Pictured is the main lodge at Lee Ford Camp in Ridgeway.
Lee Ford Camp is coming back to life, one project at a time.
Since 2016, partnerships and donations of money, materials and labor have been used to repair and upgrade the kitchen and bathroom in the main lodge, place gravel on trails, clear trees, improve a small cabin and more. The efforts are paying off with increased public use of the Ridgeway facility.
In the boys’ bunkhouse, a Harvest Foundation Pick Up the Pace! (PUP) grant was used recently to buy double bunk beds so the facility can serve an additional 16 campers. The money also was leveraged to raise another $8,000 from the Martinsville Kiwanis for the work.
Also, the deck area on the boys’ bunkhouse was upgraded, the entry was repaired and improved and the screen door to the building was replaced. Other repairs were made to driveways and parking areas Recently, The Harvest Foundation staff and two board members, Chairman David Stone and William Kirby, toured the camp to see the work being done there.
They saw the 1.5-acre lake, lodge, two bunkhouses, a small cabin, picnic tables, climbing/rappelling tower, sports areas and six primitive camping sites.
“It will never be Five Star but it’s very nice for what it is,” said Ricky Walker, referring to luxury hotels that earn Five-Star ratings.
Walker is the director of the ANCHOR Commission, which serves at-risk youth in the community and holds the deed to the 17-acre camp in Ridgeway.
The camp was created in the 1950s by a donation of land to the Martinsville Kiwanis Club from Heck and Mattie Ford in memory of their son, Lee Ford, who died in an Army training accident shortly after World War II. The Kiwanis Club and Charity League operated summer camps there for several years and have been consistent community partners with the camp, Walker said.
When the area’s economy declined and the Kiwanis Club’s membership shrank, it no longer could support the camp, he said. In 1999 the club deeded the camp to the ANCHOR Commission, and a major fundraising campaign was held to renovate the facility.
But by 2002, the camp’s use declined and its condition deteriorated. When Walker retired from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and joined ANCHOR in 2016, he set to work to improve the camp’s condition, he said.
Through partnerships with and support from area churches, civic groups, businesses and others, as well as labor from inmates of the Martinsville Sheriff’s Office, the camp facilities have been added onto and improved, rotting wood has been replaced, grounds have been cleaned up and the lodge kitchen was upgraded, among numerous other projects.
In a move typical of the partnerships being used to improve the camp, the boys’ beds that were replaced were donated to the HOPE Center’s new facility for women in Pittsylvania County. Men from the Axton center assembled the new bunkbeds at Lee Ford Camp and in return, they will get to use the camp later this summer.
Also, security has not been an issue at the camp since a Henry County Sheriff’s deputy moved into the former “staff house” near the entrance to the property. ANCHOR and a church helped fix up the house and the deputy and his family have made thousands of dollars worth of improvements to the home, Walker said.
“The Good Lord really has been looking after us since we’ve been here,” Walker said, explaining that whenever a need arises, so does a solution.
In 2018, the camp was rented 58 times and was host to nearly 2,000 people. The year before, the camp was rented 54 times and nearly every weekend between May and September. Four camp sessions were held for the first time since the mid-1990s, Walker said.
In all, 1,300 people used the facility in 2018, and 80 percent of them were under age 18, he said, adding that ANCHOR youth go to the camp often.
“Ninety percent of the referrals (booking use of the camp) are new people who came here for an event” and want to return with an activity or event of their own, Walker said.
The camp has hosted parties, reunions, Magna Vista High School JROTC Raider camps, holiday gatherings and more. Users are charged a $75 donation for use of the lodge and $25 per bunkhouse each night. All proceeds — roughly $7,000 to $9,000 a year — are used to provide electricity and maintain the facility.
Groups using the lake for activities such as swimming and boating must have a certified lifeguard present, Walker said.
This summer, about 40 youth from Tanzania will be there for a week through Teamwork Ministries, he said, adding that the goal is for them to build a new shelter at the camp if there is enough time to organize that effort.
There also is a climbing tower and high ropes course on the property. Walker said they were inspected this year for the first time since 2002 and it was determined that the ropes course’s cable connections on trees need work, at an estimated cost of $10,000 to $15,000.
Repairs and renovations to the camp are designed to serve the next generation of campers, Walker said.
“I want to get back to the 1970s-90s when it was used all the time,” he said.
Walker’s work at Lee Ford Camp came about through his job with ANCHOR but is not part of it, he said. Instead, “it’s a labor of love,” he said. “It’s a great asset of the area.”
“Thank you for your passion. Thank you for your hard work,” Harvest President Allyson Rothrock told Walker.