So when the opportunity to visit arose in March for the 3rd Annual Environmental Stewardship Conference (more on that in our June issue), I jumped at the chance. Granted, it wasn’t going to be a true camping experience — we were staying in Higgins Lodge — but at least I was headed for the mountain.
After leaving I-81 in Wytheville, Virginia, the road becomes narrow, twisty and hilly. For more than an hour, I drove through farms, forests, hills and valleys, all with the first hints of spring on the fields and trees. My little rental car seemed to love being on country roads after 400 miles of Interstate. Routes 21 and 18 took me through Independence, Sparta, Laurel Springs, under the Blue Ridge Parkway, then up the steep mountain road that leads to the top of Laurel Ridge.
As I neared the top, I came close to running off the road trying to glimpse the view…mountains and valleys as far as the eye could see. Shortly after checking in at Higgins Lodge (a beautiful facility that I could write two whole “Ponderings” about), a storm rolled in, bringing rain, wind and fog. Within minutes, the spectacular view had disappeared. One Laurel Ridge regular told me that groups have spent foggy weekends on the ‘Ridge and never realized they were on a mountainside.
While the weather didn’t cooperate much that weekend — severe thunderstorms with hail and more than an inch of rain — I still gained a real appreciation for the place. At first, the lack of cell phone signal was an annoyance; before long, I came to appreciate that I was away from it all…in a good way.
Between storms and conference sessions, I visited the camp side of Laurel Ridge. I could imagine the laughter and singing of campers…the warm summer days and chilly summer nights communing with God’s creation…the camaraderie of friends and believers. I began to understand the special feeling of being there.
Many of my fellow attendees at the Conference were old hands at Laurel Ridge. They shared stories, remembrances, and plans for their future trips to Laurel Ridge. The gleam in their eyes and excitement in their voices made it obvious: this place is special to everyone who visits.
In our annual Camping Ministries issue of the Moravian, we hear from volunteers and campers alike, not only from Laurel Ridge, but all the beautiful, natural places Moravians in the U.S. and Canada camp each year. As devoted as the Southern Province folks are to Laurel Ridge, there’s equally fervent followings for Camp Hope in the east, Camp Van-Es in Canada, Mt. Morris in the west, and other places Moravians come together in nature.
Even though this was my first trip to Laurel Ridge, I came away with a better understanding of the spirit and meaning of the place. It truly is a wonder of God’s creation, a place to revel in the world created for us. Next time I get the question, “Have you been to Laurel Ridge?” I can say yes. And hopefully soon I can say the same about Mt. Morris and Van-Es!
Mike Riess, Editor
From the May 2012 Moravian Magazine