John Shearer: United Methodist’s Camp Lookout Has Turned 60 Years Old

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - by John Shearer
Campers gather for a summertime camp meeting on wooded and bucolic Camp Lookout
Campers gather for a summertime camp meeting on wooded and bucolic Camp Lookout
- photo by Courtesy of Camp Lookout
Many have come from far and wide to participate in activities at Camp Lookout, while some living just a mile or two away on Lookout Mountain have never set foot beyond its gate in the Rising Fawn community.

Such is the case with many camps in the region. 

But Camp Lookout this year can also claim a genuine distinction – it has reached the 60-year mark.
This United Methodist camp that has been a place for both outdoor rejuvenation and inner spiritual nourishment has been welcoming all to help it celebrate its six-decade anniversary this year, including a special gathering for senior adults just held on Oct. 24.

“It’s a time of celebration,” said camp director of development Mike Feely of the whole year. “For a lot of folks, it is hard to believe time has gone by so fast. 

“It has changed a lot and yet the spirit has stayed the same.”

 

The camp – which is owned by the Scenic South and Hiwassee districts of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church -- has a history long in stories as well as time. Countless memorable activities involving youth campers, school groups, families and adults, and even wedding parties have taken place there.

A look at some old newspaper clippings on file at the Chattanooga Public Library shows that the camp was set up and dedicated in 1959 and had its first campers arrive the following summer.

The earliest story on file at the library is from the April 17, 1959, Chattanooga Times. In it, Gene Roberts – who was a reporter before he pursued a career in city government that led to the mayor’s office – said that work had begun on the roughly 250-acre tract of sloping woodland at a cost of $176,850.

Clyde Lundy, who was superintendent of what was then called the Chattanooga District, was quoted as saying an open house at the site was to be held on April 26, when the blooming mountain dogwoods were expected to be peaking.

He also said 64 area Methodist ministers had each been donating one day a week doing manual labor to help get the land suitable for a camp. A 700-foot well had been dug and a well house had been built.

Additional plans for the site included a lodge – which would be the first main structure built on the site and completed the next year – as well as a dining facility, pavilion, chapel, cabins (including a log cabin) and camping facilities. Also, two covered wagons were to be placed there to add to the rustic charm and be used for overflow sleeping quarters.

The camp was to be used year round and was for families as well as youth.

The Rev. Harrison Marshall of St. Luke was chairman of the camp committee getting the land ready.

Superintendent Lundy explained to Mr. Roberts that the idea for the camp came from a visit to Chattanooga industrialist and First Methodist Church member Gordon Street’s Double G Ranch on Lake Chickamauga.

However, a decision was made to put Camp Lookout on the mountain instead of near the lake due to the safety concerns supervising swimmers in a large body of water. However, the camp did build a large swimming pool early on.

Plans for the campsite grounds were drawn by L.B. Sharp, the executive director of the Outdoor Education Association in New York, while Chattanoogan Clyde F. Mack was the architect for the buildings.

The first building, the lodge, was completed in the summer of 1960 by Construction and Improvement Specialty Co. of Chattanooga.

While individual directors would later be hired for the camp, that first summer of 1960, it was under the direction of three people – the Rev. John Greer of Eastdale Methodist, Centenary Methodist director of Christian education John McClearan, and the Rev. Walter Smalley of Fort Oglethorpe Methodist.  

Over the years, the camp continued to expand and grow in physical layout, offerings and users. In 1986, for example, the camp began teaming up with the Chattanooga Nature Center for an environmental education program.

Mr. Feely said the camp has had the same director, Don Washburn, for 21 years. He said many people throughout Holston Conference know Mr. Washburn for both his longtime work with the camp and his help with the Resurrection winter youth retreat in the Gatlinburg area.             

Mr. Feely added that the camp, which does also depend on some donations through an annual golf tournament and other avenues, is undergoing some physical changes. That includes constructing a new cabin for family retreats and increasing the amount of indoor plumbing.

But while the physical changes have come, the scenic and woodland views and the connectedness have remained unchanged.

“You see the multi-generational impact Camp Lookout has had,” Mr. Feely said. “People come who have had grandparents involved 60 years ago.”

Wintertime view of Camp Lookout entrance area
Wintertime view of Camp Lookout entrance area
- photo by Courtesy of Camp Lookout

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