2021 was another year to remember at West River, full of changes, challenges, opportunities, and improvements.  The year began with the camp still essentially shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This unusually quiet time at camp allowed for a couple major projects to be undertaken.  The Retreat Center received all new carpeting, bathroom renovations, and a makeover of the kitchenette area.  This much needed work freshened up our most popular overnight accommodations and will better serve our guests for years to come.

The other large project involved a major renovation of the swimming pool.  A leak in the plumbing underneath the pool required the installation of an entirely new piping system, replacement of sections of the pool deck, new coping stones and tiles, and a new plaster surface.  The work was done in time for summer camp and the repairs made caring for the pool throughout the summer much easier.

The spring also saw the departure of Matthew Surber as Program Director at West River.  Matthew served faithfully in that role since 2013 and moved on to work at the Board of Childcare.  The position was changed to an Assistant Director role, and after a nationwide search, Jenna Johnson was hired and joined the staff in April.  Jenna’s creativity and passion for ministry will help West River continue to provide outstanding programming and meet our long-range goals.

The month of May just might have seen the biggest change to the look of the site in the history of West River.  The living shoreline project revitalizing over 1,000 feet of shore from the L dock to the start of the marsh trail; we broke ground and the major construction was completed just after Memorial Day.  A ribbon cutting ceremony with the Lieutenant Governor of MD was held on August 3rd and the shoreline will continue to take root over the next year or two.  This $1.2 million project took more than 5 years of planning and was completely funded through grants.  This project would not have been possible without the help of our partners: the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, The Alliance for The Chesapeake Bay, and Underwood and Associates.

As May came to a close, the summer camp staff arrived and began preparing for campers to return to West River for the first time since 2019.  The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all aspects of camp but thanks to the hard work of all our staff and volunteers we were able to safely run summer camp and welcome about half our typical number of campers.  It was such a blessing to hear the laughter, singing, and splashing of campers once again!

At the close of the summer camp season, we had to say goodbye to Chef Matt Frederiksen as he and his family moved back to his home state of South Dakota.  Finding a capable replacement for Chef Matt has proved difficult, but we hope to have the position filled by the end of the year.  The West River staff responded to this shortage by pitching in wherever needed to enable us to continue to provide wonderful hospitality to retreat groups throughout the fall.  The fall retreat season saw steady business, but fewer and smaller groups than usual as pandemic concerns remained.

Our Giving Tuesday campaign this year ended up being very appealing (pun intended) as we raised money to purchase a new banana boat.  The generous support of donors allowed us to more than triple our goal of $1,500.  West River and Manidokan combined raised nearly $13,000 for specific projects and camperships!

The programming year for West River wrapped up on December 11th with a Christmas at Camp event for campers.  Over 35 campers came out for a day full of games, crafts, and worship.

One final major project will take place over the holidays as the camp driveway, basketball court, and walkway to the lodges are repaved.  This project has been needed for some time but was delayed until after the living shoreline construction was completed.  The project was funded through a bequest received by the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

The leadership of the Baltimore-Washington Conference has been truly phenomenal in their support of Retreat and Camping Ministries throughout the pandemic.  Their financial support allowed us to retain staff, make improvements to the sites, an implement needed COVID safety upgrades.  Ella Curry, an infectious disease expert, was brought on as a consultant for the conference and was instrumental in helping us develop safe COVID protocols for both summer camp and our retreat season.  The support from the conference remains strong as we move into 2022 and beyond.

Looking forward to next year we will continue to adapt to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and follow the guidance and best practices from experts.  We anticipate retreat groups will continue to return and increase in size and number.  Preparations for summer camp are well under way with hopes for increased capacities and a return to more traditional West River programming.  The future for West River looks bright and we are excited for new opportunities to help campers and guests grow in their love of God, self, neighbor, and nature.

Merry Christmas from the West River Center Staff!

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