Smoky Mountain Christian Camp

Written by The Bingham Group

As you leave County Road 619 in southern Monroe County and start down the winding gravel road through the woods, there is an air of anticipation for what lies ahead.  The base of the towering Unicoi Mountain range begins to appear through the trees and you realize this could be East Tennessee at its finest.

As you leave County Road 619 in southern Monroe County and start down the winding gravel road through the woods, there is an air of anticipation for what lies ahead.  The base of the towering Unicoi Mountain range begins to appear through the trees and you realize this could be East Tennessee at its finest.

And nestled in the clearing between forest and mountain is the site of Smoky Mountain Christian Camp. It isn’t well-known outside of East Tennessee, but for almost 40 years it has been a popular place for young people to come for a week of fun, fellowship and a return to nature.

The non-denominational camp has hosted thousands of boys and girls from grammar to high school through the years.  It was started by an organization known as the Smoky Mountain Christian Men’s Fellowship Group which in 1976 bought the current 60-acre site in the little community of Coker Creek. The camp is bounded on two sides by the Cherokee National Forest and is built around a seven-acre lake.

Bill Clark, who recently retired after serving 22 years as Camp Director, was the longest serving director in the camp’s history. And much of the growth and continued popularity of the camp can be attributed to Clark’s labor and dedication. He has re-modeled, re-built and constructed new buildings on the site, turning it into a place where youngsters can have the experience of a life-time. The campers attest to it.  Over 75 percent come back for a second session in subsequent years, says Clark.

The camp was built on the site of an old family farm, where in the early days, a single, two-story building was all the Men’s Fellowship group had to work with. The old barn-like structure served all the needs of a rudimentary camp, including dormitory, kitchen, meeting hall and game room.

During the past two decades, Clark and volunteers have built a new dormitory for the girl campers, six cabins for the boys, a gymnasium and a chapel. Most of the wood used in construction of the new buildings was cut on-site and milled with Clark’s own portable saw. The original 2-story building has been completely renovated and now houses the camp’s dining hall and a state-of-the art kitchen.

Every summer, the camp is home to kids who come for one of the eight, week-long sessions. Each session is limited to 50 campers of their own age group and they are tended to by 15 to 20 counselors and 10 staff members.  Counselors are all volunteers, many of them coming from the churches which comprised the original Smoky Mountain Men’s Fellowship Group.

Support for the non-profit camp now comes largely from donors, many of whom attended the camp in the past and those who sent their children and grand-children there.  Other support comes from independent churches. The balance of the camp budget comes from camp enrollment. The price for a week at the camp is $150 while a special week of “Adventure Camp” which includes a white-water rafting trip and repelling, is available to teenagers at a slightly higher price.

Clark and his staff have maintained a strong “spiritual side” to the camp, in keeping with the founders’ intentions.  Along with the canoeing, hiking and myriad of other group activities, the campers attend chapel twice a day. And early in the camper’s day there is also what is called “family time” where four to eight kids meet with counselors in group sessions.

“They discuss family situations, school pressure, peer pressure and dealing with drugs and alcoholism, says Clark. “ It’s all the kinds of things that kids deal with today. Young people need to be with the kind of people and in the kind of experiences that help them shape the future of their lives.”

The rewards are many, for Clark and the staff. “We get feed-back from kids all the time saying that camp got them through tough times in their lives.”

The campers get away from the fast-paced world of electronics and busy schedules.  “One of the good things about the camp is that we have no cell phone coverage here so the kids come here and we get them away from friends, family and everything else that is going on in the world and they can really focus on their personal life and their spiritual life,” says Clark. “We want them outdoors and active, not indoors and sitting around.” Campers can however, call home anytime they want and parents can call them as well.

After a full day of group activities, there is a prayer session in the chapel, then it’s down to the lake for singing and an evening devotional session around the camp-fire.

Smoky Mountain Christian Camp is unique in its role for young people, says Clark.  “There are a lot of denominational groups that have their own camps that would be very similar to ours. This one just happens to be a non-denominational camp where we are focusing on helping the kids maintain a Christian life-style and supporting them in that.”  That is what the founding fathers of the camp hoped for, he says. “They wanted to encourage and maintain Christianity among youth, for their faith and their on-going lives.”

The philosophy apparently works. Almost 20 percent of the campers eventually go into church-related professions. “One of the things the camp is known for is producing young people who eventually become ministers, youth ministers, church leaders and missionaries,” Clark points out.

The father of three is an ordained minister himself and serves as a part-time minister at Methodist churches in Coker Creek and nearby Tellico Plains. But as a self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades” Clark remains an active part of the camp. “I am basically retired from the camp but I still come and work, doing plumbing and electric and mowing and other things that need to be done. I’m still available to help and work and share,” he said. When necessary, he doesn’t hesitate to step in and cook or wash dishes.

Clark’s son “Billy” was named by the board of directors as the new Camp Manager upon his dad’s retirement. He has grown up at the camp and has been an active part of it since high-school. It‘s a year round job. He and his father remain busy in the off-season making the camp available to church groups, various retreat groups, and even hosting weddings and family reunions.

Clark’s dedication to the camp comes as no surprise to those who know him. Growing up in Indiana, his own church camp experiences were instrumental in his life. “I had grown up in church but it was in the camp setting that I went and made my personal confession of faith and became a Christian,” said Clark. He was 10-years-old.  At the age of 16, in another camp session, Clark “committed” himself to the ministry which led him to Bible college and on to the seminary.  At yet another camp session he met a girl name Deborah who later became his wife.

“The three most important decisions of my personal life were all made at church camp,” he says with a smile.

About the author

The Bingham Group

We are a full service advertising and marketing agency that's been in business since 1989. Our team handles everything from web development, graphic design, and videography to digital marketing and advertising as well as the production of Monroe Life, Farragut Life, and McMinn Life magazines.

Leave a Comment