Montour - Hidden away just off U.S. Highway 30 in rural Tama County is an outdoor retreat area, including a fish-stocked lake, camping, lodges, meeting spaces and more.
Newly-appointed Pilgrim Heights Camp and Retreat Center Executive Director Scott Harris said he is focused on getting more people in Central Iowa and beyond tuned-in to what he calls a "hidden gem" in Tama County.
"Basically what we do is provide ecumenical, Christian-based summer camps, it's non-denominational," said the Vinton native and a former YMCA CEO/executive director. "We've been doing this here since 1955."
Located at 3005 E Ave., Montour, Pilgrim Heights offers child day camp services as well as meetings and retreats for church groups and businesses. The center is run through the nonprofit organization Our Sacred Space.
Visitors can also fish for walleye, northern pike and bass on the 80-acre Sportsman's Lake and hike around the wilderness area. In all, the site encompasses about 120 acres of outdoor area in Tama County.
"It's stocked with fish, we have a catch-and-release policy," Harris said of the lake. "We have a $10 day pass fee so people can go hike the trails and go fishing."
Boating, camping, playgrounds, a children's garden and wedding ceremonies are also activities available to those who pay a visit to the center, Harris said.
He said the services provided at the center are focused on providing visitors with a spiritual connection with nature.
"We just want people to come out and get away from the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life, unplug from technology and just get back to nature," Harris said. "Nature can be very spiritual in itself we want to be peoples' sacred space where they can come and just find their way."
While the center maintains a strong connection with it's Christian church roots, Harris said practitioners of all faiths and religions are welcome.
"We are accredited with the American Camp Association," said Our Sacred Space Board of Directors Treasurer Jane Meyer, who helped create the nonprofit. "I became familiar with Pilgrim Heights because I was a camper here."
Meyer and Harris said they want to raise awareness of the center in Central Iowa and in surrounding cities like Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
"I want to get involved in those (nearby) communities and build relationships with people," Harris said, adding he wants area residents to camp close to home. "Instead of driving three hours to Okoboji to camp, just come here and I think we can give you just as good of an experience."
Additionally, he said he wants to access more resources to help grow the center and the available activities through grants as well as state sources and area charitable foundations.
"I think we've got a good story to tell, I just think people aren't aware of us," he said. "We want to grow our services that we provide."
Upcoming events at Pilgrim Heights include Community Day on April 15, where visitors get a free day at the site, and Spring Work Weekend April 21-23 to help "spruce up" the grounds ahead of summer's arrival.
Additionally, May 7 will bring the annual Day of Discovery where visitors may explore the site and can receive $25 off the cost of summer camp.
For more information on Pilgrim Heights Camp and Retreat Center, go to www.pilgrimheights.org or call Harris at (641) 492-6165.