A LITTLE MORE ABOUT CAMP FERN'S East TX SLEEPAWAY CAMP

best texas summer camps

There’s a lot to learn about life at Camp Fern, whether you’re interested in our history or our current endeavors. We have enjoyed the privilege to serve children, youth, and adolescents for over eighty years and do our best to honor our values and traditions. With that said, we also look forward with a joyful expectation to serve our current and future families and their children! Enjoy the content we’ve provided below and please reach out to get in touch with us and see what opportunities are available!

  • About Us
  • History
  • Beliefs
  • Why Us
  • Staff
  • Accreditations
  • Areas Served

About Camp Fern

Set amidst the rolling hills and tall pines, on a private lake in East Texas, Camp Fern is a residential summer camp for children ages 6 to 16.  Founded on Christian beliefs, Camp Fern embraces God's gifts, grace, and love and values the importance of putting our faith into practice.  Camp Fern strives to enrich the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social lives of all its campers.  

Children leave computers, cell phones, and video games behind and immerse themselves in a range of fun and challenging daytime and evening activities , such as English horseback riding, skiing, wake and knee boarding, swimming, kayaking, fishing, trampoline, archery, tennis, guitar, drama, dancing, arts and crafts, outdoor cooking and camping, nature, fencing, boxing, ropes course, and much, much, more!  They also participate in exciting tribal competitions, hilarious skits, camp carnival night, cabin cookouts, overnight horseback rides, weekly campfires, sing-a-longs, and so much more.

Campers are grouped by age into log cabins with experienced counselors to guide and mentor them throughout their stay. Spirituality is at the core of Camp Fern life—with campers participating in evening Vespers services and Sunday morning services. Camp Fern strives to instill the motto: God first, others second, I am third. 

Camp Fern was founded in 1934 to help the owner's only child, Peggy, gain in self-confidence, independence, and overcome homesickness.  Today, Camp Fern still strives to turn boys and girls into well-rounded, confident, independent young men and women. Using the beautiful and serene East Texas Piney Woods as a backdrop, children learn—among other things—to appreciate and respect nature, to pursue interests they wouldn’t otherwise be able to pursue, to develop skills they never knew they had, to be strong leaders and sportsmanlike competitors, to treat others with kindness and respect, and to make lasting—even lifelong—friends. Personal growth is a key element of the Camp Fern experience.

Our Camp History In East Texas

When Camp Fern first opened in 1931, it was a cooperative effort among parents and friends of the children who spent their summers on the banks of the pine tree-lined lake in East Texas.  It was the Depression, and the only residential summer camps were in the hill country of Central Texas. Peggy Hilliard was an only child, born 13 years after her parents married, and although she had no siblings, she had many cousins, and her parents loved to entertain children. 

The Hilliards wanted their only child, Peggy, then 6, to have a camp experience, so they had other girls around the private lake come over for two days of arts and crafts, hikes, nature study, swimming, and horseback riding.  They brought their own horses from home and spent the night at the summer log cabin (with a dog trot through the middle). As interest in the little camp grew, mothers who had memberships on the lake looked forward to it when the warm weather came around. It became evident that a summer camp was forming, and with the encouragement of many, Vernon and Maggie Hilliard decided to make the endeavor official in 1934, and Camp Fern was born.

They promptly decided to find another location across the lake to actually build a camp.  No longer a cooperative endeavor, it became a registered business, and the Dining Hall and Recreation Hall were built; one for serving meals, the other for housing bunks.  Over the next several years, logs were floated across the lake from adjacent property, and cabins were built to house campers. 

"Uncle Vernon" and "Aunt Mag" were mom and dad to hundreds of children from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and his gentle spirit and her contagious laughter were known far and wide.  They always attributed their success to the good Lord who supplied all their needs.  Many cousins and an outstanding director, Rita Pilkey, were also invaluable as well as keeper, Daris Wells, who began work at Fern in the '50's (and stayed until he passed away in the spring of 1979).

Uncle Vernon died in 1951—and Aunt Mag, in 1961.  Fern was then operated by Peggy and her husband, Bill Rotzler, a chemical engineer with Monsanto Chemical Company.  Mr. Bill took movies of the campers every year and served as a consultant on safety and business aspects.  He passed away in August 1993, at Camp Fern, and although ill during that summer, he never slowed down or gave in to his disease.

“Miss Peggy,” as she was affectionately called, passed away in July 1999, at Camp Fern. A director for many years, she became the nurturing and influential “grandmother” of Fern’s campers in her later years. Her love of the Lord was evident in her daily Vespers talks, leading “Joy, Joy, Joy,” and in her joyful, selfless attitude.

Margaret Rotzler Lee, the Rotzler’s daughter, became program director in 1978 and assumed full ownership at her parents’ passing.  In 2008, she married Drake Lee whose 3 children, Sarah Bess Hudson, McHugh, and Wesley, spent a total of 35 years at Fern.  A lawyer in Shreveport, LA and previous camper, Drake adds personal support and serves as a consultant.  Margaret and Drake became grandparents for the first time in December 2009. 

Camp Fern, the first summer camp in East Texas, is one of the few third generation camps in all of Texas.  Campers have come from as far away as Austria, South America, Alaska and Hawaii.  Many of them are grandchildren of Camp Fern veterans.  It remains an outstanding camp because of the input of all who have given of themselves to others while there.  Like the founders, subsequent owners have always given credit to the good Lord for Fern’s success and consider it His.  The owners feel privileged to be in the company of the special people who pass through Fern and who undoubtedly leave a part of themselves behind.

Beliefs

Mission

Camp Fern's mission is to enrich the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social lives of campers by providing summers of fun, friendship, exploration, and growth. Camp Fern was founded on Christian principles and continues those practices in its program structure to this day.

Fun

Camp Fern offers a program where children can have fun in an atmosphere of learning and growth.  We are committed to researching and adding new activities to keep things fresh and fun.  Along with the daily activities , chosen by the camper, are our unique evening activities which could include a carnival, a stunt night, a sports night, or a tribal activity, to name a few.  Whatever the activity, it is guaranteed to be fun and exciting.

Friendship

At Camp Fern sleepaway camp for kids, campers will forge friendships that last a lifetime. They can learn that the time and effort needed to make a true friend is an investment worth making.  Without all of the technology available today, campers get the chance to really know one another. They learn to walk beside each other, learning together through real life situations and resolving conflict with the help of counselors and peers.

Exploration

Camp Fern encourages each camper to attempt new challenges each day.  We offer over 30 different skills and activities that campers may experience. Each of these activities is offered in the following areas: Waterfront, Sports, Nature, Riding, and Arts and Crafts.  Our knowledgeable counselors take pride in teaching our campers to excel in the activities they choose. 

Growth

Each new day at Camp Fern offers the opportunity for personal advancement and growth. In the area of physical activities, campers experience the excitement of learning or improving a skill, and they participate in tournaments at the end of the session to earn points for their tribe. They can work on the "advancement trail," each advancement requiring completion of specific skills in a wide variety of summer camp activities in East Texas. They also work as a cabin unit during cabin clean up each morning to earn the weekly cleanest cabin award.

More importantly, in the area of personal growth, the group living situation facilitates learning, flexibility, patience, and respect for people who are different than they are.  One also learns that there are hosts of people who care about them, who want the best for them, and who help them solve the problems that arise in daily life.  This leads to gains in self-confidence and independence.

Why Camp Fern

Owned and operated by the same family for 80 years, we are currently enjoying our 4th generation of campers. We are proud of our small family atmosphere where each child is known individually.

Family

By limiting the number of campers each session to 150, we are able to provide the personal family atmosphere that is so important for each camper to succeed.  Older campers mentor younger ones, growing the sense of belonging and family.  Relationships are formed among all ages, making connections that can last a lifetime. Camp Fern encourages each child to reach his or her full potential through constant encouragement, friendship, fun, and faith.

Self-esteem

A healthy self-esteem is the foundation of a child's well-being and a critical factor in success as an adult.  At Camp Fern we want to make every child feel valuable.  We strive to build self-esteem by fostering independence and success. This is accomplished through activities that offer a challenge and promote growth while being fun.

Character

We live in a time when building a strong moral character in children in challenging.  Camp Fern provides an atmosphere where children learn to respect others, have integrity, and exhibit self-control.  We seek out and hire counselors that exhibit this kind of character and who set a good example through their actions.

Nature

No Camp Fern camper can forget the lullaby of crickets and frogs they fell asleep to after Taps, nor the glimpse of a great blue heron in a quiet vigil above the waters of a misty lake. The bream, catfish, and the trophy-sized largemouth Florida bass lurking in their underwater lairs are a thrill to any fisherman. The retreating mask of a foraging raccoon is a delight to any young naturalist. Lying down beneath a star-studded sky, one learns constellations and is awed by all the shooting stars.

Camp Fern's 100 acres of flora and fauna make the camp a magical place for children. Armadillos and deer, butterflies and walking sticks, wild blackberries and waterlilies, and even the poison ivy patch or occasional unwitting king snake instill respect and love for nature in awestruck campers.

Spirituality

Camp Fern's mission is to enrich the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social lives of campers by providing summers of fun, friendship, exploration, and growth. Camp Fern was founded on Christian principles and continues those practices in its program structure to this day. Camp Fern strives to reinforce the motto "God first, others second, I am third." A "Thought for the Day" is put on each table daily in the Dining Hall.

Aided by counselors, campers put on a Vesper service each evening, which may include skits, songs, poems, stories, or prayers. Vespers always ends with the prayer "If I Have Wounded Any Souls Today," sung by all.

Through the years, this was Miss Peggy's time to add her own inspirational words or lead "I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy." That role is now being carried on by her daughter Margaret.

Sunday services are created by counselors and the director, and they stress reverence for our Lord and savior, love for each other and ourselves, and respect for the natural world God has given us.

We want our campers to:

Have FUN, be CREATIVE, LEARN something new

“Camp offers children chances to try challenging activities they've never done before, live with others they've never met before, and play in ways they've never played before in order to become people they've never been before.”    -Denver Post

Meet the full-time camp staff

Margaret Rotzler Lee - Owner/Director

Hermonie O'Donnell - Business Manager

William Rotzler – Boys’ Program Director

Lindsey Sigler – Girls’ Program Director

--Camp Association for Mutual Progress

--Member of American Camping Association

--Licensed by the State of Texas (Texas department of state health services)

--Markel Safety First Award – 11 years in a row

  • East Texas

  • Arkansas

  • Louisiana

Camp Fern Mottos
God first; others second; I am third.

Don't wait to become a great woman; be a great girl.

Don’t wait to become a great man; be a great boy.