Camp Gilmont to celebrate 75 years today

Lake Kilgore at Camp Gilmont Thursday, November 5, 2015. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Using nature to help bring people closer to God is the goal of Camp Gilmont, outside of Gilmer.

Located on one of the tallest hills of East Texas in the Barnwell Mountains, there is no light pollution to obstruct campers’ views into the star-filled sky, something that city kids really get a kick out of, said Marie Nelson, associate director of Gilmont Camp and Conference Center.

That’s just one of the awe-inspiring aspects of nature children and adults visiting the camp get to experience.

“A lot of camps are just very large and busy and full, but we are smaller, and that means we can provide other things,” Nelson said. “We have a small groups philosophy. A lot of the kids get wowed a lot of places these days, like amusement places, but we are a back to nature kind of place and when they are here they get to know people more, and that is a unique thing. When they get to camp they get to be in nature and connect with each other and be with God.”

The small number of people assigned to a counselor is another difference between Camp Gilmont and other camps, with fewer than 10 in a group compared to more than 50 in bigger camps.

Nelson describes a free play area at the camp as “super cool.” It’s meant to give children the opportunity to explore the woods. They make up plays to perform or design miniature ropes courses using sticks and pine cones.

“They play out there for hours and they get creative out there in the woods,” Nelson said. “When you think of childhood, that is when we really had fun. This gives them the opportunity to unplug from technology and the noise. When they are plugged into something, it is someone else’s imagination. This gets their imagination going.”

Children at the camp also can put knowledge learned in the classroom to the test. For example, students learning about erosion or plants and animal life in the classroom can come to the camp and experience those things in nature. This helps the students learn concepts they will be tested on when they take the the state’s standardized test.

Gilmont started as a summer camp of the Presbyterian Church in 1940. Over time, Gilmont has grown to be more ecumenical, meaning the camp offers “programs and space for all Christian denominations to come to the table and grow in their faith.” The mission of the camp is to be “a place where people can come and grow in mind, body, and spirit, by experiencing God’s love.”

Camp Gilmont is inviting the public to take a look around the facility on March 16.

“We love inviting the community to come and enjoy this place,” said James Hilliard, executive director. “March 16, our annual Fun Run and Open House which benefits our camp for special needs children and families, is a great time to come and see us.”

The Fun Run starts at 11 a.m., with the open house set for noon to 5 p.m. To register for the Fun Run and view a schedule of open house events, visit www.gilmont.org/open-house--fun-run.html .

Camp Gilmont has offered Circle of Friends Camp for families of children with developmental disabilities for 20 years. Three times a year, the camp provides respite care for parents or grandparents who care for children with special needs. The camp allows caretakers to be off the clock from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, allowing them to rest and relax with other people who understand what it is like to care for someone with special needs.

The camp also has facilities available to host training and group meetings.

For more information on Camp Gilmont, visit www.gilmont.org, call (903) 797-6400 or email info@gilmont.org .