(Editor's Note: This article was published first in the June 2022 edition of The Stand.)
East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain colors of maple red, birch yellow, hickory bronze, and oak russet get a lot of attention every fall.
However, the mountainsides are the classic canvas for the Creator’s stunning art in every season. Scattered small towns, trendy Pigeon Forge, and other attractions draw millions year-round.
Wafloy Mountain Village, a Christian retreat center near Gatlinburg, doesn’t seek the typical tourist. However, its profile is emerging as a Smoky Mountain landing place for those seeking a peaceful Christian setting for group retreats, family vacations, or personal getaways.
Evidence of Wafloy’s impact on guests is expressed by Brian, a youth pastor who posted on tripadvisor.com, “Our youth group has been going to Wafloy for five years. It … has become ‘holy ground’ for our group.”
A present with promise
The 75-acre, park-like setting offers panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“People ask me how much property we have at Wafloy, and I tell them, ‘Oh, about half a million acres,’” joked Dee Harrison, a Wafloy board member and self-proclaimed “head volunteer.”
The retired commercial real estate developer revealed to The Stand that his enthusiasm for Wafloy is rooted in his own experience. At age 13, he was saved at a church youth retreat. His heart is to see that same miracle occur again and again at Wafloy.
The spectacular mountains, gifted leadership, and warm hospitality are among Wafloy’s strong suits. Gabe Collier, director of guest relations, is a seasoned pro in hospitality and service.
“I was mentored for 19 years by Paul Cowell, one of the country’s experts on Christian hospitality, on how to love people and take care of them,” Collier told The Stand. He wasn’t familiar with Wafloy until last summer when the village was searching for the right leader to help steer the property to a higher level of service and Christian outreach.
Wafloy reached out to Collier. He interviewed, toured the campus, and he was sold.
“I was immediately drawn to the property and its history,” said Collier. In 1947, W.A. and Floy Bell founded the ministry as a sanctuary for people needing a place of peace and rest – and an opportunity to say “yes” to God.
Collier quickly sensed a kinship with that vision and was struck by Wafloy’s potential, especially its variety of outdoor recreation and its wide array of guest housing options.
Steiner-Bell Lodge has hotel-style rooms with private baths, plus a large dining room and meeting room – ideal for group retreats. Various bunkhouses allow Wafloy to host groups of any number. And among the retreat’s 30 buildings are cabins to fit any size family or family groups.
Adding a touch of nostalgia are Trish’s Mountain Diner and a refurbished vintage 1950s motel.
The rustic Chapel in the Woods is the well-used and visible symbol of the Spirit that keeps Wafloy on mission.
A legacy of love
After her husband W.A.’s early death, Floy Bell moved from Knoxville to the property and continued to pour her love and her life into managing the village until 2001 when, at age 95, she passed the baton to her grandson and his wife. As they neared retirement in 2013, they reached out to Corryton Church in northeast metro Knoxville, and the church became the owner.
“We were one of the few large churches still using it frequently,” Corryton pastor Rocky Ramsey told The Stand. Energized by the opportunities to minister far beyond their own walls, the church launched into renovations and updates with vigor – mostly through materials and labor donated by church members and area businesses.
After investing a few years of sweat equity in Wafloy, Ramsey was awed at the transformation.
“What do you think our donated materials and labor would be worth?” he asked Harrison.
The developer answered, “I’d say a few million dollars.”
A faith for the future
Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Wafloy goal is to establish the village as one of the region’s most sought-after spots for all kinds of Christian events and have even broader impact on the body of Christ. In fact, the upsurge has already begun.
Amber, a January 2022 bride, wrote, “I’ve been coming here for many years for youth camps, retreats, women’s conferences, and now my own wedding! It’s always a pleasure to come back and … be in God’s beautiful creation!”
Justin, a church youth leader, told tripadvisor.com, “[2022)] has been our youth group’s second trip to Wafloy, and we have re-booked already for next year. This is a place carved out of the Smokies to spend time away from the hustle and bustle – and for our purpose – to help our group get reconnected with God. Wafloy makes that easy through friendly staff, great accommodations, and maintaining a beautiful campus.”
“We just want to help people say ‘yes’ to God,” Collier concluded, “and bring glory to Him.”