Camp Dogwood: Like a 'stationary cruise' for vision-impaired residents

Established in 1967 by the N.C. Lions Club, Camp Dogwood in Sherrills Ford is a recreation center for blind and vision-impaired residents of our state.

Except for the lovely lake breezes, a visit to Camp Dogwood on a fall afternoon does little to suggest the summer camping experience there. The boats, wearing their winter coverings, bob lazily by the dock.

In the summer, the boat dock is a popular hangout, the camp's two boats - one pontoon and one speed boat - running continually from morning to evening. Camp residents enjoy cruising, skiing, tubing and even kneeboarding, said Susan King, who recently finished her first summer as director.

"I was surprised at the number of campers ... who wanted to try tubing for the first time, or waterskiing," said King. Although the campers' average age is around 50, they are nonetheless adventurous. Once they've cleared the secluded cove where Camp Dogwood is located, many a camper has been known to shout, "Faster!" to the boat's driver.

Campers in a more leisurely mood enjoy activities crafts, nature walks, ping pong, reading, movies and music.

When she was interviewed for the job in the spring, the Lions told King that Camp Dogwood is one of the best-kept secrets in North Carolina, but they don't want it to be.

"The whole program is such a gift to North Carolina," said King, referring not only to those who participate in the camp, but also to caregivers and family members who want to see them happy. To spread the word, King established a Facebook page for Camp Dogwood, posting hundreds of photos from the 10 week-long summer sessions.

Many vision-impaired people were adults when they became disabled, she said, through injury, diabetes or other diseases.

"I think that disabled adults are underserved in our community," said King, who is also a certified State Games director for Special Olympics.

Perhaps that belief, and her experience working with disabled adults, inspired her vision of Camp Dogwood as more of a "stationary cruise," as she phrases it, than a camp in the traditional sense. This past summer, King scheduled seminars on a variety of topics, from guide dogs to music and even painting. She turned the campus snack bar into the Lions' Den Café, with games and music as well as the refreshments, making it more of a hangout.

Next summer, she hopes to add health and wellness seminars, computer classes and mobility training.

But unlike at a traditional kids' camp, the campers don't have to stay busy. Many prefer to enjoy the serenity of the camp's setting. Each guest house has its own lounge area and screened porch. A nature trail winds through the woods.

And, of course, there's the lake.