MOUNT GILEAD — Paul Newman is remembered in this part of the country as a 1949 graduate of Kenyon College, an Oscar-winning actor, an accomplished sports car racer, founder of Newman’s Own foods, and as a philanthropist. But nowhere is his legacy felt more than it is at Morrow County’s Flying Horse Farms.
Flying Horse Farms is about to begin its second season providing once-in-a-lifetime summer camp experiences to seriously ill children. To mark the start of the 2012 camping season, the facility will host an open house Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. And for those unfamiliar with the facility, it should be an eye-opening event.
The farm is one of nine camps in the United States, and 28 camps worldwide, that are affiliated with the Serious Fun Children’s Network, originally known as the Association of Hole in The Wall Gang Camps. Newman founded the original camp in 1988 in Connecticut, and 24 years later, the late actor’s vision has led to more than 350,000 camp experiences for kids, or as he liked to put it, “a chance for them to raise a little hell.”
The ground-breaking ceremony for Flying Horse Farms was in the summer of 2009. In less than three years it has grown into a sprawling 22-building complex designed with one thing and one thing only in mind: Giving kids a chance to check their illness at the door and have a ball. The first of 14 camps scheduled this year will begin on April 20, and the last one will conclude on October 28. In between, about 800 children aged 8-16 from Ohio and several other states will take part in six Family Camps, a Sibling Camp, a Ranger Camp for alumni, and six week-long camps focusing on kids with specific illnesses.
Flying Horse Farms sprang up from the efforts of Jenni and David Belford. It began as the Flying Horse Away program, through which Ohio kids were taken to Hole in the Wall Camps around the country. The ultimate goal was to create a camp facility here in Ohio, and through the Belfords’ vision and the support of countless companies and individuals, that goal has been achieved. An abbreviated camping season was held in 2011 and served more than 400 children. That number will double in 2012, and eventually more than 2,000 kids a year will take part in the fun.
The 200-acre farm, located east of Mount Gilead on Ohio 95, was previously used for peat mining and is owned by a Columbus company called Mastodon LLC. Transfer of the land to Flying Horse Farms, which is a recognized 501c3 nonprofit organization, will be made official after Mastodon completes EPA-mandated wetlands preservation work.
Flying Horse Farms has a full-time staff of 19, and during the summer it adds 20 to 30 “Alcoa Good and Green” seasonal workers and several hundred volunteers. The first building that visitors come to in the picturesque complex is the “Big Red Barn,” which was dismantled on the farm of Tim and Mary Wyler and then painstakingly moved and reconstructed by a group of Amish artisans. The interior of the large structure is under renovation and will open in June as an administrative office and welcome center, with housing for seasonal employees on the second level.
The farm also has a dining hall with a large stone fireplace and full kitchen, a health center, Angie’s Arts and Crafts building, a gymnasium and recreation center, a bath house, a program building, a dog kennel, and a dozen spacious cabins which accommodate 12 campers and four “sidekick” counselors each.
Outdoor facilities include an amphitheater, a zero-entry heated swimming pool, the Columbus Bluejackets Sports Court, an archery range, a kiln, and two ponds complete with a fishing pier and canoes.