Mud Camp unites Memphis-area kids of different races, religions in fun

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“That was so awesome! I can’t wait to do it again!” Jocelyn said as she scampered off towards the black tubular slide.

The slide, one of two, sits atop a sloped embankment and deposits children, like Jocelyn, into the caramel brown waters of the Mud Hole (or Mud Pit, depending on your preference) — the main attraction of Episcopal Day Camp, a.k.a. Mud Camp.

“The name of our camp is Episcopal Day Camp,” event manager and camp director John Dreyfus said. “But because of the Mud Hole we’ve become known as Mud Camp and kind of embraced that name.”

EDC started about 40 years ago at Holy Communion Episcopal Church in Memphis. However, in the early ’80s, St. Columba Conference and Retreat Center was built on about 125 acres of forested Bartlett land, and the camp moved there.

The Mud Hole has been at St. Columba longer than most people can remember, but small improvements began to be made about 15 years ago with the addition of a fire hose atop one of the embankments.

Then, within the past 10 years, a white tarp was laid down on the opposite side of the 600-square-foot play area in order to soften the bumpy ride that had been grooved into the earth for years and years by excited campers.

Two slides were installed in the past five years, and just two years ago rope netting was strung in between the slides on the bank for kids to climb as if they were pirates ascending to a crow’s nest.

Other activities include a 150- to 200-foot water slide, a lake to cool off in, a hike through a shaded creek, arts and crafts, and myriad games that have been camp staples for years.

And then there’s Mud Day, the final day of camp, when normal activities are set aside for special mud-themed events, culminating in an Olympiad-like tournament of wholesome mud games.

“The fact that we’re outdoors all the time, messy, doing things that kids love to do,” Dreyfus said, “sets EDC apart from other camp experiences.”

St. Columba’s Executive Director Brad Thompson wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment.

“Very dissimilarly to other camps, we spend the entire day outside,” he said. “The relevance is that it’s truly the way fun used to be, which is: Go outside with your friends and have a good time exploring and swimming in the lake and that sort of stuff.

“Precisely why we’re relevant and why we continue to grow is because it’s a starkly different experience than anybody really has anymore. And I think that when you are able to teach [children] that the outdoors are safe, the outdoors are fun, swimming in the Mud Hole is, yes, dirty, but it’s also an adventure — when you’re able to teach them that, they’re learning to value something that’s more simple, but also more promising as it pertains to really growing up as a young person surrounded by technology.”

In addition to the experience of the outdoors, EDC tries to give some kids a camp experience they normally wouldn’t get through an Overnight Outreach program that began about 13 years ago.

“[EDC] realized that, as a community ministry, we couldn’t effectively say that we represent a good resource for all Memph-ians,” Thompson said, “because there are certainly some Memphians that couldn’t get their kids here every day or couldn’t afford to send their kids every day. So the Overnight Outreach Camp was launched to be able to provide that opportunity for kids so that we truly could embody our vision to be a place where Memphians send their kids.”

The camp is racially and socioeconomically diverse.Thompson said, “We think that we’re growing because we truly look like the rest of Memphis.”

EDC is accepting of kids from all types of backgrounds and religions, even though the camp is built around a Christian experience.

“Providing a Christian environment, one of supportive role models of daily songs and worship that really enliven the Christian spirit, is what I believe we’re here to do,” said Thompson. “We invite some local clergy and youth ministers to come and give simple lessons about being a good person, stewardship of the environment, caring for others, because we certainly realize that, as a Christian camp, we want to be serving those who are non-Christians as much as we are serving those who are Christians. So we provide an accepting environment where all kids can learn and grow regardless of their family’s religious tradition.”

The camp’s enrollment has set a new record every year for the past four years and expects to see similar numbers as last year.

Currently, 630 kids are enrolled, but new applications are accepted everyday, said Dreyfus, with a week left of camp. Rising first- through sixth-graders are eligible to be campers. Kids who are rising seventh-grader or older have the opportunity to be counselors.

Although camp is halfway through, Thompson says that he’ll enjoy whatever’s left of camp.

“Serving kids is one of the best things I get to do,” he said. “We’re excited for the summer every year, and we want to continue to challenge ourselves to get better and better at what we do.”

For more information, visit the camp’s web page at saintcolumbamemphis.org/camp/ or call Dreyfuss at (601) 917-0794.


Written by Mac Trammell, special to the Express. Contact him at mactram94@gmail.com.