CULLODEN — Burl Blackburn looked over the campground and recalled the 60 years of memories he had made around him.
“We would have that tabernacle full and people standing in the doorways,” Blackburn said, nodding toward a large building where the camp’s services were held. “This place was just like bees. There were people everywhere.”
Blackburn married his wife on Dec. 26, 1957, and a day later she took him to view what is now called Shenandoah Family Camp, which offers a weeklong camp in Culloden at the beginning of August and represents the Shenandoah District of the Wesleyan Church. This year, the camp went from July 29 to Aug. 5.
On Aug. 2, he sat on a bench before the evening worship. On the campground, there were rows of cottages and two dorm buildings. Toward the back, there was a place for campers.
Blackburn said his wife wanted him to be familiar with the camp, which he would come to visit most of the summers since then.
Back then, the camp had no running water, and the cottages that line the campground had no electricity, he said. The dorms were more like military barracks and less like motels, Blackburn said.
Blackburn was the camp manager from 1999 to 2016. He said the camp has changed a lot since even when he took that position.
“When I first came, the health department was threatening to close the camp because of the dining hall,” he said.
Now, the dining hall has added air conditioning, had a change in flooring and ceiling, and more.
Other improvements have been made around camp, and the operations are far more financially stable than they used to be. Still, Blackburn looks around the campgrounds and sees fewer faces than he did decades ago.
Megan Parsons married into a family with deep roots to the camp. Her husband, Nathan, doesn’t remember a year when he didn’t visit the camp. His great-grandfather’s cabin on the campgrounds had to be torn down recently due to its old age.
Now, they bring their kids to the camp, the fourth generation of the Parsons family to do so.
Megan Parsons said attendance has gone down, pointing to how most of the camp participants were either younger and older. Still, she said the camp isn’t going to die without a fight.
“I want my kids to grow up the same way [Nathan] grew up with the camp because it holds such special memories,” she said. “God’s kept it going this far.”
Joshua and Amanda Cash, the camp’s vacation Bible school leaders, try to make good memories for the children they work with. This year, the Bible school’s theme was “outer space.” On Aug. 2, the children made slime.
“If they’re not having fun while they’re learning scripture, then they’re not going to want to come back,” Amanda Cash said. “That’s what’s going to make them bring their kids to camp, because they’re going to remember the memories.”
Joshua Cash remains optimistic about the camp’s future.
“Take a three-legged stool. What happens if you cut one leg off?” he said. “It’ll collapse. It’s the same way with the church.”
He said the younger, middle and older generations each represented one leg of that stool.
“You have to have the older generation teach the middle generation,” he said.
Joshua Cash said the middle generation teaches the younger, and it becomes a cycle — a cycle that he hopes will keep going.