Lake Logan addresses challenges, looks toward future
Lake Logan has come a long way since the Episcopal Church purchased the property in 2000.
Back then, the diocese took on a tremendous amount of debt to secure the retreat center and upgrade its infrastructure to accommodate more visitors — debt that has only been paid off in the last couple of years. While Executive Director Lauri SoJourner was thrilled to be debt-free, she lamented that the occasion was marred by pandemic shutdowns.
“It was sad because we started our last big campaign to retire the debt before COVID, and we were intending to have a big celebration, but we were never able to,” SoJourner said.
Paying down large amounts of debt and enduring pandemics have been among several challenges the retreat center has met since SoJourner came on the job in June of 2017 after leaving a position she’d held for a decade as the Executive Director of Gravatt Camp and Conference Center near Aiken, South Carolina.
SoJourner said the change from the swampy South Carolina lowlands to the mountains of Western North Carolina was a welcome relief, at least when it came to the climate although there was a bit of an adjustment for her four kids when it came to the lack of cell phone service at the lake.
However, she said her family has since grown to love the place they now call home.
“Being able to live in such a beautiful place outweighs any inconveniences,” she said.
The retreat center has three major focuses from year to year: the retreat center, Camp Henry and most recently, the outdoor school.
SoJourner said one of the challenges with the camp is the public highway that runs right through the middle of the property.
“Safety is our main concern, and we also want to keep the feel of a retreat center even though there are multiple access points and a road running through,” she said.
Another hurdle has been balancing public access with preservation of the land, along with its accommodations and amenities. SoJourner said she wants local people to feel welcome and enjoy the property, but that it should be in the right way. The solution has been to provide day passes and season memberships.
The obvious challenge that’s plagued everyone for two years now has been the pandemic. SoJourner admitted she initially thought people who were canceling reservations as the virus became more prevalent in the United States were overreacting. As the government shutdowns began, the reality hit home.
“I had to lay off all the staff,” SoJourner said. “That was the worst day of my career.”
“We were poised to have a banner year … and then those few weeks were like punch after punch,” she added. “And this was before we knew what kind of government support or donors we might have, so it was devastating.”
While many summer camps shut down entirely, Camp Henry was still operational, although drastically scaled down, offering smaller sessions featuring only about a dozen campers. In addition, everything that could be done outside was. Camp Henry had no known spread of the virus during that time.
“It was amazing because the kids needed it and we needed it,” she said. “It was so good for the soul of the staff just to have people here.”
Last year, the camp operated at 75% capacity, and SoJourner hopes it’ll be fully operational this summer.
Just two years ago, Camp Henry shifted from only having a director during the summer to hiring a full-time employee. This has enabled the growth of the outdoor school, which offers an alternative education for middle and high school students while still meeting curriculum standards put forward by the state. Kids learn about astronomy by standing out under the stars, ecology by venturing out into the woods and history from local Cherokee storytellers.
Like just about everyone else in that part of Haywood County, Lake Logan suffered damage during the catastrophic flooding wrought by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred last August. While SoJourner said the lake didn’t suffer nearly as bad as folks on the East Fork of the Pigeon River in the Cruso area, several staff dealt with damage to their property, the boat house flooded and the dock washed away.
Replacing the dock will be more expensive than originally thought.
“At first I was thinking, oh, it’ll be maybe $25,000, but it is $64,000,” SoJourner said. “We have raised all but $18,000 of that.”
The dock will be delivered in about a week, meaning there’s a time crunch to raise the rest of that money.
SoJourner said that in the future, she hopes to continue to become even more outreach-focused and develop an environment that is welcoming to all people of all faiths. This includes building more facilities for lodging and dining, and perhaps maybe even a welcome center right off the main road.
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As a grandson of Reuben B. Robertson, Sr. (and a son of Reuben, Jr. and a great-grandson and namesake of Peter G. Thomson), who built Lake Logan, and a recent visitor to the Lake in my youth and an occasional one as an adult, I want to compliment Lauri and the Episcopal Church on the terrific job they have done in maintaining the character and update this wonderful place. Our family hopes to return for another reunion soon.
Peter Thomson Robertson
The Episcopal Church’s wonderful stewardship of Lake Logan for over 20 years has been a wonderful gift to both local folk and many of us who live elsewhere. My parents bought property at the mouth of McClure Creek just below the lake in 1950 which had been used used as a fishing cabin, and our family consequently over the decades spent every summer there—and several of us indeed settled and raised our families along the same creek and river. I myself have lived and raised my own family throughout the mid-Atlantic region, but now in my 72nd year still return with my adult children and four grandsons to enjoy the beauty and unspoiled river, lake and creek each summer and they, too, now treasure our family homestead the region’s charm and natural mountain grandeur. I am so grateful to the Episcopal Church for “saving the lake” that I provide an annual contribution and would encourage others to consider doing likewise.