by Chip Sherer, Bonclarken President

This is an often asked question I’m always pleased to answer. Much is happening at your conference center – from welcoming guests, to preparing for the summer, to planning for the future. I thought this month I would share some of the recent highlights.

2011 Guest Attendance

As you can imagine, we pay careful attention to guest attendance. For decades, we have had more youth attendees than adult, but that changed with the opening of The Lodge. In 2009, adult attendees exceeded youth for the first time, and that trend has continued every year since. In fact, adult attendance is up 27 percent since The Lodge opened. Youth attendance has trended the other way during this same period, with youth attendance being down 13 percent.

However, 2011 brought us good news on youth attendance. We had an increase of 10 percent over 2010, with both ARP youth and non-ARP youth showing an increase.

We were thrilled to see this increase, mainly because we know the importance of visits to Bonclarken by youth and the way the Holy Spirit will often use these visits to change lives. Youth make life-long memories during their visits; often decisions are made during these visits that shape their future. So you can see why we are excited about an increase in youth attendance!

Debt on The Lodge

The Lodge has exceeded all our expectations in regard to its impact on our guest attendance. We’re also well ahead of our original schedule in paying back our construction loan. In 2007, we borrowed $1.3 million to cover the expenses of construction. Considering the total project cost was $3.5 million, only borrowing $1.3 million was a great testimony to the generosity of our donors.

Our bank offered us a five-year “pledge payment period,” requiring us to pay only interest during the five years we were receiving pledge payments. Our goal was to pay this interest plus $300,000 toward principal so that we would enter 2012 with a debt of $1 million. As we entered 2012, rather than a $1 million debt as we anticipated in our original plan, increased attendance, generous donors and good fiscal management have allowed us to reduce this debt to $598,000.

Our original plan was to repay this $1 million over 15 years, but our Board adopted a plan to repay the debt in only seven years. Reducing the principal and shortening the loan by eight years will save us $823,000 in interest. Our Board has done a tremendous job with their stewardship of these resources. This savings will enable us to responsibly move on to other needed capital projects in a more timely manner.

New Recreational Activities

We are so blessed to have a wide variety of recreational activities which our youth (and many adults) enjoy. We are always considering what new activity we can offer, and for this summer we are excited about the addition of two new items:

1) Zip Line

We are adding a new 675’ dual zip line. To put this distance in perspective, our cur- rent zip line is 166’ long. So our zip-liners will have a longer distance to scream as they race down this new line. The Patrick Family of Greenwood, SC, has donated funds for this new line in memory of Banks Patrick, who died in October. This zip line will be a wonderful addition.

2) Cement slab activities

Just down the hill from Swiss Cottage is a cement slab which was the floor of the chicken house for the Guerard Family in the early 1900s. A generous gift is allowing us to create a nice area for pickleball and four- square on this slab. Not familiar with pickleball and four-square? Come by this location soon and see these two games in play. Both are a lot of fun.

Heidelberg House (Hotel)

Of the five aspects of our 2009 Master Plan, the one that has garnered the most attention is our plans to repair and preserve the entire exterior envelope of the Hotel as needed to protect the building, including foundation, roof, exterior walls, windows, wood trim, and paint. We have been working with contractors to define exactly what this work would mean and to determine cost. This topic will be on our Board’s agenda when they meet in May.

These are just examples of the great things going on at Bonclarken. I hope you will visit us often in 2012!