After looking at over 40 different locations, Westminster Presbytery purchased the property for a camp and conference center in early 1971. The founding Director, A.T. Brown and his family, spent many Sundays providing tours and talking about the future of this new ministry. In the summer of 1971, the first summer camp was held with three weeks of programs for Junior High and Senior High youth. These campers stayed in platform tents and helped to clear trees and brush to provide a road down to the river. The early campers affectionately called the site “Camp Pic-a-Tic”; the name “Cedarkirk” was officially adopted later. In 1972, the Director’s residence was completed (now the renovated Retreat House) and construction on Cedar Lodge was finished in 1973. The founding leadership wisely focused on making the facilities air-conditioned and adult friendly so that the camp could serve more than just children and youth in the summer camp. With the completion of Cedar Lodge, churches began to come on retreat every weekend and the tradition of family camps began. A capital campaign in the mid-seventies enabled the construction of the swimming pool, bath house, eight cabins, a sewage treatment plant, and the surfacing of the main camp road. In 1977, the Program Pavilion opened for group activities and became a hub for summer camp program. By the end of its first decade, much of the Cedarkirk physical plant had been constructed and its retreat and summer camp ministries were thriving.
In the 1980s, the program continued to grow serving hundreds of campers each summer with a focus on small group camping. Numerous church pastors and educators volunteered to serve as directors for each week of camp. Church family retreats were a staple for the weekends. Due to the high demand for lodge space and the start of joint ministry with West Florida Presbytery, Pine Lodge was built in 1982 which increased Cedarkirk’s capacity. Several improvements to the facilities included the Westminster Woods campground area, the Village E bathhouse, the maintenance shop, and recreation spaces like Amory Field, the zip lines, and the low rope courses. At the end of this decade, A.T. and Doris Brown retired, Tampa Bay and Peace River Presbyteries formed from Southwest Florida Presbytery and Cedarkirk was incorporated.
In the 1990s, Cedarkirk moved to a model of Executive and Program Directors. The summer camp program continued to grow and many new non-summer programs were offered. In 1997, the High Ropes Course was added offering a new element of adventure to our older campers and adult groups. Early in the decade, the property for Joshua Creek was purchased in DeSoto County and several buildings were established to provide programming at the new site. A number of adventure programs were offered at Joshua Creek and several churches held weekend events at the site. At the end of this decade, the Joshua Creek property was sold.
Early in its fourth decade, the Kirk Kabins were constructed primarily by the gifts and labor of volunteers. New recreation activities included the climbing wall, zip line towers, and a black-light volleyball court. New mission oriented programming was introduced serving a wide range of individuals. The Director’s residence was renovated to become the Retreat House, an ideal accommodation option for smaller group retreats.
Today, Cedarkirk serves over 1,000 children, youth, and adults each summer and provides a ministry of hospitality to thousands coming on retreat. Its non-summer programming provides a diverse offering of events for all ages. In 2011, we opened the first of several Retreat Cottages designed for smaller groups. Cedarkirk has been a unique Presbyterian camp and conference center in that the vast majority of its guests have come and continue to come from the churches it serves. This relationship with the local church is critical and the staff and Board are always looking for new ways to be a resource.
As we look to the future, Cedarkirk is moving forward with both additions to its facility and program. Regardless of these updates and improvements, the staff and Board at Cedarkirk remain committed to keeping this a place apart to build up the body of Christ in love. Our uniqueness lies in our beautiful setting and a dedicated ministry of hospitality. Cedarkirk has been blessed over the years and we rejoice at the blessing so many have been to this place. It continues to be a place apart where all can come for programs of study, worship, fellowship, and service. May it continue to strengthen community and lift up the loving grace of God for many more years. Thank you for your support!