As they made their retirement plans, Michigan residents Bob and Roberta “Bert” Lingham, knew what they wanted to do: operate a quiet retreat where Appalachian Trail hikers can rejuvenate and pray. The only question was where to do it.
When land less than 100 yards from the trail in Ceres became available several years ago, they bought it and never looked back.
Last week, they officially unveiled their handiwork: Bear Garden Hiker Hostel. On site there are two bunkhouses with refrigerators and microwaves that will sleep up to 19, a wash house with a washer and dryer, a shower, a toilet, a barn and, above all, a chapel where hikers can pray and meditate. The cost is $20 a night and includes breakfast. There’s also a house up the road that groups of hikers can rent.
Bob Lingham, a retired middle school teacher, said he and his wife purchased the land on West Bluegrass Trail in 2012. For years, they spent summers in Ceres, tearing down buildings, refurbishing some and building others. They moved to Bland County permanently last year.
“We wanted to serve God,” Bob said. “It’s been wonderful.”
“It’s our mission,” said Bert, a retired ICU nurse. “We sold everything in Michigan, and God led us here.”
The hostel is bare bones, but hikers don’t need anything fancy.
“It’s great,” said Jason Poreda of Tallahassee, Florida, who set out on the trail in early April and hopes to finish in August.
“My intention is to go the whole way, but we’ll see,” he said. “It’s presumptuous to say you will hike the whole thing.”
Poreda said Bear Garden is on the upper end of hostels he’s seen so far.
“They all have their own unique feel and this continues that,” said Poreda, whose trail name is Compass because of his love of maps.
Poreda stopped in to take a look at the new hostel and grab some hot dogs before hitting the trail again. Before he left, Bert instructed him on a tricky turn in the trail and suggested places for food.
Bear Garden is gaining a reputation as a quiet place for hikers to stop and rest. Inside the chapel, they can pray, read the Bible, write down problems and nail them to a white cross outside.
“They nail problems to the cross and walk away,” Bert said. “We are known on the trail because of the chapel.”
In Bert, hikers find a trove of information. She has hiked the Canadian Rockies, across Michigan and nearly 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail. She even saved a woman’s life on the AT in Georgia when she and the woman encountered a blizzard on top of a mountain. The woman fell on the frozen ground, breaking an ankle, dislocating her shoulder and going into cardiac arrhythmia. Bert tended to her, summoned rescue workers and led them to the injured hiker.
Thanks to a wilderness medicine class for nurses and physicians, Bert carried emergency medical equipment in her pack.
She tells hikers where the good stopping places are, where they can stock up on food and gives directions.
On May 8, the hostel hosted an open house and cookout for community members to visit and look around.
“This is as neat as it can be,” said Bland County Sheriff Tom Roseberry.
Angie Hodge, a member of Bastian Union Church, said she didn’t know what to expect from the hostel.
“I’ve never been a hiker, so I think this is pretty cool to offer Jesus as well as a safe place to sleep,” she said. “This was the desire of their heart. God laid it on Bert’s mind and they’ve brought it to life.”
To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.