John Denver sang that West Virginia was almost heaven, but a better candidate would be a valley located about fifteen miles north of Williamsport. This amazing piece of God’s country is surrounded by some of the most beautiful hills anywhere. Because of the topography, there is virtually no ambient light, making the stars brighter at night than anywhere else in Pennsylvania. It is almost like God wanted people to come to just such a spot to see for themselves what the Psalmist meant by the first verse of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.”
Thus, it might have been providence that in 1946, four men took sixteen boys on a weekend camping trip to this valley on Loyalsock Creek. It turned into something more than just a camping trip, as the boys began to open up about their lives and the men realized what an opportunity this kind of venue could bring to young people. They dreamed of a camp where the teaching of God’s word would be inserted into a daily camp experience.
Out of that dream came Camp Susque, which on September 16th and 17th will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. It is committed to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ through His creation and His Word. Choosing to name it Camp Susque, as opposed to a religious name, was with the intent of reaching beyond the walls of the church. Through three-quarters of a century and their incredible impact in a vast number of ways on our region, they have certainly succeeded.
One of the features of Camp Susque’s success through the decades was never becoming complacent but always continuing to grow. This was not just in numbers but in the variety of programs that they continually offer. Today these consist of three-week summer programs of Boys’ Camp and Girls’ Camp, plus Wilderness Trips, Young Explorers Camp for younger youth, and two Family Camps.
Yet, Camp Susque is also now a year-round ministry providing retreat experiences for churches, youth groups, and other educational organizations. In addition, Susque holds numerous year-round programs like Winter Camps, homeschool classes, field trips for local schools, and volunteer work weekends. The expression that they have something for everyone is not a hyperbole when it comes to Camp Susque.
Its reputation, uniqueness, and diversity of programs are why it is not just extremely popular in our local area but has attracted campers from ten states as far away as Texas.
It is amazing the variety of activities this camp provides. From the standard camping experience of hiking, campfire talks, and outdoor games, they have included fishing, riflery, photography, rocketry, pottery, and even astronomy. They might be the only camp in the USA that has an observatory, albeit in need of repair.
Since COVID, the entire camping industry is in need of repair. Some estimates run as high as 90 percent of the summer camps in the United States suffered major hurdles in continuing their operation or were not able to open back up at all after the COVID disruptions. Camp Susque likewise suffered, but through tremendous flexibility in finding ways to assist the community, they have kept the ship afloat.
One factor that has certainly worked for Camp Susque is the heritage of leadership. In 2015, Peter Swift became director, just as his father and grandfather had served before him, dating back to the camp’s founding. But this was not nepotism, as the board of directors did a nationwide search for a director in 2015. By every measurement, Peter Swift was unquestionably the best person for the job. It was Peter’s steady hand on the helm that kept Camp Susque afloat during those difficult years of 2020-21 during COVID.
Peter had spent his life involved with Camp Susque, starting out as a little camper himself back in 1991, then serving on staff, following that in various leadership positions, and then for 16 years as a board member. In 2015 when the position of director arose, and the search committee kept coming back to Peter, he was not tempted. At the time, he was doing extremely well both professionally and financially in his executive position at Liberty Mountain, an outdoor gear distributor. But then, the company required a relocation to Utah, and Peter and his wife Lindsay did not want to move their family out West. The Swifts realized that God was pointing them in a different direction — 47 Susque Camp Road, Trout Run, PA 17771.
To learn more about Camp Susque, visit their website: http://www.susque.org. And come celebrate their milestone anniversary during the Harvest Festival and Trail Run on Saturday, September 17th. It will be fun for everyone!