LINDEN — Word is getting out about Linden’s new look.
After completing the first phase in a series of expansion and renovation projects, the Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center recently hosted the unveiling of the facility’s new “village” of housing units, common areas and meeting center.
The upgrades have generated a spike in first-time guests and positive reviews from returnees, said Jimmy Tucker, manager of Linden Valley.
“I feel like it is a new era for our camp,” said Tucker. “The changes we’ve made are giving us a great deal of momentum. We’ve seen a lot of people who are wanting to come back to camp, to do camp again, because it’s changing how camp is done. Also, in the past few months, we’ve had about 12 brand new groups that have never been to Linden that are calling us, specifically because they heard about (the changes).”
The recent expansions include the new Birch Cabin Village — four housing units that can hold 16 people per cabin — and the Legacy Hall meeting facility.
“Our vision is to offer people an entirely new brand of camping,” said Tucker. “We want to replace the (common mental image) of camp, with the old style of cinder-block rooms with screens on the windows and one light bulb hanging down in the center of the room.
“Most of us grew up and went to camp like that, at some point in time, but our goal is to put a whole new spin on it.”
Tucker said that those who visit the Birch Cabins will be entering a place that is open and safe. “It’s a place where people can walk in and feel comfortable. It’s airy, it’s bright and there is plenty of sleeping space and plenty of bath space.”
The Birch Village includes four brand-new cabins, with eight bunk beds in each cabin. It also includes the Legacy Hall gathering center, which can hold approximately 85 people for large-group settings, such as worship times and meetings.
“The new buildings are completely different than the dark, closed-in cabins that most of us grew up with,” Tucker said. “It’s the complete opposite.”
A group of students from Austin Peay State University visited Linden in August, and were the first guests who were able to utilize both the new cabins (which opened in June) and Legacy Hall (which opened a few weeks later). Stacy Murphree, the Collegiate Ministry Specialist at Austin Peay, said she was amazed by the changes and upgrades.
“As someone who has been going to Linden Valley many years now, I absolutely loved the new cabins,” Murphree said. “I love the community aspect of them and the way they are all connected. It was a perfect retreat spot for college students.”
Tucker said it was fitting that the Austin Peay students would be the first to have the “new-Linden” experience.
“It kind of brings everything full circle because the very first group to ever utilize the conference centers, both Carson and Linden, was a collegiate Baptist group more than 70 years ago.”
Tucker noted that Legacy Hall features a kitchen unit that includes “the largest refrigerator that I could get.” It also has a large grill and microwave oven that give groups the option of having a meal or two on their own in addition to the meals provided in the dining hall.
Murphree said the meeting area was a big hit with her students.
“The meeting space of Legacy Hall was a huge plus,” said Murphree. “We were able to do all of our worship times, meetings, trainings, etc., right there in the cabin village area. And the view of Linden Valley from the new cabins is beautiful.”
Legacy Hall is named in honor of WMU, Tucker said. “When WMU came alongside us to build this meeting space, we decided to call it Legacy Hall as a way of recognizing their commitment.”
WMU was responsible for the initial vision of the TBC conference centers, and ultimately spearheaded the construction of both camps in 1949, using the theme “we must have a place.”
Murphree said the significance of being the first group to have access to both Birch Cabins and Legacy Hall was not lost on her or her students.
“Our student leaders were very excited to use the space — and they were honored to be the first group to be able to use it,” she said. “They were already wanting to come back and talking about ways we could use it as a retreat space in the future.”
Murphree said Linden Valley checks all the boxes for group camping trips.
“It’s perfect for any age group, but I think the community style of the new cabins is especially appealing to students,” she said. “The aspect of community building and belonging is so important to students, and I feel the new cabins provide a chance to live that out with the housing, meeting space and hang-out space all right together in one village.
“The deck areas around the housing cabins and meeting space were perfect for morning quiet times, small group discussions, or just spaces for students to gather in between meetings,” she added. “We even designed a prayer experience for our campus one evening on the outside deck areas.”
Having a place that is well-suited for students is a development that happened by design, not by luck, Tucker said.
“Our focus was to go after the demographic of college groups,” said Tucker, “and to have a place where they would be able to do retreats — whether that’s leadership or student discipleship or anything else. We wanted to offer a place where they could get away, do it affordably, and have great accommodations.”
Tucker noted that the pandemic, in some ways, shaped some of the concepts and ideas for the new Linden design. He believes that new guests will certainly notice the differences.
“In the post-COVID world, things have changed so much,” he said. “And we knew that camp — or people’s concept of camp — had to change, too. We knew we needed to be able to have spaces where people feel comfortable and safe, and where they can relax and enjoy themselves.
“We feel like we’re headed on the right track,” he said. “This is our first phase and we’re excited about what’s ahead. It’s going to be a whole new camp design. It’s camping of the future.” B&R