Within each family live traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next. For some, the big game is all that matters so long everyone wears their matching jerseys. For others, it’s a weekly get-together at a favorite breakfast joint. For the Colhoun family of Winston-Salem, their treasured tradition is an annual pilgrimage to Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center in Hendersonville.
“Kanuga gets in your blood, and you have to return ‘home’ at least once a year to get re-energized and go back out again,” says Sally Colhoun Engram.
Engram, 61, first visited Kanuga as a 4-year-old child. At the time, her father served as a priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem. He would regularly pack up the family and take them along for his clergy conferences. Purchased by the Diocese of the Carolinas in 1928, Kanuga became a conference center for the Episcopal Church. Today Kanuga operates as an independent conference, retreat, and camp center affiliated with the Episcopal Church and open to all.
Engram has fond childhood memories of traipsing through the woods with her three brothers, fishing for bass in Kanuga Lake, and eating meals in the old screened-in dining hall with ceiling fans whirring overhead.
“That was the highlight of our summer, going to Kanuga and being free,” Engram says. “We checked in at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and as long as we came to the table, our parents knew we were fine.”
Over decades, the center has gone through some changes. In 2016, Kanuga Lake Inn received a $6.5 million renovation. Several of the original cottages, designed by Biltmore House supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith and built in 1909, are currently undergoing renovations. The screened-in dining hall is now a spacious, climate-controlled room with large windows.
But what keeps families like the Colhouns coming back year after year is the peaceful serenity Kanuga maintains. In a world of chaos and constant demands, Kanuga provides a place to slow down, unplug, and reconnect with nature, each other and religion. Although guests have their personal devices, Kanuga guestrooms have no televisions, phones, or alarm clocks. The bugle call of revelry summons everyone to the table at mealtime.
“Our mission is more relevant today than anytime in the history of this place,” says Michael Sullivan, Kanuga president. “People need to disconnect from the daily noise of life.”
The Kanuga campus, situated on 1,400 acres in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains near the North Carolina-South Carolina line, encourages visitors to explore its natural surroundings. The 30-acre lake allows for swimming, boating, and fishing. Twenty miles of hiking trails meander through old-growth forests, and occasional clearings reveal stunning mountain overlooks.
While Kanuga hosts hundreds of private conferences and group retreats year-round, the inn and cottages are open to the public for five family guest periods: Easter, summer, autumn, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. A stay includes lodging, meals, and activities. The Easter guest period, which runs April 18 through April 21, is a new offering this year that includes sunrise service, Sunday brunch, and an Easter egg hunt.
The Colhoun family returns to Kanuga each November for Thanksgiving. Last year their group included 27 people and spanned four generations. Engram’s mother prefers to stay in the inn, but the others choose the original cottages, complete with fireplaces and screened-in porches.
“We like to stay in the old cabins, not the new ones, the green ones. We love ’em,” Engram says.
They play bingo and go hiking. They indulge in Thanksgiving lunch and then hit the tennis courts to burn off the calories.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be together with family and enjoy nature,” Engram says. “Kanuga is one of those unique places that is still unspoiled.”
For more information about Kanuga, visit online or call 828-692-9136.