Often, the facilities are older and intentionally simple, meaning, in some cases, shared bathrooms, single beds, no television or telephones in the rooms.
In an increasingly technological age, that leaves the management of Presbyterian camps and conference centers facing questions such as “What about wireless?” and “Can I get a cell phone signal” and “Will my room be air conditioned?”
Those improvements can be expensive. They also can undercut part of what makes these places feel special — a sense of natural beauty, of simplicity, of slowing down the frantic pace.
“It needs to be clean and comfortable,” said Debra Hepler, executive director of Ghost Ranch Conference Center. “I don’t think it needs to be plush. But more and more, people want a private bathroom.”
At Montreat Conference Center, in the mountains of North Carolina, free wireless service is being offered in certain locations and a cell tower is anticipated, although “it’s not without controversy,” said Pete Peery, the conference center’s new president. But with a college nearby, “the town is determined it needs to happen, and finally it’s a safety matter,” with hikers and the college wanting an emergency-alert plan.
At the same time, “there’s a debate that rages about how much to renovate Assembly Inn. The question is, ‘How fancy do you make it?’ … Do we air condition it, do we not?’ That has not been decided. We know we need a capital campaign to fix facilities,” but the economic recession has pushed that off for now.
At Stony Point Conference Center, “we are wireless in about 80 percent of the campus, but we spend next to no money on it,” because of a technologically-adept staffer, said Rick Ufford-Chase, who is co-director of the center along with his wife, Kitty. “I’d like to have more double beds on campus than single beds,” but there’s not likely to be private baths for each room. “We are what we are.”