The Story of The Mountain


The Story of The Mountain

High atop Little Scaly Mountain in Highlands, North Carolina is The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center, looking out over Blue Valley at a 4,200 foot elevation. At the base is the Many Hands Peace Farm, staff housing, Arts & Crafts Barn, old stables, storage structures, labyrinth, high and low challenge course, large recreation field and lake area.

There has been a camp on this Little Scaly Mountain site since the 1920’s. The oldest existing building at the top is the Tower. The Tower was built in 1902 as a fire tower, which has been renovated at least twice.

Originally there was a camp for girls run by the Parry family, named Camp Parrydise. It was kept as a private family retreat for fifteen years, beginning in 1941, at the time of the second World War. The ASCENDER home and several other staff and volunteer buildings were built during this period. Decades later, their grandson Laird Parry of Idaho, returned for a visit and became active with The Mountain as a member and Board of Trustees.

In 1957, Ben Wax of Baton Rouge, fulfilled his dream of creating a camp for boys on this site, which he named Camp Highlander. Ben Wax transformed the camp to be very much as it is today. Ben build his dream home on the site of the current Lodge. That first Lodge was destroyed in 1989, but the part of the structure known as “Sally Bellamy’s Deck was spared. Ben Wax died in 1963 after which the Pinecrest School of Baton Rouge bought the property and established a camp for boys and girls. Eventually Camp Highlander outgrew the site and moved to a new location near Hendersonville, North Carolina in 1972. After Camp Highlander relocated, a south Florida group attempted to reconstitute the camp as a resort, which they called Country Meadows. Due to the weakened economy around that time, Country Meadows underwent foreclosure and closed.

After four years of vacancy, a group of Unitarian Universalists who were active in the annual week-long Southeast UU Summer Institute (SUUSI) conference were seeking a location to establish a youth camp.

The group visited the vacant camp on Little Scaly Mountain, but were not able to see much on that first visit due to the heavy fog that concealed the beautiful views. Despite the disrepair of the buildings, the group realized the site met their objectives. Their vision quickly expanded to include family programs, congregation events, and the potential for offering programs year-round.

In the fall of 1979, the Highlands Camp and Conference Center was established, later to have its name changed to The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center. But to its supporters, this place has always been known as The Mountain.

In 1980, a television movie called The Mating Season was filmed on The Mountain site. This movie starred Lucie Arnaz and provided a financial boost to get some structural repairs done. In 1983, The Mountain became the site for Elderhostel educational and excursion program that also provided significant revenue and visibility.

In 1999 the 12-acre property at the base of Little Scaly Mountain, known as the Cabbage Patch, was purchased. This additional property increased the size of The Mountain property to 96 acres. Approximately three-quarters of The Mountain property abuts the Nantahala National Forest. In 2008, The Mountain partnered with the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust to create a conservation easement that will protect The Mountain in perpetuity.

As The Mountain developed and grew over the years, more events and programs were hosted throughout the year in addition to summer MountainCamps. Mountain-designed programs include: Homecoming-Annual Meeting Weekend in May (Memorial Day), Music Week, Intergenerational Family Camp, Southeast UU Fall Institute (SUUFI), Thanksgiving Weekend and Fall/Spring Youth Conferences. Click HERE to explore our Retreat schedule online.

The Mountain has been the annual site used by a number of other groups that return year after year, notably UUWomenspirit, Gay Spirit Visions (GSV), Religious Education Week, and the Southeast UU Ministers Association Chapter (SEUUMA).

Visit The Mountain’s website for more info: