Sun Valley Ranch, abandoned events center, reborn as Son Valley
BONFIRE: 5-6 p.m. Sundays
CHRISTMAS AT THE RANCH: Sunday
FAMILY OUTDOOR EXPO: Times are TBD Feb. 1
MORE INFO: sportsmanschurch.com
*All events are at Son Valley Ranch, 8793 U.S. Highway 87 North.
Just before sundown, The Rev. Glen Dry peers over his shoulder and notices a family of deer sauntering nearby.
The deer have appeared every Sunday since Dry opened Sportsman's Church's outdoor pavilion last month at Son Valley Ranch in Victoria.
Unlike conventional church buildings, Sportsman's Church offers no walls, air conditioning, big screens or hanging crucifixes.
But the pavilion serves as a state-of-the-art meeting place, and about 200 congregants attend weekly to hear Dry preach.
"The outdoors is significant because the church started outside. Man was the one who put up walls," said Dry, 38, discussing his motivation for opening a church for nature-minded Christians. "It doesn't look like anyone minds worshipping in the elements."
Sportsman's pavilion -- which seats about 400 comfortably in folding green camouflage chairs and a few wooden benches -- is just one upgrade to the newly-restored 27-acre ranch.
And beginning next year, Dry's Son Valley Ranch will be one of Victoria's central locations for Christian events and ministry programs, including the Outdoor Expo and RezFest.
"I want Son Valley to be the go-to place for our big outreach events," he said. "That has always been the vision. This ranch has huge history, and we want to bring new life out here."
It has been Dry's plan to purchase the ranch - where he once worked as a lifeguard as a teenager - since launching Experience Excellence, the parent organization for his Man2Man Ministries, RezFest and Outdoor Expo, among others.
In years past, Dry's faith-based events have attracted thousands of attendees from across South Texas. But his goal was to one day own a property in Victoria where each of his ministries could be centrally located and operate together more fluidly.
That vision became a reality last year when Dry received an anonymous donation for about $130,000 to put a down payment on the ranch.
"We're going into this with the intention that we can now benefit the community with a place that is something special," he said. "This could potentially be the largest outdoor venue in the country, which I think is a great benefit to Victoria."
Son Valley Ranch, formerly known as Sun Valley Ranch -- the name change signifies its connection to Jesus as the heavenly son -- has been vacant for more than a decade.
It was once one of Victoria's prime summertime spots for swimming and dancing, boasting a 2,000-person dance hall that once featured country music artist greats, such as Hank Williams.
Until Dry purchased the property, weeds and tall grass had consumed every acre.
Contractors have been restoring the property since spring, clearing brush and converting the Olympic-sized swimming pool into a catch-and-release fishing pond that will be used at the Outdoor Expo.
Dry's team has also added a walking trail, concrete baptismal built to look like a living stream, a basketball court, miniature golf course, playground and the pavilion where Sunday night church services are held.
They're also restoring the dance hall, which next Easter will feature the first Son Valley Ranch RezFest lineup.
Lonnie Holcombe, 31, of Victoria, attends Sportsman's Church each week and was one of the original members when the church kicked off about a year ago.
Holcombe said he's excited to be a part of a growing vision that will enhance his community and bring others to the ranch.
"It will be great to have a place where the events like Outdoor Expo can have a more permanent home, so it will be easier to prepare for them each year. There won't be as much taking down and setting up all the time," he said. "I hope the community will be excited to have a place they can bring their families and kids."
Dry said he's continuously humbled that his ministries continue to grow each week, which is in large part, he said, because he has a network of like-minded support working alongside him to keep projects and Sportsman's Church moving forward.
"I never would have dreamed in a million years that I'd be pasturing a church if you had asked me years ago what I'd become," Dry said. "My dream now is to open our doors wider, let people come and enjoy and let them know they're coming home to something special."