Renovations brighten Ursa Retreat House's future

Posted: Dec. 6, 2017 3:00 pm

People connected with the ongoing renovation of the Ursa Retreat House deserve a tip of the hat.

Their efforts in upgrading the popular summer camp and retreat used by area churches -- not to mention the public for weddings and family events -- will enhance a facility that provides a definitive service in West-Central Illinois.

The 17 local churches that share ownership of the 7-acre wooded site have been busy for more than a year with fundraising projects designed to finance $50,000 worth of renovation for the property's older buildings. Board President Brennan Reed said this should be a signal to the community of the importance of their commitment to local youths.

Ground was recently broken for a bunkhouse that will eventually house 28 campers, plus provide storage and refuge areas. The goal is to have this portion of the renovation project completed by June. Ensuing tasks will involve the purchase of new bunk beds, demolishing an existing craft building, converting the current bunkhouse into a new craft site and assorted other property repairs and upgrades.

The camp, which is just north of Ursa, also includes a three-acre lake for fishing and paddle boats, a basketball court, sand volleyball court and an in-ground pool.

The Ursa site has been a centerpiece for assorted warm-weather camps and retreats for more than 60 years. Some of the upgrades are designed to not only modernize the property but to better organize the overall facility. For example, Reed said the new bunkhouse will keep those staying at the site in closer proximity.

The Ursa Retreat House has a rich history, dating to 1955 when the idea occurred to the late Rev. Don Schmidt, then pastor of the Zion United Church of Christ in Ursa.

While out driving, Schmidt had noticed what was a summer home was not being used, situated within a picturesque backdrop that included a nearby lake.

Schmidt stopped his car, walked up to what was described as a "rustic structure" and began dreaming about its possibilities to serve as the hub of a Christian retreat.

Not long afterward, the property was secured and plans put in motion for the creation of what is now the Ursa Retreat House and accompanying amenities. For decades, the site has served as a spiritual and social retreat, for both members of various churches and the public.

The renovation underway will help the Ursa Retreat House continue that outreach.