Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center: Lynchburg’s Outdoor ‘Third Space’

Concerned in 1950 about increasing neighborhood development in his Lynchburg community, local resident Bev Cosby asked, “Where will our children play?”

His answer? Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center, an urban oasis tucked away in the city’s Boonsboro neighborhood that has served as a touchstone for area kids for almost 75 years.

Since then, the 47 acres of property have operated as a greenspace, allowing children and adults alike to find play and comfort in the woods, trails and creeks that encompass the nature center.

Rooted in social justice efforts, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah opened its pools to the Black community when Lynchburg City chose to close instead of integrating in 1961. From there, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah has been a pillar to Lynchburg’s social justice efforts, serving the community through diverse, multi-generational, educational and accessible programming, including its popular summer camp.

A Community’s Third Space

This time of year, the smell of roasted marshmallows and burning fires waft through the air, and you can hear the joyful commotion of campers and counselors laughing, playing, swimming, fishing and flying down ziplines as the camp season is in full swing. Many children who come to camp find their first experiences in the outdoors, giving them a chance to build a lifelong connection with nature while they work on their leadership, communication, compassion and social skills.

In a day and age where work, school and home serve as our primary spaces, there’s an increasing need for a “third space” for community gathering and collaboration, which is exactly what Camp Kum-Ba-Yah has set out to accomplish.

“With any of our programs it’s about getting [people] engaged and active instead of just being passive,” said Gage McAngus, programs director. “We’ve increasingly seen the need for an outdoor experience. It’s meaningful and it’s accessible, and we love to carry on the legacy that’s been started here since 1950.”

While summer camp is the staple of Camp Kum-Ba-Yah, its expansion into outdoor programming, field trips, corporate retreats and community activities solidifies its importance within Lynchburg.

Accessibility to the Natural World

From creek studies and garden education sessions to ropes courses and swimming lessons, the camp is primarily focused on giving the public access to a welcoming space.

“We want the public to feel like this is their space, to be able to come out and enjoy it and walk in the woods,” said Executive Director Amy Bonnette.

For several years, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah has tapped into its scholarship fund, which allows children to come to summer camp regardless of their financial means. Whether it’s providing financial assistance or working with children and adults with physical or learning disabilities, accessibility remains at the core of Camp Kum-Ba-Yuh’s mission.

“Accessibility for us means not just age groups, but reaching folks as soon as they can be outdoors,” McAngus said.

A group of 8 kids fishing on a pier at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah

What’s Next

An emerging program at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah is Addison’s Amphitheater — an outdoor theater with a covered stage, terrace seating and wheelchair accessibility. The namesake of the amphitheater belongs to the daughter of John and Laura Morgan who lost their 8-year-old, Addison, to childhood cancer in 2022. Her legacy lives on as the program allows children to have a chance to connect and play among nature while bringing arts and theater to the grounds.

Addison’s Amphitheater is part of the second phase of the Together We Grow Capital Campaign for Camp Kum-Ba-Yah, which also includes building the Rosel and Elliot Schewel Education center, creating a bus loop, constructing a year-round retreat space and growing an endowment fund. The goal is to raise $1.77 million for the several programs that work on preserving and expanding the organization’s storied impact on the Lynchburg community.

For those looking to get involved, “any gift is a great gift,” Bonnette said. “I think the biggest thing too, for us, is that volunteers have built this camp… there’re so many people who have come before us and after us. The legacy of camp is growing, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

To learn more about Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center, visit its website here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts