- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

ST. PAUL, Ind. (AP) - Out in the northwest corner of Decatur County lies a place that’s largely unknown within the county itself.

Oddly enough, this hideaway of natural splendor is anything but secret to the rest of the world. From Spain and Hong Kong they come; from France and Ireland; from England, Australia and Wales - year round - to ride horses, go canoeing, create arts and crafts, to go tower climbing, zip lining and mountain biking, to practice archery and riflery, and to play rugby, soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, football and any other sport one can think of.

This not-so-secret international place is enclosed by acre after acre of woods, with hiking trails winding in between, plenty of spots to fish and swim, and a river running through it all.

And WHERE, exactly, might one find this clandestine, international attraction? Better yet, what IS this place?

One need go no further than St. Paul, Decatur County, to find the Flat Rock River YMCA Camp. Camp executive director Don Sheppard is glad to welcome all comers for a free tour of the grounds and facilities.

According to Sheppard, Flat Rock comprises 240 acres of land. The facility welcomes some 8,000 visitors a year, most of them school-aged kids and teens, including a variety of school corporations, special-needs groups, church groups and other organizations. Many of those kids and groups, Sheppard explained, come from Indianapolis, while others come from places all around the world, with precious few coming from Decatur County itself.

“We see kids from all walks of life,” the executive director told the Daily News (https://bit.ly/1lfViap ).

Sheppard took the Daily News to view some of the facility’s cabins and “yurts,” along with its dining facility (which boasts a multitude of international flags hanging from the rafters) and “Alumni Lodge.” At the Flat Rock Nature Center, Sheppard introduced the Daily News to “Monty the Python” (a live, slithery orange snake) and an adorable rabbit that appeared eager for kids to start stopping by for handfuls of free snacks.

A of special-needs kids was braving Flat Rock’s “Alpine Tower,” a tall, simple structure built of logs. It looks like something one might find at a military boot camp, with a variety of handholds and ladders built into and extending between its planks, and a high viewing deck built at the very top.

Flat Rock outdoor education coordinator Katie Teal stood beneath and slightly behind the tower, with outdoor education staff member Ben Carson beside her. Both staff members were harnessed to a climber by a long rope, extending up and onto the tower itself. As Teal and Carson provided instruction and moral support, the two climbers - both securely harnessed and wearing helmets - made their way up, both thoroughly engaged and challenged.

Sheppard pointed out that no child at Flat Rock is ever forced to do anything they don’t want to do. That doesn’t mean they’re not challenged, though, Sheppard added. Flat Rock’s staff, however, works from a “Challenge by Choice” philosophy.

In regards to Decatur County, Sheppard characterized the camp as the area’s “best-kept secret.” ”We just don’t have as much interest or attendance from Greensburg and Decatur County,” he said.

“Part of the problem is the fact that we’re so secluded,” he added, explaining that, in regards to Decatur County, the camp’s seclusion is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. “It’s not like people from this area can just drive by and see our camp in passing.”

Flat Rock program director Kristen Evans has lived on site for two years. The Avon native touted Flat Rock as a camp that offers campers a great deal of flexibility compared to other, similar camps.

“At most camps,” she said, “the kids’ schedules and activities are planned in advance. Our kids get a lot more choice in scheduling. They get to choose from a big list, so they get a lot of variety.”

Flat Rock operates on the YMCA’s Four-Core Value system, Evans added: Honesty; Caring; Respect; Responsibility.

“Our goal,” she continued, “is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirits, minds and bodies for all.”

She was quick to add, however, that Flat Rock is strictly non-denominational and welcomes individuals from all backgrounds. During camp sessions, the facility starts each morning by holding chapel. The gathering, Evans explained, incorporates readings and songs based on the Four-Core Value System.

“A lot of people think that you can’t really see any genuine changes in kids in one week (of camp),” Evans said. “But you absolutely can. To anyone who thinks that, I invite them to come spend a week with us.”

“Flat Rock provides young people with a safe environment to unplug from their technology,” Sheppard said. “Kids get to experience hands-on learning opportunities in the outdoors.”

He added, “A young person gazing up at the night sky and then inspecting pond water under a microscope in the same few days, gains an important understanding of their place in the world. The growth they experience while at camp in learning about leadership and building friendships are precious acquisitions that will serve them over the course of a lifetime. I want to invite more people to help us in this important work of using the outdoors to build the spirit, mind and body of our youth.”.


Information from: Greensburg Daily News, https://www.greensburgdailynews.com



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