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 Interesting infomation for alumni, parents and campers. Discover Winnataska's 96 year history, and learn how to volunteer. Click here.


"You Mean, You Live There the WHOLE Summer?"

My family and I are relatively new to the Atlanta area. As I meet new people, of course I always tell them about my job as director at Camp Winnataska.  "Where is that?" they ask.

"East of Birmingham," I say, "About 2 hours 15 minutes from my house." At this point, their eyebrows furrow together and they tilt their head to the side. I go ahead and jump in, explaining the situation, because I can see they are confused: "Well, I work from my house during the year, doing administrative stuff, and then the kids and I pack up, and we live there during the summer." 

I get a myriad of reactions, mostly expressing moderate surprise that I am at camp all summer. I guess they see me sleeping in a tent, cooking by fire every night? While my camp accommodations wouldn't rank as a five-star hotel, I enjoy my cottage by the front gate. (It may even have a bit of that 20th century invention known as air-conditioning. Shhh! Don't tell anyone!)

I'll admit the arrangement is a bit unusual for most families. I am extremely thankful to my husband and my kids for being so understanding and putting up with hectic conditions during the summer. My husband and I spent a great deal of time discussing the pros and cons before I accepted the position. If there's anyone to thank at the end of a great summer, it's Mr. Shepherd!

So, why in the world would a sane grown-up want to spend their whole summer in hot, muggy, and gnat-infested Alabama, dirty all the time, hours from home, and out in the middle of nowhere? I'll tell you why: Because I am in the business of building the kingdom of God, one relationship at a time.

A sermon series at church recently had me wanting to stand up during the sermon and yell, "AMEN!" Our pastor was talking about the importance of relationships in nurturing faith. We all had to write a name on a post-it note and place them on the wall. (This was our cloud of witnesses!) My witness was a camp mentor. I couldn't have agreed more that it's usually not a great sermon, a devotional book, or a show on TV that leads one to faith, it's a person - specifically an older individual that takes you under their wing and lets you know, "You are a loved and valued child of God."

Camp is all about relationships. Yes, the "what you do" is important to camp, as well, but it's the "who you meet" that defines summer camp. I'd like to describe a picture to you, circa 1985. My family had recently purchased a new camera, and I probably have 1,000 pictures of the summer between 8th and 9th grade. In the picture, you can see my back, and I am in mid-hug with someone - you really only see her arm and her forehead. Sounds, like a great shot, huh? Even though you can't see any faces, and the quality is so poor that when I scanned it in, it was fuzzy and unpublishable, it represents an important time of development for me and my faith, and it is one of my favorite pictures in the world.

So, there I am, white keds and all. I chuckle at what is in my hands - a wooden basket (I suppose that was my toiletry bag?), a small teddy bear, and a hairbrush. Maybe this stuff wouldn't fit in my suitcase anymore (a common problem), or perhaps I found it after the luggage run (also typical). In any case, I am hugging one of my leaders, who happened to pull me aside and give me a big hug before leaving. I don't exactly remember what she said, but I do remember that she made me feel great - like I was THE BEST CAMPER in the world.

The leader I am hugging is still a huge part of my life. She is an amazing friend, who always makes me feel great, and she is such an an enthusiastic Christian. She chuckles at her permed and fluffy 80's hairstyle and the fact that she has a toothbrush in her hand. We love this picture - I've pulled it out at camp, and we just laugh and laugh at the moment in time - one that I had no idea my dad was even capturing.

Daily I am astounded at how much technology is changing our world, and I have no doubt it will change Christianity - how churches work, how the gospel is shared, how we create community.  What I do know will not change is the importance of Christian relationships for our kids.  I want to make ensure that my two boys, one beginning his teenage years, and one still in the thick of elementary school, are nurtured into the world of "being a Godly young man" by Winnataska's leaders and Blackfeet.  There's not an app for that!

I'm called to this profession not just for my kids, but for your kids, too. The people I meet who don't understand this calling see only the possible down sides of living at a rustic summer camp. While I could easily do without clogged toilets, yellow jacket nests, 102 degree heat index, and flash flooding during a cook out, I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT the laughing until your sides ache, singing Taps at Grail, sunsets at Wayside, jumping off the cliff, and meeting people who will forever change your life. And with that, the WHOLE SUMMER flies by in the blink of an eye.


The Land of Laughing Water: Camp's Early History 

Being a camper at Winnataska sparked my interest in two subjects:   Medieval history (i.e., Knights of the Round Table) and the history of Native Americans.  As a grown up, I was able to share my love of these subjects as an elementary school teacher, particularly when teaching 5th grade, and the Social Studies curriculum covered the history of  America.  I have seen this process repeat itself – my second grader has been learning about the native Creek and Cherokee of Georgia (where we live), and his enjoyment of the material has a lot to do with what he’s learned from camp.  It’s neat to see what sticks with campers and then pops up in other places throughout the year.

Even as the camp director, who is supposed to know everything about camp, I can very humbly say that it is impossible! But on my quest to learn as much as I can about camp’s history, I spoke with our resident historian recently.  Katherine Ann Price Garmon (camp name: Kap) is the youngest daughter of Dr. D. R. Price.  She is a treasure-trove of stories, newspaper clippings, brochures, pictures, and other artifacts from camp.  She and her sisters spent a great deal of time playing in the woods at Winnataska, and she has memories back to the mid 30’s.  I asked Kap a little bit more about what she knew concerning some of the earliest traditions of camp.

I started with my most pressing question about the names of the huts.  I had known as a camper that the names of the “front huts” were all named after five native tribes which had once inhabited the land of Alabama: Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw.  How then, did the other hut become Navajo?  Because, as far as I knew, the Navajos resided in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico - known as the “Four Corners.”One of the many maps available online showing Alabama's native groups.

(On a side note:  Navajo is considered as a “back hut.”  At one time, Mohawk, Iroquois, and Pueblo have also been back huts, but are no longer standing. And I am pretty sure that those tribes did not grace the Alabama soil as well! Thus, the same question applies to them.)

Back to Kap’s answer, which made me chuckle:  “I have no idea!”  Really? Ok, well, I guess that mystery still remains!   But many of our camp quirks that make us unique can’t be pinned down, as I have learned.

However, as Kap and I delved a little bit more into the historical and cultural context of the early era of camp, the 1920’s, then it wasn’t so puzzling. During that time period, summer camping was experiencing a rapid growth. The birth of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and continued presence of the YMCA in the first few decades of the 20th century led to the establishing of many summer camps.  Many of these camps, particularly in the northeast, have recently celebrated or will be celebrating their 100th anniversary.

Also present at that time in history was a growing interest in the culture of Native Americans.  Not just among children, but historians, writers, anthropologists, and the general public as well.  I also asked Kap about the naming of camp: Why did they (her aunt and uncle, mainly) choose to base camp on a native theme?  The large majority of newly-established camps, as mentioned above, were given native place names or based on a Native American word or phrase.  Thus, choosing the name Winnataska, “laughing water” in the Creek language, seemed to fit right in the theme of the times and honored (as it continues to honor) one of the Native American groups that called the Winnataska lands home.

In the next blog update, I’d like to share a little bit more about our campfire ceremony. Before I do, I would like to address the fact that I am keenly aware that the subject of Native Americans is a complex issue. I feel that it’s my role as camp director to be thoughtful and discerning about our camp culture. What I understand about a complicated subject is very different from what an 8 year-old understands, or is even capable of comprehending. In all we do, however, whether it is listening to the legend of Winnataska, or singing “Follow the Gleam,” we seek to spark an interest in campers that will lead to a life-journey of understanding more about our world. Children are naturally drawn to stories, and the stories that we teach at Winnataska form a foundation of discovery.   I am truly a testimony to this, and I take great pleasure in seeing the spark in current Winnataska campers as well.


Everything I Needed to Know about Life, I Learned at Winnataska

Aubrey Etheredge has grown up at camp...quite literally! I remember her first birthday party!  For two summers, she has worked at camp as a Comanche. She's a junior at Auburn, majoring in Elementary Education.  She'd like to share some of the valuable lessons that Camp Winnataska has taught her.

    As I sit in my university’s library, surrounded by 2.7 million books and with a computer that gives me the ability to find any information I could possibly need in the blink of an eye, I can’t help but believe that my summers at Camp Winnataska have taught me volumes more than any of these resources ever could. Every day, I carry the knowledge I have gained at Winnataska far beyond its gates, and I am thankful for the lessons camp has taught me that prove to be consistently applicable in my “real world” day-to-day life.

         I cannot even begin to count the skills I have acquired through the activities and opportunities that Winnataska offers its campers. Because of the pool, I know how to get a serious splash out of a cannon ball, and that a belly flop that makes your skin tingle will be well worth it when you come out of the water and hear everyone cheering. Outdoors is the reason I am able to pitch a tent just as quickly as I can make the perfect s’more, and why I always kiss the fish I catch before I throw them back. I have learned how to ride a horse and that horse food tastes like cereal, and I could walk through the Pony Grove blindfolded without stepping in a poop pile (though you won’t catch me trying). I have seen the ropes course help numerous campers overcome a fear of heights, and it is where we learn that untying a “Human Knot” takes true teamwork. In the gym, I figured out several tricks that keep me in a game of War Ball until the very end, and learned Country Night dances that I couldn’t forget if I tried. Crafts is the reason I know how to stitch gymp four different ways, and down the hill from the Craft Hut, I was taught how to steer a canoe, and that creek water works just as well as a shower with the right kind of soap. While these skills and bits of knowledge may seem trivial to some, those of us who have spent a week at Winnataska recognize their value.

         Unfortunately, I can’t be at camp year-round. However, the incredible friends I have made there are a piece of Winnataska whenever I need it. There is just no friend like a camp friend- these people have seen me at my best and my worst, and choose to love me anyway. Camp friends hold me accountable, make me laugh until I can’t breathe, and encourage me daily in my walk with Christ. Someday, they will be in my wedding and help me raise campers of my own. Many friends come and go through different seasons of life, but the common bond of Winnataska makes camp friendships the ones that last a lifetime.

         At camp, we are SILLY. We dance like no one’s watching, and sing songs that don’t even make sense at the top of our lungs, as if it’s totally normal. Yet somehow, amidst the wonderful craziness, God teaches us important lessons. He shows us His love in everything we do, and in turn, we learn to love others. At camp, God taught me patience and humility, and how to escape from my cell phone and other distractions so that I may be completely immersed in His presence. Through my experiences at camp, I learned how to make smart choices- from picking a snack in canteen to the decision to return for another summer on Staff. God shows us at camp that He is our best friend, and teaches us how to be a friend to others.

         The greatest thing about Winnataska is that it’s always there. While it is difficult to leave camp at summer’s end, we are welcomed back with open arms, year after year. Eventually, everyone reaches a point at which they are unable to return to Winnataska for the summer, but we soak up everything we can while we have the opportunity to be at this amazing place, and carry a piece of camp wherever we go. At Winnataska, we are valued, tested, and molded into the best version of ourselves- camp is a fleeting experience, but leaves a lasting impression.


Boys and camp - a no-brainer!

Sorry, girls of Winnataska, this one is all for the boys.  Catherine Bentley is our recruiter and office manager and she is our guest blogger this week.

Summer.  It’s the most wonderful time of year for kids.  No school, no homework, and no early bedtimes.  Almost three months of freedom to do whatever you choose.   There’s nothing better than spending part of that summer at an overnight camp.   It’s the perfect place to just come and be a kid and have a ball…especially for boys! 

I have 2 sons, and I know exactly what they like to do best – be outside every spare minute they have!  Ride bikes, ride scooters, play soccer, shoot baskets, kick field goals, play at a park, have Nerf gun battles, get really dirty and love every minute of it.  Boys and camp just go hand in hand.  The level of outdoor play time at Camp Winnataska is amped up to an extreme!   Just watch the video below and you’ll understand what I mean. 


We wanted to bottle up how much Camp Winnataska can be a paradise for boys.  Our new video definitely does that.  Canoeing, sliding down the falls into the gorge at Kelly Creek, jumping off the rocks into the gorge, playing War ball (a Recreation favorite for all camp boys), cooling off by swimming in our brand new pool, daily canteen visits for snacks and drinks, dressing up in camouflage, Glow in the Dark night, and much more.  Did you see that awesome mud obstacle course?  Your son would love Winnataska! 

Our convenient online registration for summer 2013 will open on Thursday, November 1st.   Camp Winnataska will also be hosting recruitment parties for all new potential campers between the months of November through February.  We are especially interested in recruiting new, excited boys to give Winnataska a try this summer!   If your family is interested in hosting a Winnataska recruitment party or if you are a new family interested in learning more about Camp Winnataska, please send me an email to    I’d love to tell you more about Winnataska! 


Our newest promotional video

     Believe it or not, this is one of my busiest times as a camp director: Tying up loose ends from the summer, and planning ahead to next summer. The other day I sat down to organize all 7,500 pictures from this summer! I ended up enjoying this task so much, however, because I loved seeing the JOY and LAUGHTER captured in a camp moment.  Of course, it made me miss camp and the summer time all over again.

     To keep on top of things as camp director, every once in a while, I have to "google" and "youtube" camp to see what's out there. (Have you "googled" your own name recently?)  And that's when I found this little gem of a promotional video.  I love that a creative and resourceful 11-year old camper took the time to share with others how much she loves camp.  We couldn't ask for a better recommendation! Her family said that, of course, we could share it.  So, thanks again, for helping us spread the word! Jaqueline, when you get a little older, I might have a job for you!