’s just going to be much better.”
Beaver Creek Camp and the local YMCA, which is located a mile and a half from the camp, have been connected to one another for a long time. In fact, the YMCA has supplied lifeguards for the camp’s swimming pool for the last 25 years.
“The ‘Y’ also can use this for residences, so that if they’re having a volleyball camp at the ‘Y’ – they don’t currently have a place to put kids – they can come down to the camp. But that’s down the road. There are a lot of possibilities.”
Conversations about donating Beaver Creek Camp to the YMCA have been occurring for some time. Gene Toot, a respected retired minister member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery who has been involved with the camp since it opened in 1953, was also very involved in the YMCA and got the conversations going about five years ago.
“He was the first person who suggested it, and when he took Rob O’Hara (CEO of the Ohio Valley YMCA) down to the camp, Rob fell instantly in love with the place,” Steve recalled. “It became almost inevitable that this would be the final result three years ago, but it just took time.”
Under the agreement of the sale, one month of the year will be designated for use by the churches in Upper Ohio Valley and Eastminster presbyteries. That month has typically been July. Due to major renovations that have been scheduled by the YMCA this summer, the camp will not be available this year for use by the presbyteries.
Beaver Creek Camp was purchased by the Steubenville and Mahoning presbyteries and passed along to the current successor presbyteries of Upper Ohio Valley and Eastminster. The annual budget for the camp is around $30,000, which makes the needed renovations out of the price range for the affiliated presbyteries.
“Obviously we couldn’t do major improvements,” Steve said. “Most of the labor done on the camp was volunteer labor – a number of Boy Scout projects, some churches did mission trips to the camp. We have not really had major capital improvements this century.
“Next year will probably be unrecognizable in terms of just things being new – new kitchen, new roofs on a lot of buildings, upgrades. Again, keeping the basic character of the camp, but it’ll just be in a much better condition.”
Because the camp is not winterized, it was only available for use about six months out of the year. That obviously limits the number of campers Beaver Creek can serve. Before the coronavirus pandemic, an estimated 75-80 youth have benefited from the camp each summer, with last year dropping to as low as 42 with the pandemic still not far in the rearview mirror. It’s a steady decline that many camps are facing these days.
“It’s various things,” Steve said when asked about reasons for the lack of numbers. “It’s the very extensive scheduling of sports. If somebody’s in volleyball, they’re probably playing volleyball 323 days a year. It’s the same with soccer. If you’re not playing football, you’re doing a lot of weightlifting. The high school kids get into band camps. There are so many different activities that demand the kids’ time.
“The great things are the curses of the camp. It has terrible cell service. If you’re really into electronics, it’s not a good place to be. So many kids are self-involved in electronic stuff, whether it’s personal gaming or whatever. I think it’s a plus to the camp, but others would disagree.”
While the lack of a wifi signal could be seen as a downside to the camp, there are many other pluses that Steve feels outweighs what could be perceived as a negative.
“It is just a gorgeous setting along the creek,” Steve said. “There’s a place that’s a 5- or 10-minute walk from the main camp – a vespers area, which was a Boy Scout area – with some plain benches, a stone pulpit and a cross. You look out on the stream – most of the year it’s moving pretty rapidly – and it’s just very peaceful and beautiful.
“When you get upstream a little bit, the sound of the rushing water and the beautiful valley. It’s just one of my favorite places.”
Eagles and other wildlife are also known to call the camp home, adding to the land’s uniqueness. It’s a spot that has created countless memories and now, thanks to the help of the local YMCA, will continue to be a summer destination for campers.
“We were to the point that there were very serious conversations about closing the camp just because of a lack of financial resources,” Steve said. “The idea that the camp could greatly improve, and we could still have access to it, is a tremendous gift to us. The partnership with the ‘Y’ has been 100 percent cooperative from the start. There has been no coercion or unpleasantness at all. It has been a very smooth process.
“Years ago, I saw a study that the majority of adult Presbyterians had one of their most important spiritual experiences as part of a Presbyterian camp. It’s great to know that we can reach out to children and allow them to be exposed to God’s creation and love being in God’s presence.
“We’re excited, relieved and looking forward to a new chapter of the camp. It’s not the end of the camp, it’s a great new beginning.”