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Who We Are

Camp Discovery is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to engage and inspire through discovery in science and nature.


Many children today do not have opportunities to learn through first-hand experiences in Nature, spending much of their time indoors behind a screen. Yet, our children are the stewards of our future and will be responsible for the ecological health of our planet. Camp Discovery's programs sow the seeds for lifelong learning and stewardship by allowing children to reclaim moments of wonder and discovery that have vanished from childhood; moments that are an integral part of shaping who we become as adults.


From school and youth groups to families and community organizations, there is something for everyone at Camp Discovery! Situated on 116 scenic acres of forests, fields, creeks and streams in Blythewood, the campus provides an ideal outdoor learning environment for year-round exploration and hands-on learning. Our nature-based programs provides real-world learning to enrich both minds and hearts for the health and well-being of people, our community and planet.

Since 1985, Camp Discovery has reached more than 15,000 children and youth from across the Midlands through hands-on learning experiences in Nature.  

Mission & Vision of Camp Discovery

The mission of Camp Discovery is to engage and inspire through discovery in science and nature.

The vision of Camp Discovery is to cultivate the power of discovery as a process leading to the health and well-being of people, the community, and the planet.

There are four sacrosanct core beliefs in all Camp Discovery programs:

1. Camp Discovery believes discovery occurs through experiential learning in nature.
2. Camp Discovery encourages building relationships with the self, others, and the natural world.
3. Camp Discovery helps create, nurture, and grow the capacity of leaders for our future.
4. Camp Discovery supports the development of critical and creative thinking to impact positive change.

What We Do

Earth Keepers summer camp

In-person field studies

On-demand style pre-recorded and interactive virtual field studies

Faculty retreats and trainings

Community outreach

Low ropes challenge course

Host community groups



“Beauty in humble things has a healthful effect on the soul.”  ~ Donna Johnson, Founder


What started as a dream about bringing together people of diverse ages and backgrounds in a special place of “discovery” became a reality in 1985 when recreation therapist, Donna Johnson, founded what is now known today as Camp Discovery.

Camp Discovery originated as a recreation therapy program serving children and youth in most need throughout our community. Since then, the populations that the Camp serves have continued to expand alongside the Camp's offerings that now include hands-on, nature-based experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds.

As we look ahead, Camp Discovery remains dedicated to serving our community through innovative engaging programs and activities delivered in a safe, supportive natural setting.


Amy head shot.jpg

Amy Ellisor

Executive Director

Amy Ellisor came to Camp Discovery from the Division of Education at Columbia College where she was Director of the Teaching Fellows and Teacher Cadet Programs and was Professor of Science Strategies for Early Childhood, Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Candidates. Amy has taught numerous science methods, human growth and development, children’s literature and educational technology courses.  As well, Amy was selected as a Richland School District Two Honor Roll Teacher and Bookman Road Elementary’s first Teacher of the Year.  She served as an administrator in Richland School District Two and as a Teacher Specialist for the SC Department of Education and is a Dwight D. Eisenhower Award recipient for her work with professional development in science education. She was a featured author in T.H.E. Journal for her work in customized learning, and she serves on the School Improvement Council at Windsor Elementary and has held leadership positions on the School Improvement Council and PTO Executive Board at Bookman Road Elementary.  Amy is a GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) certified educator and a NASA MEI Faculty Advisor.


Amy earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies and an M.Ed. from the University of South Carolina where she received the Mary J. Heimberger Memorial Scholarship. She is married to her husband, Casey Ellisor, with two children - Lucy and Deon. 


Mary Beth Estes

Mary Beth Estes has two daughters that attend Cardinal Newman. She and her husband have lived in Columbia for over 20 years. She is a certified Early Childhood and Elementary School Teacher. She taught in Richland Two for the last several years and is taking some time away from the classroom to focus on her family. However her love for science and particular interest in wildlife conservation led her to Camp Discovery. She is excited to continue interacting with students and families through her work at Camp Discovery.

Heather Phelps

Heather Phelps received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Wofford College in 1999. She received her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of South Carolina before becoming licensed as an Independent Social Worker - Clinical Practice.  Heather is married to Jason Phelps and has two children, Ava and Will.  Both children have been attendees of Camp Discovery's Earth Keepers summer camp for many years. Heather has worked at the South Carolina Network of Children's Advocacy Centers and has spent many years providing therapy to children and their families.  She is now looking forward to serving children and the community at Camp Discovery.

Karen Mott

Karen Mott received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Michigan State University and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan.  Karen practiced clinical social work for 10 years before moving into the field of education as a preschool teacher and an assistant teacher in Richland 2. Karen is married to her husband, David, and has two children – Sarah and Andrew. She is excited to be at Camp Discovery where children explore nature and learn about the environment.


Karen Bickley

Karen Bickley and her husband, Jay Otterbacher, have called Blythewood their home since 1994. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Marketing and Insurance. Karen retired from Computer Sciences Corporation in 2004 as a Marketing Director in the Property and Casualty Insurance Division. She consulted as a Corporate  Event Manager from 2004-2006. In 2006, she started volunteering at  Becky’s Place of Lexington Medical Center, which ultimately led to a 14 year second career as a Certified Mastectomy Fitter. She received her Master Gardener designation from Clemson Extension and enjoys  volunteering in the community. Karen and Jay love being outdoors, camping, hiking, golfing, and travel.

Malcolm Gordge

Malcolm Gordge is a mechanical engineer by profession, he worked for Spirax Sarco Ltd. 1964 until 1999 then relocated to S.C. to assist with start-up of the new Spirax Sarco Inc. plant based in Blythewood. He retired in 2008 but continues occasional engineering consultancy work. He is currently secretary of the Ashley Oaks Home Owners Association and also served on the Blythewood Planning Commission 2013-2015 and led the Commission in revising the Town’s long term Comprehensive plan. He was elected to Blythewood Town Council November 2015 and developed a strategy for prioritizing the objectives and implementation program for the Town’s Master Plan. He volunteered help with the reconstruction of the Corn Crib at Camp Discovery and also volunteers for the Adopt-a-Stream initiative at Camp Discovery, helping our environment and educating residents and businesses on the importance of keeping our waterways pollution-free.

Scott Ravan

Scott Ravan is the CFO of a commercial real estate development firm in Columbia, SC. He serves on both Senior Resources' and the South Carolina Tax Council's Board of Directors. Scott is a native South Carolinian and has 3 sons and 1 daughter. He enjoys cycling and pulling for the Gamecocks. Scott has a background in both law and accounting, having received his law degree from the University of South Carolina before becoming a Certified Public Accountant. Scott relayed that "Camp Discovery provides a much needed resource in a rapidly urbanizing area where students of all ages can come to learn about nature. I am thrilled to serve on the Board [of Trustees] to help promote this education in the hopes that future generations can see God's beauty and majesty all around us and work to preserve such for their children and those that follow."

Tracy Nunnery

Originally from Camden, SC, Tracy and his wife Denice lived in San Francisco for almost fifteen years where Tracy worked for the University of California San Francisco focusing on data science and analytics. Reconnecting with their roots, Tracy and Denice returned to SC with their new son, Tyler, instilling within him their love, respect and curiosity of the natural world. Tracy shared "Camp Discovery has had a tremendously positive impact on Tyler and I look forward to helping enrich the lives of other children and families by connecting them with nature, building relationships, creating experiences and helping to grow future leaders." Tracy enjoys being involved in mentoring programs at Round Top Elementary and he and his family enjoy Clemson University sports, science, nature, music and travel. Tracy has worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield South Carolina since 2016 and has a B.A. from Clemson University and the University of South Carolina. He received a Master of Science degree in Informatics from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Joy Watkins

As a graduate of Spring Valley High School and the University of Georgia, Joy has been in the financial services business for over 42 years and, in August 2017, merged her independent practice with Anchor Investment Management, LLC, a registered investment advisory firm. She is a life-long Methodist, having served in various leadership capacities at Trinity and Trenholm Road United Methodist Churches. Active in the Blythewood Rotary Club, Joy has been named Rotarian of the Year twice. A life-long resident of Columbia, Joy is married to Bill Watkins, a retired engineer with SCANA. In addition to being outdoors, she enjoys working out, golf, cycling, reading, cooking, and gardening. Joy's adult children graduated from Blythewood High School. She and her husband volunteered several times at Camp Discovery and were impressed with the beautiful grounds, friendly staff, and mission of the camp. 

Matt Motes

 A native of Lexington, SC, Matt Motes moved to Blythewood after graduating from Clemson University in 2009.  There he majored in Mechanical Engineering and enjoyed participating in Clemson football, Clemson baseball and deer hunting. Matt Motes works for one of the newer companies in Blythewood, Charter Next Generation, where they manufacture flexible packaging films (blown film extrusion) for mostly food and medical applications.  He is a licensed professional engineer and the Plant Engineering Manager for CNG-Blythewood. As Plant Engineer, he takes care of plant projects, asset selection and procurement, asset installation, and all plant maintenance. Matt shared these words, "I am happy to be part of Camp Discovery!  I’m looking forward to helping move this ship forward to Engage and Inspire through Discovery in Science and Nature”.

To get involved with our Board of trustees, please contact us at (803) 754-2008.

Key Donors and Partners


Our endless thanks to investors:

Central Carolina Community Foundation

Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation

First Community Bank-Blythewood, SC

Kyle Evans

JT's Dodgeland of Columbia

Sandy Khan - State Farm Insurance

Lipscomb Family Foundation

Martin Family Foundation

Dr. Cindy Nord & Family

The Nord Family Foundation

Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union

Francia and William Presley

Maree and Buddy Price

Richland County Conservation Commission

Sam’s Club

Scurry Foundation

Town of Blythewood 

And, hundreds of individual and family gifts

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