To a young Meredith Cook, going to Gravatt Camp & Conference Center was the ultimate summer experience.
Cook grew up a loyal Gravatt camper and went on to attend the College of Charleston.
When she graduated, she came back. She took on the position of ropes course director and climbed up to the director of marketing and development.
“It was the best place on earth,” she said on her camp experiences.
Now, she and her fellow staff members – who could, according to Cook, easily tell their own Gravatt Camp childhood tales – watch several campers come through every year and make their own memories.
Not only that, but the wooded area houses countless opportunities for adults to come out and have grand times of their own, Cook said.
The center offers spring and summer camps for rising first to 10th graders, according to its program.
The campers can swim in and canoe on the wide lakes or do archery and arts and crafts, according to Cook.
“It’s a very traditional camp for boys and girls,” she said.
Cook’s favorite part as a camper, in addition to swimming, was the ropes course.
There’s a high and low course.
The high course includes a zip line and cat walk. The low course is a series of obstacles aimed at team building and trust, Cook said.
The camp sessions can run from 5 to 10 days, Cook said.
While staying, campers sleep overnight in screened cabins or platform tents, according to the center’s website.
The center is Episcopal-affiliated.
“Anybody can go here,” Cook said. “I think only about 30 percent of our campers are Episcopalian.”
Devotion times are scheduled, according to the website.
Summer camp registration is still ongoing, Cook said.
The next camp for all qualified campers will be held from July 27 to Aug. 2. The deadline to register for this session is Friday.
Spring camp usually takes place over a four-night period, according to the center’s website.
Other than that, the spring camp offers close to the same itinerary as the summer camps.
There is also a family camp that lets campers of any age – from infants to senior citizens – “experience a sample of camp life” for two nights, according to the website.
Cook admits that she didn’t know about the conference aspect while she was a camper.
Now, it’s all part of her day’s work.
“We can do anything,” she said, from laying out a taco bar for a birthday to serving up a spaghetti dinner for a retreat.
Outdoor and indoor spaces are available to rent, according to the website.
For example, there are 12 lodge rooms and 16 cottage rooms for overnight stays and at least six rooms for meeting purposes.
If a client would like, he or she can even use the campsite when camps aren’t in session.
The activities offered include hiking, canoeing and swimming, getting massages, archery and going through the ropes course.
There is usually no assigned seating at a Gravatt event, Cook said.
Military families sometimes dine in the Stewart Dining Hall.
Remembering one of their grander events, Cook said the families ate and talked among each other the first night.
That changed by the last night, though.
“You didn’t know whose kids were whose,” Cook said, smiling. “It’s really nice to see everyone mingle and get to know each other over a meal.”
Cook said Gravatt aims to accommodate the guests to the best to its abilities.
For example, if someone wanted to brew some coffee in the lodge, they should feel free.
“It’s casual, but we really want a home feel,” she said.
A ‘locally-grown kitchen’
Campers and guests alike get to experience something a bit new to Gravatt.
“We have our own garden,” Cook said.
Pounds of squash, tomatoes, beans, okra and blueberries can be pulled from the plot, according to Thomas Coleman, program director.
That produce then goes back to the kitchen and onto the campers’ and guests’ plates, Cook said.
That’s not all.
Campers get to dig down into environmental education at Camp Gravatt.
A part of that education, now, is getting the students out in the garden.
“They pick the vegetables, and then they’ll see them served on the table that night,” Cook said.
It shows them that “those tomatoes on your hamburger didn’t come with your hamburger,” as Cook put it.
Cook said the campers who come to the earlier summer sessions plant the seeds.
Coleman oversees the garden and helps the campers while they are out planting and picking.
“We started doing (the garden) because (growing your own produce) is more fun,” he said. “In some ways, it’s more nutritious. It tastes better, and it teaches the importance of where your food comes from.”
What can be seen behind the campsite is just the start.
Recently, the United Thank Offering gave the center a grant to expand its garden and help form the Gravatt Farm Project.
“The project is the newest addition to the Gravatt Environmental Education Program and will serve as hands on education for youth and adults to understand and practice sustainable, healthy living and the effect these practices have on our … daily lives,” as stated in a release.
The staff is now deciding on whether to expand on its current garden or build another site closer to the conference center, Cook said.
As for what they are unable to grow, the staff tries to keep the food local.
For example, the milk comes from Hickory Hill in Edgefield, Cook said.
Yoga and meditation will become one at the Yoga Retreat from July 19 to 21.
Meals and outdoor activities are included in the initial fee.
Massages and private yoga instruction are extra.
For more information, visit the center’s website.
A cookbook is in the works, according to Cook.
The publication will feature recipes collected over Gravatt’s last 65 years.
Frequent requests like the Gravatt Squares, Gravatt Smores and sweet potato biscuits will be among the recipes, she said.
“These are recipes people have come to love,” Cook said.
Pictures of previous chefs and dining halls will be featured throughout the book.
But an extra special find will be the handwritten recipes planned to be scanned in.
Since people know the chefs, “it would mean a lot to people to see that person’s handwriting,” Cook said.
The cookbook is expected out early next year for the center’s 65th year.
Through the work of its grant, Gravatt will collaborate with the Megiddo Dream Station to reach out to low-income families.
The center will show families how to grow their own food, how to cook and preserve it, and how to save some of the seeds.
“A lot of the families are transitional families with little outdoor space,” Cook said.
Due to this, plans are to provide the families with container gardens.
The Farm Project is also expected to be implemented into the established year-round environmental education program for elementary- and middle-schoolers, according to the release.
Gravatt Camp & Conference Center is located at 1006 Camp Gravatt Road. For more information, call 803-648-1817 or visit www.bishopgravatt.org.
Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and designs pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University and lives with her family in Evans, Ga.