WESTFIELD — Home to two state parks, countless hiking trails and numerous campgrounds, Surry and Stokes counties are rich in natural retreats. One local camp has created a unique space in nature, with a worldwide clientele.
The Vineyard Camp, located on Vineyard Road in Westfield, was started by Dean Barley. As a recent graduate of a seminary program in Wake Forest, Barley had an interest in working with impoverished populations, guiding them to a better life through Christ. “I felt the doors closing in that direction,” said Barley.
Renting a property in Virginia, the camp opened in 1983. Two years later when he was repeatedly pointed to the North Carolina property, he “felt it was the hand of God.”
The former Susan Barbara Jones property had become a camp in 1963, but was in dire need of repairs. A naming contest for the campers revealed The Vineyard as top choice. “The name was a perfect fit,” said Barley. “Christ is the vine and we are the branches.”
Along with the Christian foundation, the focus is on sports, the campers spending 10 hours each week within their chosen field. The 42 different majors to choose from include fencing, equitation, golf, tennis, archery and more. Campers also select electives each afternoon, giving them an opportunity to learn a variety of skills. “We seek out the top coaches in each specialty,” said Barley.
“It takes three weeks to try all the camp activities,” said Barley, noting that many campers do stay for multiple weeks.
For long-term campers, weekend trips happen between camp sessions, visiting Washington D.C., the beach and theme parks. Many campers visit Pilot Mountain shops and restaurants during their weekend outings, and attend church in town.
During the course of running the camp, Barley applied for American Camp Association accreditation. “We aced all seven categories for ACA accreditation,” Barley explained.
After gaining permission, he briefly used the perfect score in his advertising, and international campers began coming to Westfield. Now 40 different countries including France, Argentina, Mexico and China are represented on a weekly basis.
According to Barley, once word got out about the top quality camp experience, children of the most wealthy and powerful families from across the globe began attending The Vineyard. “It was never my plan to cater to the elite,” Barley said.
Working toward his goal of creating a “microcosm of the kingdom of God,” Barley offers scholarships to economically-challenged families. He explained that people of all races and economic statuses are welcome in heaven, so they also are welcome at his camp.
One camper, Greg Ory Miles, took a break from body conditioning to share what he likes most about the camp. “I like the atmosphere. There is no gossip or drama.”
He added that most of the campers form strong friendships, staying in touch throughout the year and returning each summer.
The high percentage of international campers led to a need for international staff. As the only camp in the U.S. granted the authority to issue DS29 documents for travel visas, The Vineyard is able to recruit foreign staff more easily, according to Barley.
With the high level of adventure and sport activities found at the camp, safety is an important factor. The counselor to camper ratio is three to five, and additional, well-trained staff head each of the specialty activities.
“We are the second largest employer in Stokes County,” said Barley, “with 250 people on payroll annually.”
Now in the season’s third week, registrations are still open for the remainder of the summer. For more information about The Vineyard Camp, visit www.vineyardcamp.com.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.