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Camp Piankatank dedicates three new lodges

Above, those who attended the November 15 Camp Piankatank celebration include, from left, Eddie Stratton, Virginia Baptist General Association treasurer;  Buzz Harris of Beechwood Builders, general contractor; Bob Bass, Camp Piankatank Commission member; Chris Harris of Beechwood Builders; John V. Upton Jr., Virginia Baptist General Association executive director; Reggie McDonnough,  former executive director for Virginia Baptist General Association; and Edward Harrow Sr., chairman of the Camp Piankatank Commission and fund-raising chairman. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Jim White
Editor, Religious Herald

Camp Piankatank in Hartfield celebrated the construction of three new lodges with a dedication service and open house on November 15.

The new structures differ substantially from their predecessors in their larger sizes and in their increased functionality. Planners believe the lodges will complement the natural beauty of the setting and provide an ideal retreat space for adults as well as children and youth campers.

The 15-member Piankatank Camp and Conference Center Commission is determined to keep the camping ministry, for which the camp is renowned, the central focus. Last summer nearly 700 children attended the camp where Steve and Niki Gourley, who met and were married at Piankatank, are directors.

Still, commission members believe the site and the state demographics make Piankatank a very attractive destination for adult retreats. According to demographic figures, 70% of Virginia Baptists live within a three-hour drive of the camp, making it easily accessible to most.


In October of 2007, the Baptist Commission unveiled plans for a three-story hotel-type retreat center and a camping master plan that included five lodges. Last year, however, the commission decided to delay construction of the retreat center and move ahead to build three modern lodges. Each lodge has two wings, and each wing  provides space for 16 campers and two counselors who have their own room.

The cost of the three lodges, including extensive sitework, was $1.2 million. Although the entire amount has been pledged, Eastern Virginia Bankshares provided a loan that allowed Beechwood Builders of Deltaville to begin construction.

At the dedication ceremony, commission chairman Edward Harrow Sr. introduced dignitaries and distinguished guests, which included Reggie McDonough, former executive director of the BGAV, and Bobby Ukrop, whose family has contributed generously to Piankatank through the years.

Hunter Riggins provided a historical perspective, recalling that the camp began as a dream of George Kissinger, a pastor in the Gloucester area. With assistance from others, he was able to purchase the camp, which is on a bend in the Piankatank River just west of the Mathews Bridge in Hartfield.

Twelve-acre Berkley Island, just off the shore from the camp, was added to the property in 1961 after it was learned that Maryland investors were interested in turning the island into a gambling casino.

The purchase was unusual in that Kissinger went to the Middlesex County Courthouse in Saluda, not knowing what he would do when he arrived. After waiting some time with no sense of purpose, he prepared to leave and at that point met Herschel Shackleford, a wealthy businessman. When he asked Kissinger what he was doing at the courthouse, the pastor told his story about the casino. Shackleford withdrew his checkbook and said, “Go buy it!”

Virginia Baptists later assumed the camp loan from Kissinger and purchased what has become Piankatank Camp and Conference Center. McDonough led the Virginia Baptist Mission Board to establish the commission to determine how the property can best be used.

Following the dedication message delivered by John Upton on November 15, guests walked to the nearest lodge to tour the facility.

The next building phase calls for construction of the retreat center, a three-story hotel on the river bank with three floors above ground on the river side and two above ground on the camp side. The hotel will include dining rooms, conference rooms and about 40 guest rooms offering awe-inspiring river views.

posted 12.16.2009

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