One of the iconic staples in our Christian camping toolbox is the hiking trails that lead guests and campers on a journey to enjoy and explore God’s creation. But some campers interpret the very idea of a long walk as a boring activity. Does that make hikes irrelevant for effective ministry?
Keep reading as guest blogger Jim Fletemeyer shares his thoughts and questions about this cultural shift.
To what degree are your camp’s trails used these days? Are they as popular now as ever? If not, why not?
These are interesting questions in an impatient age that demands more stimulating, non-exhaustive gratification. Perhaps it’s time to consider what else a trail can do to build anticipation, excitement and memories back into the camp experience.
A typical trail may simply “make the rounds,” leading campers about the property, or it may lead “into the wild,” departing the physical camp to enter nature’s more glorious domain. Remote trails are most successful when a rewarding destination awaits the journey’s end or when hikers encounter special or unsuspected features and events along the way. But what if those elements are not inherent, but are limited, spread too far apart or nonexistent? Could we skillfully add to the experience without harming the native setting?
Without question, our first inclination should be to capitalize on the trail’s natural amenities. We should ask ourselves, Where are those teachable moments that nature creates that give us pause? Have we witnessed them ourselves, and do we underscore their significance or legacy, as a part of the trail’s history? Then we might ask, Could other elements be added that would upgrade or embellish the journey, enhancing the experience for the next generation?
Part of what’s gotten “lost in the woods” may be the adventure. Today’s campers say, “Been there, done that,” before stepping off the bus. They may have actually walked the trail or have some other understanding of what it must be like that pre-empts the exercise altogether. Many will say, “That’s boring,” before ever having hiked a path.
The Encarta Dictionary defines a hike as “a pleasurable long walk”, but in today’s vernacular, being told to “take a hike” sadly, has more than one meaning. The very idea of a long walk can have a negative connotation with campers today, often interpreted as a boring activity. Their lives are saturated with forms of instant fulfillment, and the idea of waiting on or extending the time it takes to conclude an activity invites anxiety. How can we revive our trails to produce a better experience, where heat, humidity and time have become a diminished concern?
Interpretive signage, photovoltaic lighting, interactive speakers, CD-Rom technology and GPS orienteering have given the National Park Service a leg up in giving trail exploration a new dimension. Our trails need to inject creative but sensitive forms of stimulus to invoke a renewed sense of value to experience the journey. We need to ask if our “off-trail retreats,” our “prayer-and-ponder stations” and our “routed Bible verses” are enough these days to inspire memorable contemplation. Have we done the best we can with setting the stage along the way?
This is not an article about answers or solutions. This is an article about questions and brainstorming. So now it’s your turn: To what degree are your camp’s trails used these days? Are they as popular now as ever? If not, why not?