First Christian Church, Chandler, received a gift from a longtime member who passed away in December 1995. Miss Pearl left money and property for the benefit of the church. These gifts have generated excitement within the church family and community. In 2008, funds from Miss Pearl’s estate helped build a beautiful, functional fellowship hall/family life center on the church property. Undecided about what to do with the 160 acres of land, it sat unattended for many years, aside from occasional use by a Scout troop for camping.

However, in the spring of 2021, a group of church members began discussing how the 160 acres might be developed to benefit the church family. The church was concerned about the future of the church and they wanted this legacy gift to advance the life of the congregation. They decided to develop the land for their youth program with sights set on having a space for the entire congregation and community to utilize.

Following the original meeting, several men from the congregation decided to begin opening vehicle access to the center of the 160 acres. This was no small task as the untouched property was thick with tall grasses, shrubs, sumac plants, cedar trees and many other tall trees. The men met weekly, weather permitting, with chain saws and hand tools to clear pathways. They also solicited advice and grants from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), Oklahoma Education Association, US Fish & Game Department and Oklahoma State University. They were very conscientious about conservation and preserving the natural state of the area especially for local wildlife, native trees, shrubs and grasses.

Work continued through the summer, fall and winter of 2021 and through spring and summer of 2022. Nature trails were cut to allow the passage of ATVs. In the summer of 2021, the youth group was invited to walk a rudimentary trail that was cut from the dense undergrowth. At the end of the hike, the youth were told the area was theirs and they needed to come up with a name. They named the area Camp Calvary.

In early spring 2022, five Oklahoma State University students from the university’s Natural Resource Ecology and Management Department visited the property and developed a detailed management plan for the area. Their first recommendation was to reduce the red cedar and overall tree density to maintain the health of desirable tree species, wildlife and a healthier forest ecosystem. They also recommended prescribed fire burns on a rotational basis to maintain the prairie. The 36-page plan included specific details about tree species and wildlife in the area. It also provided a financial analysis of management of the area and resources, information and equipment for a prescribed burn.

In April 2022, First Christian Church, Chandler received a grant from the Oklahoma Disciples Foundation (ODF) to help fund removal of extensive stands of Eastern Red Cedar as well as prescribed burning of the underbrush and cut trees.

Besides cutting ATV and walking trails, the men built a large fire pit and added picnic tables in a clearing. They also erected a pergola, seats and benches with hand cut tree timber and logs. Youth gathered at the property occasionally through the summer of 2022 and excitement was building to have a church-wide function.

On October 22, 2022, the first church-wide function was held under the direction of Associate Pastor Lori Smithey. Representatives from the Oklahoma Forestry Department and the ODWC facilitated an “Outdoors Skills” Day Camp. Forestry Ranger Riley Coy guided the youth through several of the trails, helping them identify trees while sharing stories of large and small animals using the woods for their homes.

Kyle Johnson, Private Lands Biologist with the ODWC shared pictures of native grasses and plants during a tour through the grassy areas of the property. The youth then divided into teams for a “Scavenger Hunt” with all teams receiving ODWC backpacks.

ODWC and Lincoln County Game Warden Jacob Harriet took the youth throughout the property helping them to identify various animal tracks around the pond and along the trails. He showed them how to tell the difference between tracks of white tail deer, wild hogs, dogs and coyotes. The youth were fascinated with identifying the tracks.

At the end of the day, everyone enjoyed roasted hot dogs over the fire pit.

The next day, Sunday, October 23, church services were held around the fire pit with over 30 church members in attendance. Following the service, church members walked the various trails and viewed the location of the planned hilltop pavilion. Through fund-raising efforts, hopes are to have the pavilion completed in time for Easter sunrise services.