By Morgan Anderson, OCJ FFA Reporter
Dubbed “The Happiest Place on Dirt,” Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum has served Ohio FFA and its members with unique outdoor experiences since 1942.
Located in Carroll County on the banks of Leesville Lake, Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum is often noted as one of many past FFA members’ most treasured memories in the blue jacket. From high ropes to boating, and volunteer projects to leadership workshops, Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum has played an active role in shaping members’ experiences in FFA. Students step out of their comfort zones, try something new and bask in the fellowship of what it means to be an FFA member.
One of camp’s most iconic spots is an outdoor amphitheater that surrounds an enormous rock, also known as the beloved “Blue Gill Rock,” just off the lake’s shore. The spot hosts everything from state FFA officer campfires in the evenings to early morning Sunday services.
“Everybody who comes to camp has a memory of Blue Gill Rock or at least knows where it’s at,” said Todd Davis, the Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum Camp Director. “It’s a special place.”
As the Ohio FFA Association reaches record-breaking membership numbers, so has Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum. In 2023 alone, nearly 1,000 FFA members attended camp, so Blue Gill Rock was due for some upgrades to keep up with the foot traffic, according to Davis.
“We’ve had Blue Gill Rock for so long as it was and needed to do something,” Davis said. “It was just deteriorating to the point that we either needed to spend some money to fix it back up or we needed to do something big.”
Davis chose the latter: to do something big.
In March of 2023, construction began on the newly renovated Blue Gill Rock. Donations were made by the Timken Foundation of Canton and the John H. & Evelyn L. Ashton Preservation Association to help fund the initial push of the project.
Davis said one of the largest issues Blue Gill Rock faces is erosion. The rock sits at the bottom of a hill making it a perfect spot for soil to erode as water drains into the lake. The new renovations will work to prevent this through its intentional carving into the hill and poured concrete, as well as the stage being slightly moved back.
Prior to the renovations, the amphitheater had wooden benches and steps with potholes everywhere — making accessibility difficult.
“With the old amphitheater, if you sit there longer than 15 to 20 minutes, it’s not comfortable,” Davis said. “You couldn’t even consider watching a movie down there, but now we could if we wanted to. Programmatically, it’ll give us more opportunities to think outside the box to utilize it.”
The renovations have cost nearly $700,000 thus far, but Davis said the sky is the limit on what they will be able to offer students there now. Safety lighting along the sides of the entrances, audio/visual capabilities for the stage and more comfortable seating are a few of the new additions the iconic spot will now be able to offer. Additionally, the sidewalks to get to the amphitheater’s seats will be expanded and made safer.
“It opens up a lot more opportunities,” said Travis Rutledge, an Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum Program Director. “By having better seating, better lighting and better audio, it has lots of versatility. You can use that space for a lot more and it’ll be clean and presentable. You won’t be walking through the mulch and stepping in holes. It’ll be a nice, clean and crisp area where people can congregate and spend time with each other.”
The new amphitheater will be able to host up to 300 people in its seating area and will be handicap accessible. Davis said he is excited about what they have not even thought of using the space for.
The construction on Blue Gill Rock will be completed and ready for use in October.