Volunteers revitalize Camp Happy Valley

BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL Mapping out the route for a fundraiser 5K to benefit Camp Happy Valley are volunteer Steve Hewitt, Major Darrell Kingsbury and Salvation Army employee Marc Harpold.
BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL Salvation Army employee Marc Harpold and volunteer Steve Hewitt mark out a trail for a 5K fundraiser trail run event at Camp Happy in Teays Valley.

Camp Happy Valley in Scott Depot is coming back to life this summer, thanks to donations and help from hundreds of volunteers.

The camp, owned and operated by the Salvation Army of Charleston, had fallen into disrepair in 2013, and with a lack of funds and donations to fix the camp up, officials closed the camp for the year.

But this year, the camp has seen a surge of community support. Maj. Darrell Kingsbury said the community has pumped life back into the camp, which will be open to day campers from June 16 to July 11.

“It’s looking better,” Kingsbury said. “Much better than we thought it was going to.”

The Daily Mail reported in 2013 that maintenance issues that had been mounting at the camp for years eventually led to its closure. Its lawnmowers were old and deteriorating, its paddle boats and go-karts needed repairs, and many water pipes had burst. The unusually cold winter caused even more plumbing issues.

Kingsbury said a group of 127 volunteers from River Ridge Church in Hurricane descended on the camp one weekend in March. The church members cleaned the playground area and made repairs to the camp’s go-karts and paddle boats, and professional electricians and plumbers among the congregation worked on the camp’s infrastructure, performing repairs for free that Kingsbury estimated would have cost more than $35,000.

“Most of the cabin repairs are done,” Kingsbury said. “We’re still turning water on from cabin to cabin checking for leaks. With this winter, we’re finding some here and there. And we’re working on the pool. I’ve got a group coming out Monday to power-wash the pool, and we have to check the filter and pumping system.”

Thanks to donations, the camp will have new softball and archery equipment this summer. State Equipment Inc. of Cross Lanes recently donated a brand new, zero-turn lawnmower to the camp, and a neighbor recently rebuilt the engine of another mower free of charge.

And the list of community donations and contributions goes on and on.

Kingsbury said he has never seen a community so responsive to a nonprofit organization in need.

“I will complete 42 years on June 10 as a Salvation Army officer and in all my assignments, I have never been in a city where you say ‘I need’ and within 48 hours you’ve got it,” Kingsbury said. “This community responds so amazingly to needs and I can’t say enough good things about the Kanawha Valley and Charleston. It’s a great place to work and serve, and we’re really excited about what’s going on.”

Now that the camp is getting back into shape, Kingsbury is starting to look ahead to the camp’s future. Camp Happy Valley will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017 — a landmark he hopes to commemorate with a big reunion for former campers — but Kingsbury also hopes to bring more community awareness to the camp in the near-term.

Charleston banker Steven Hewitt came up with the idea to host a 5K race at the camp as a fundraiser and to show the community what the camp has to offer. The first ever Run for the Hills! 5K run/walk is slated for Saturday, Aug. 2 at 9 a.m.

“The purpose is to raise money to help kids be able to enjoy the camp, to be able to provide funds so the kids can go to the camp, as well as help with the upkeep of the camp,” Hewitt said. “It’s an expensive proposition to maintain the grounds and facilities, so we decided to get together, bring the community to the camp, set aside a morning to take a run or walk and showcase what is available at Camp Happy Valley.”

Hewitt, who is also the race director for the Capital City Challenge, said the route will be unique, taking runners on all kinds of terrain, in and out of the woods and up and down inclines. He said anyone who is in shape can run or walk the course, but it will be more difficult than the average 5K.

“This event is not going to be your normal 5K run in town,” Hewitt said. “This is going to be very unique, It’s going to be a very challenging course but it’s going to be something anyone who is active will be able to complete. It’s going to be very unique and different in the Valley.”

Hewitt and Kingsbury hope the 5K event will bring people out to the camp for a good cause and let them see what the 167-acre camp has to offer. Though it primarily serves as a campground, Kingsbury said it has amenities including a climbing wall, rope course, ampitheatre and zip line, and the camp can be rented for family reunions, weddings and teambuilding workshops. Marketing students from the West Virginia Junior College are helping develop a marketing strategy for the camp.

“We are excited, our board is excited, all the kids I’ve talked to are excited to go out to camp and be out in that area,” Kingsbury said. “They’re going to be out there where they can hike and do the things out there. It’s going to be a good experience for them.”

Kingsbury said he hopes repairs to the cabins can continue once the summer camping season is over so that overnight camps can be hosted next year.

Registration information for the Run for the Hills! 5K run/walk will be available in the coming weeks.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.

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