TOCCOA, GA – Of the seven summer camps at Camp Mikell, Work Camp is unlike any of the other sessions. First, while the other six are gatherings for relaxing, singing, skits, swimming, hiking, and making new friends for life, Work Camp is, well, work.
Each year campers paint and repair cabins, huts, and shelters, muck out creeks, clear trails, and dig, shovel, hoe, and rake much of the camp’s 460 acres. For their labor they (or their parents) pay $425 tuition – plus $20 each for a hat and t-shirt – And there is a waiting list!
So, what’s the big draw?
Mikell’s executive director, The Rev. Ken Struble, said most of the rising 10th graders through those who just graduated from high school have “grown up at camp (Mikell). We do get a few first-time kids each year, but most have been here many times.”
Struble, who has been the director of Camp Mikell since 2002, said Work Camp began as an extension of 1990s weekend clean-ups by parish youth groups. Camp Mikell Executive Director The Rev John Hall asked Struble, then youth leader at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell, to lead the initial week in 1999.
“There was just too much work for our maintenance crew and it would be too expensive for them to do everything needed to keep the camp in shape,” he said.
Since that time the effort to maintain the camp in the North Georgia Blue Ridge mountains has become a tradition for campers; Some from the time they were rising 1st and 2nd-grade mini campers who attend with their parent or guardian.
“When they come to other camps, they take their parents around and show them the projects they’ve worked on. It just really gives them a sense of belonging and being important to Camp Mikell,” Struble said.
Camp Mikell, officially The Mikell Camp and Conference Center, was established in 1933 by the Right Reverend Henry Judah Mikell as part of his efforts to help young people affected by the depression. In 1941 the camp was renamed and relocated to its current location just outside of the city of Toccoa.
Mikell continues to serve the Diocese and beyond as a year-round facility serving people of all ages in the Diocese and its parishes, as well as other groups whose purposes complement its mission.
“We have summer camp, then the place is fully booked with people over Labor Day for family camp, then we have weekend retreats and weekday meetings here until Thanksgiving. Then the weekend retreats and weekly Blue Ridge Outdoor Education groups here right up until summer camp begins,” Struble explained.
He said that people come to Mikell to breathe the country air, to be in a quiet setting, to plan, to pray, to walk in the woods, to revitalize and renew friendships and working relationships. On a personal level, it’s a setting where visitors can gain awareness of themselves, their place in the universe, and the radiance of God.
The camp is accredited by the American Camp Association. It has 240 beds with 79 in semi-private rooms and 164 beds in dorms. Recent improvements include building a five-bedroom lodge, installing new bathrooms in the dorms, installing a new 6-inch water main and fire hydrant in the middle of the camp, and constructing a 21-foot wide, two-way concrete road into the camp.
Mikell is revered by campers and visitors for its great country cooking, including vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Other Mikell attractions are its creeks and trails, a swimming pool, a volleyball court, and a brand-new art shack and nature center. The Mikell Chapel is the figurative and literal center of camp. It is open for worship and meditation and is stocked with supplies for Holy Eucharist.
A 1993 addition, the Blue Ridge Outdoor Education Center, provides hands-on environmental education for school classes, church groups, and others.
Each Spring and Fall The Allan Folk School at Mikell, named for the late Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Frank Allan, offers a weekend of arts, crafts, and fellowship.