Castle Bluff is a recreational camp situated in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Spanning 80 acres in Newton County, Castle Bluff is equipped with cabins, a large meeting room, an industrial kitchen, a mess hall for dining and a large new Lodge which has recently been built. (see more below).
Hiking, rappelling, rock wall climbing, Frisbee golf, basketball, a game room, a Gaga Ball Arena and riding a zip line are some of the activities available on site at the camp. Also, the nearby Buffalo National River offers canoeing, swimming and lots of hiking trails and wildlife viewing.
History of The Bluff
In the late 1970s, groups of teenagers with the parachurch ministry Young Life began to overwhelm Arkansas State Parks with their camping numbers. Their leaders began to pray for a new low-cost camping option, a place to take large groups of students out of their usual setting so that they might hear the gospel – the story of Jesus – and encounter God in the midst of His creation.
An answer to that prayer came in 1979 when some land in Newton County, Arkansas, was donated to Young Life. At first, the property served as a campground for groups of students, but in 1981 construction began on bathrooms. Electricity also came to The Bluff that year.
The journey of the construction of the camp was an experience shared by the students in Young Life. A Camp for Kids Built by Kids was the motto at Castle Bluff in the 80’s. During these years, Shiloh Hall was built. This building served as meeting room and bunkhouse, so that the female campers got to upgrade from tents. Next the Bat Cave was roughly finished out to provide a rustic shelter from the elements for the boys.
In the 90’s, Castle Bluff saw more changes. New buildings were added, including the Cliffhanger, which has replaced Shiloh Hall as the camp meeting spot, and also houses the camp kitchen and dining facility. Castle Bluff became its own nonprofit entity during this season, which enables funds to be raised directly for its development.
The new millennium brought to Castle Bluff the huge blessing of its first onsite caretakers. Mickey and Jolie Hickelheim greatly improved Castle Bluff, bringing it into a new era of growth. Many different churches began to use the camp as a result of having full time hosts. Also, Mickey and Jolie made changes to the camp all year long, (before their arrival, maintenance and development was limited to scheduled work weekends). They built a beautiful house that now welcomes campers near the entrance to the camp with its sprawling porch and rocking chairs. This home and all of their hard work has been a wonderful gift to the each of the caretakers who have filled their shoes since.
More recently, Greg and Dana Ingram have served as Castle Bluff’s caretakers. They served this camp well for six years, (longer than anyone else) and under their direction many great things happened. They earned the respect of all of our neighbors and even got us involved with the Newton County Food Bank, which has enabled us to be a positive force county wide. Under their watch, Summit Lodge was built which has enabled us to host different kinds of camps that we ever could before. In its short history this lodge, because it is can be used all year long, has hosted many Men’s and Women’s retreats and family camps. It also designed to be used for couple’s events so that we can strengthen marriages. We’re excited to see what the future holds for Castle Bluff as people come from all generations to enjoy the camp.
Most recently, after the Ingrams had moved back to civilization, God has graciously provided a new camp director. Paul Smith is leaving his job at Falcon Jet and will officially begin his new adventure June 1, 2017. (He already is spending most of his weekends at Castle Bluff.) Paul has been deeply involved in the ministry focusing for students being mentored through STEP Ministry at Jabali Ranch just down the hill from Castle Bluff and his new role at Castle Bluff will insure that these two ministries will work together in our similar missions.